Back in 1530, a man named Fitzherbert published a tract on animal husbandry. Included amongst the long-forgotten author's nuggets of wisdom one finds: "The dogge must lerne it when he is a whelpe, or els it wyl not be; for it is harde to make an olde dogge to stoupe." Simply translated, Fitztherbert's aphorism teaches, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."
Truer words were never written.
Just reference President George W. Bush.
"How so?" you may well ask.
As the saying goes, "Vell, I'll tell 'ya . . ."
Within the span of just a little over two weeks President Bush has gone from the chastened to the chutzpadik; from the whupped to the warrior. Wasn't it just two-and-a-half weeks ago that W was proclaiming his deep desire to work with the new Democrat-controlled 110th Congress in a fresh mood of bipartisanship? Wasn't this the man who broke bread and took photos with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid? Seems to me the answer is "Yes, it certainly was."
If this is so [and a million photo-ops had better not be wrong], why is W still whistling the divisive, conservative-to-the-core, take-no-prisoners tune of the victorious? Didn't he hear the blaring klaxon of the American voting public? Doesn't he realize that the results of November 7 past were a repudiation; a notice of intent to file for a mid-term course correction?
Not at all.
For in Bush's [and by extension, the Republican's] case, the perceived wisdom is not merely that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. Rather, it's qui me amat, amat et canem meam; namely, "love me, love my dog."
One might think that instead of acting hubristically [which we will herein define as "with unmerited swagger"], he would consider cloaking his deeds in a mantle of sophrosyne -- that is, "moderation," "discretion," or "prudence."
One might think.
But one would be wrong; terribly, overwhelmingly wrong.
But then, what can one expect from a man who chose to treat his 2000 victory by-judicial-fiat as an overwhelming mandate, and then squandered nearly all his post-9/11 political capital on an ill-conceived war-by -choice? Moderation? Discretion? Prudence? Wake up; this is the man who when asked to name just one mistake he had made as president, was stuck for an answer. Moral certainty, so the philosophers tell us, is the most fertile breeding ground for hubris.
Just a scant two-and-a-half weeks after W's stated desire to work in that spirit of bipartisanship, he is back to his old uber-partisan tricks:
- He still wants [expects?] the Senate to confirm the cowboy diplomatist John Bolton as our permanent United Nations ambassador; something a Republican-controlled Senate refused to do. The chances of this happening are two: absolutely none and even less than that.
- He has renominated a slew of hard-right judicial candidates who were already rejected by a user-friendly Senate for being too conservative and grossly unqualified. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a key Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee has already pronounced them all politically DOA. "The days of hard-right judges are over," Schumer bluntly stated last week.
- The president has nominated Andrew Biggs, an advocate of privatizing Social Security, to a six-year term as the next deputy commissioner of Social Security. At the same time, Bush has assigned Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to work with members of the 110th Congress to build consensus on what to do with the program. Can you say "working both ends against the middle?"
- Bush has appointed a new chief of family-planning programs who is opposed to contraceptives for women. Believe it or not, this is the fellow who will be advising the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] on reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy!
What is going on here? Is the president so devoted to making America safe for the Religious Right that he fails to grasp an undeniable fact: that approximately one-third of all self-defined Evangelical Christians voted for Democrats this time around? Is he so politically tone-deaf that Karl Rove's discordance still sounds like sweet four-part harmony? In short, is this man capable of understanding that from this point on, he is in for some serious challenges?
George W. Bush might well take a lesson from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the head honcho of hubris. For recent history records that after having been handed his political lunch by the voters of the Golden State, Conan the Republican rethought his positions, apologized for his political ineptitude, and resolved to become a team player. His stunning about-face carried with it a stunning reward: Schwarzenegger won an overwhelming victory [56%-39%] over California State Treasurer Phil Angelides.
Not that George W. Bush will ever run for office again. However, if he is to have any hope of scoring higher than Warren G. Harding on the list of America's worst presidents; if he wants to be remembered for something other than being the man who bemired America in Iraq and then single-handedly made the term "compassionate conservative" a hackneyed punchline, he will have to rethink and reevaluate.
Will he be a cowboy or a conciliator?
Will he swagger alone or stride in harmony?
In short Mr. President, what will it be? Hubris or Sophrosyne?