[media id=7032] You Tube From the Chris Matthews special "The Decider" Mark Halperin gets some more of his cringe-inducing Bush love on for all to s
December 31, 2008

You Tube

From the Chris Matthews special "The Decider" Mark Halperin gets some more of his cringe-inducing Bush love on for all to see.

Transcript below the fold.

Obama's election and the Democratic sweep of Congress represent the American people's opinion of the Decider's presidency. But what will be history's verdict? I put that question to presidential historian Sean Wilentz of Princeton University and Mark Halperin, Editor at Large, Time magazine.

MATTHEWS: Have we ever had a president who relied so much on his gut as George W. Bush?

SEAN WILENTZ, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I don't think so. I can't think of one right away. One who took decisions and stuck by them, that's the key I think. It's not so much the instantaneousness of making decisions, I don't even think that Bush worked that way. But I don't think we've had as stubborn a president, certainly not in recent times, one who was unwilling to change his mind to change course.

MATTHEWS: Can you find this, Mark, where the Bush decisions come from? He's the Great Decider.

MARK HALPERIN, TIME MAGAZINE: So resolute and stubborn, you know, he said in his acceptance speech after he was re-nominated he said, "In Texas, you know, people look at that as just walking, not strutting.” I think the two things that we can't know—as much as he's been written about, as much as we've all talked about him, is his relationship to giving up drinking and his relationship to his Lord. I think both of those things contributed to his discipline and his stubbornness. He did not want this job as much as most people who seek it. And then he got it, and I think he just decided he was gonna do it his way, and he never deviated from that.

MATTHEWS: We have the Adams Family and we have the Bush Family of father and son presidencies. In the case of this father and son relationship, how much of that is important?

WILENTZ: In the first case, the younger Adams was on the scene pretty much after his father was away. This case, the father's looking over the shoulder, potentially. And—that has been a factor, I think, in the presidency. I mean, you saw it in the buildup to Iraq. It wasn't George H.W. Bush talking, it was Brent Scowcroft talking, but nevertheless, it was pretty clear that the view from Kennebunkport was rather dark, what was about to happen. I don't know any president that's had a father present looking over your shoulder, nothing like that.

MATTHEWS: I always like to ask politicians or about them, who's in the room when they make their big decisions. It's a great way of cutting to the quick.

WILENTZ: The number of voices that were in that room were pretty small, the ones that really counted. You hear accounts—you read accounts, even, about cabinet meetings and there were two or three people in the room who really counted and everybody else there was kind of stuffed dummy and that was the end of it.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, so it was Cheney—

WILENTZ: And—well, Cheney's people... you know, Scooter Libby and the others, Addington and the others. Condi Rice was important up to a point on foreign policy.

MATTHEWS: Did she challenge the President or just back him up? Was she an enabler?

WILENTZ: From where I was sitting, she looked more like an enabler than an advisor. She's comes from a very different tradition. She's the Brent Scowcroft protégé, after all. And so if there was someone who was going to be restraining—the more evangelical side, and I think that's the word for it, of foreign policy, it would have been she. And you didn't see too much of that.

MATTHEWS: Rate him as commander in chief.

HALPERIN: I do think he deserves high marks for his public presentations after a rocky start in the first few hours, the joint session speech, at Ground Zero, a number of other times when you can't be sure of it, but II'm confident that he performed there very well and other presidents may not have performed as well.

I also think he gets high marks for what we didn't see as commander-in-chief. Not just the fact that there has not been another attack, but we know that he has spent an extraordinary amount of time and psychic energy in organizing homeland security, in dealing with threats around the world, again sometimes overstepping and hurting America's image in the world.

MATTHEWS: Let's shift to a couple of interesting areas, one is politics. Mark, you know politics well. The influence of Karl Rove, the man the President Bush referred to as the architect.

HALPERIN: I think Karl played as big a role as anybody in alienating not just the Democrats in Congress, but half the electorate. And he's been punished with the rise of the liberal blogosphere, liberals on cable TV in a way that the conservatives used to have with the Heritage Foundation, talk radio, et cetera.

MATTHEWS: A lot of blowback here.

WILENTZ: There is blowback. But also, I mean, there was subordination of policy to politics, partisan politics, in a way that was unusual that was, I think, unprecedented.

I mean, you saw that even with the war. I mean, not too long after that wonderful speech of Bush's before the joint session, there was Karl Rove talking to the Republicans saying, "We're gonna run on this issue, we're gonna make this a political issue.” And that was just exactly the wrong thing to do, I think, in a case of war, a good war president, a good commander in chief pulls together, reaches across the aisle, doesn't politicize the war. This war got politicized right away.

MATTHEWS: Is George Bush a tough act to follow?

WILENTZ: There are a lot of big problems out there. And some of which were George Bush's creation, some of which were not. And I don't envy President Obama one bit having, in effect, the Great Depression and World War II placed on his plate at the same time. So, a tough act to follow in some ways—yes, he is a tough act to follow because the mess we've gotten into requires leadership to get us out of. And unless you can do that, you may not be able to become the kind of President you could have been.

HALPERIN: Can I say one thing positive... I think he has an achievement that is more from the bully pulpit than it is programmatic. But if you look at No Child Left Behind, and if you look at AIDS in Africa and some of the other initiatives, I think one thing he really believes in, which is he elevated the public imagination, the public sensibility, the notion of every life being precious, every spirit being important.

MATTHEWS: Well, thank you Professor Sean Wilentz, and thank you Mark Halperin.

George W. Bush has taken solace in comparing his dismal popularity ratings to Harry Truman's. That's understandable, since history now regards Truman as one of our better presidents. But in a recent informal survey of some 100 American historians, 98 percent agree with Sean Wilentz and rate the Bush presidency a failure. And more than 60 percent said he was the worst president ever. Will the passage of time soften that harsh opinion? Mr. Bush can only hope. But as Bush once said, "History, we don't know. We'll all be dead.”

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