Saturday, October 04, 2008

Where Did He Go?

Peggy Noonan remarks upon the practical disappearance of President George W. Bush:

After the first bailout failed, Mr. Bush spoke like a man who was a mere commentator, not the leader in a crisis.

We witness here a great political lesson. When you are president, it matters—it really matters—that a majority of the people support and respect you. When you squander that affection, you lose more than mere popularity. You lose the ability to lead when your country is in crisis. This is a terrible loss, and a dangerous one, for the whole world is watching.

Young aides to Reagan used to grouse, late in his second term, that he had high popularity levels, that popularity was capital, and that he should spend it more freely on potential breakthroughs of this kind or that. But Reagan and the men around him were wiser. They spent when they had to and were otherwise prudent. (Is there a larger lesson here?) They were not daring when they didn't have to be. They knew presidential popularity is a jewel to be protected, and to be burnished when possible, because without it you can do nothing. Without the support and trust of the people you cannot move, cannot command. You are left, like Mr. Bush, talking to an empty room.

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