Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Other Dowd

[posted by Callimachus]

Matthew Dowd, the one-time Democrat who crossed over to work for George W. Bush's campaigns as a top strategist in 2000 and 2004, re-rats ( in the Churchillian sense).

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Bush still approached governing with a "my way or the highway" mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

I think Matthew Yglesias probably didn't read the entire NYT piece, however.

Reading Matthew Dowd's tale of lost faith I'm left curious as to what he could have been thinking during Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. Given what he thinks now, what about the situation in 2004 made him feel so differently that he wanted to quite literally dedicate his life to perpetuating Bush's hold on power. Pretty much all the factors Dowd cites were perfectly clear by the time of the election. One can imagine it taking a while for the message to sink into the head of someone as invested in Bush as Dowd was, but shouldn't there be a momement when you're not exactly ready to jump off the bus but aren't comfortable driving the bus either?

That sounds about right to me. I had the same question. But if you read through the NYT piece far enough, you get to this:

But it is also an intensely personal story of a political operative who at times, by his account, suppressed his doubts about his professional role but then confronted them as he dealt with loss and sorrow in his own life.

And if you read even further, it gets even more specific:

His views against the war began to harden last spring when, in a personal exercise, he wrote a draft opinion article and found himself agreeing with Kerry's call for withdrawal from Iraq. He acknowledged that the expected deployment of his son Daniel was an important factor.

I don't doubt the man's sincerity. Andrew Sullivan, who knows this path personally, recognizes it and describes it in romantic terms, which seems to me to be the right context for Sullivan's disillusionment, if not for Dowd's:

Many of us backed Bush in 2000 with the thought that we were supporting a moderate, inclusive Republican with a pragmatic small-c conservative domestic policy, and a humble approach to the rest of the world. We were wrong, but we bonded with the president we'd picked through the trauma of 9/11, and it took many of us time to come to terms with what it was we had ultimately enabled. It was in front of our noses, of course. But what Dowd calls a "love-affair" is sometimes hard to walk away from cleanly or even recognize as a nightmare before it is too late.

Me, I never much liked Bush and cast my lone vote for him very unwillingly. So I can't follow the love-affair model. But I've had a few love affairs that lasted longer than they should have, and I do recognize that wake-up moment, triggered perhaps by something trivial in itself.

I would not criticize Dowd because that moment happened to be when his own son faces the reality of battle. That would be a test for any father. It may await me, too. I think, too, it explains the anomaly in his list of Bush's faults: "the president’s refusal, around the same time that he was entertaining the bicyclist Lance Armstrong at his Crawford ranch, to meet with the war protester Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in Iraq."

The faults and failures listed elsewhere in the article -- failure to rally Americans in their moment of willingness after 9/11, the bungling of Abu Ghraib, a general political high-handedness -- are all of a piece and many of us share them with Dowd. The Cindy Sheehan line item, however, sticks out like a sore thumb. That's generally the exclusive province of the tinfoil hat brigade and those whose political style is performance anger. Its resonance with Dowd might be a clue to his emotional evolution.

[Neither Dowd nor the NYT seems interested in describing this correctly, by the way. Bush did meet with Sheehan. It was before she got galvanized into a one-woman anti-Bush missionary. What she's been demanding ever since is a second meeting, a mulligan, if you will. And FWIW, I thought it would have been a brilliant idea for the prez to just pop out and meet her sometime, with cameras rolling, and be patient and let her do her nasty little schtick on him, thank her on behalf of the country for her son's life and service, and walk away.]

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