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Not All Virtues Are Virtuous

Not all virtues are virtuous. A brave thief is, often, a worse thing than a cowardly one. And it would have been much better for the United States if George W. Bush's speechwriter Mike Gerson had been less eloquent and less competent. Or so is David Kusnet's opinion:

History News Network: ... rarely also has a president more thoroughly squandered an opportunity to lead a united nation. True, Lyndon Johnson lost the overwhelming support he received after the assassination of John F. Kennedy and in his landslide victory over Barry Goldwater a year later. But Johnson used up his political capital to enact historic civil rights legislation, to continue a war he had inherited, and to create Medicare, Medicaid, and Head Start. Bush, by contrast, will be remembered for tax cuts that almost entirely benefited the wealthy, a failed attempt to privatize Social Security, a botched war of his own choosing, and an inept response to Hurricane Katrina.

Yet even as these disasters unfolded, Bush continued to speak in the eloquent voice that Gerson had created. And that, in the end, was the problem with Gerson's achievement: He was, put simply, a better speechwriter than Bush was a president. By making his boss sound plausible as commander-in-chief, he set a standard by which Bush's deeds have been found wanting. At first, Gerson's eloquence made the president seem compassionate, conciliatory, and conservative, all at the same time. When Bush declared in his first inaugural address that "No insignificant person was ever born," it was possible to hope that, in his own way, he would try to help poor people lift themselves up and most Americans win their struggles to stay even.

But his policies have not delivered on this promise. And as his appealing, lofty rhetoric began to diverge more and more noticeably from the policies he pursued, Bush's speeches--still elegantly crafted--came to seem more and more like a bag of tricks. He presented policies that would benefit a privileged few as if they were intended to help women, minorities, and the poor; and he embedded his most controversial policies (the Iraq war, tax cuts for the rich) in the most popular initiatives (the fight against terrorism, tax cuts for the middle class).

As his presidency has dragged on, these disconnects have become more and more glaring...