Bush In The Bully Pulpit

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Read the history books. George. We all know Teddy Roosevelt, and you’re no Teddy Roosevelt. In response to the submission that Congress “has rendered him irrelevant” as his second term wanes, President Bush insists there is still plenty to do to be an effective leader, USA Today reports. “I’m doing it right now,” the paper quotes him as saying. “It’s called (using) the bully pulpit.”

Bush’s latest sermon forewarns the risk of “World War III,” if Iran continues its uranium enrichment programs designed, many observers caution, to develop nuclear weapons. “I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (Iran) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon,” Bush said last week during a press conference in an apparent pushback at Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s declaration that any use of military force in the region, even to halt a nuclear energy program, was unacceptable.

Enter trigger-happy Vice President Dick Chaney, who said Sunday in a speech that the U.S. “will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” and suggested “serious consequences” if Iran pursues the course.  Some in Washington have interpreted this as the threat of a military strike—Cheney’s “fondest pipe dream,” as Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat from Virginia, was quoted in the Associated Press as saying.

The problem with all this bully pulpit stuff is a matter of etymology and oversimplifying a world crisis that awaits us, for which we need a thoughtful strategy, not one-liners from a President about to leave office. The “bully pulpit” according to the C-SPAN Congressional Glossary, “stems from President Theodore Roosevelt’s reference to the White House as…a terrific platform from which to persuasively advocate an agenda. Roosevelt often used the word ‘bully’ as an adjective meaning superb or wonderful.”

There is nothing superb or wonderful about a foreign policy—as we have in Iraq and appear headed to in Iran—that oversimplifies a crisis without a proper exit strategy or an accounting of potential losses. It may get the flag waving in the Mid West, but does little to confront the realities of the 21st century. As we did in Iraq, are we going to invade every country that threatens our national security? Are we going to bomb into oblivion any hostile government that develops nuclear weapons? And as a nation, are we to feel safe, just because a White House administration purports to do so?

What about the specter of terrorist dirty bombs, chemical weapons, and biological weapons, like the spread of deadly, antibiotic-resistant staff infections that infect more than 90,000 Americans annually, according to a government report? The bully pulpit ought to expound on superb ways of attacking these problems, not just offer chest-beating, dead-end, veiled threats that play well on the six o’clock news.

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