CNN anchor Rick Sanchez and Dallas Morning News political writer Wayne Slater agreed on Tuesday's Newsroom program that former President George W. Bush appeared to be "controlled by a bunch of bullies," or that he was "presiding over a reign of bullies, with [Dick] Cheney and [Donald] Rumsfeld and Karl Rove pushing a partisan agenda." Later, as President Obama was getting ready to speak at a meeting with small business owners, Slater sought to correct the conservative critics of the administration's economic policy: "You have the right wing pounding on him day after day for the...bail-outs...a liberal, a socialist - and yet, here you have a guy who really is tracking a fairly moderate line."
Sanchez first had the Dallas Morning News writer on just after the bottom half of the 3 pm Eastern hour of the CNN program to discuss a recent article in GQ magazine which alleged that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "held up military aid to New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina." The CNN anchor first asked, "Why would Donald Rumsfeld not want to help the people of New Orleans in this situation, given that he had his finger on the military relief?"
Slater toed the standard liberal line on Rumsfeld: "Well, that was the point. He had his finger on the military relief and wanted to keep it. This was a turf battle. It's interesting that Rumsfeld - I think nobody doubts reflected an attitude of certitude maybe, arrogance. This caused problems overseas, and now we find out that sort of attitude about things caused problems here at home." He continued that he thought that the former defense chief "wasn't thinking in terms of hurting people. I'm sure of that. What he was thinking about was protecting his own turf and interpreting everything as a challenge."
After excerpting some alleged quotes by President Bush from the GQ story, Sanchez wondered if these allegations or leaks were "part of the legacy building for the president." Slater agreed: "That's what this is, Rick. This is legacy building time. The administration's out - folks on different parts of administration are pointing fingers, trying to make somebody else look bad, so that they look good." Sanchez replied, "But it doesn't make him look good. It makes him look like a guy who was being controlled by a bunch of bullies."
The political writer wholeheartedly agreed: "That's exactly it. If Lincoln had a sort of team of rivals, it now appears that Bush was presiding over a reign of bullies, with Cheney and Rumsfeld and Karl Rove pushing a partisan agenda. And so by comparison, you're right. Bush seems a bit weak, but by some comparison, he certainly looks better than these guys, and I think that's part of the legacy-building effort by the leakers for this [GQ] piece."
Both Sanchez and Slater continued with this "legacy building" subject, and the anchor brought in the seemingly obligatory Abu Ghraib matter:
SANCHEZ: You wrote the book on these guys. I mean, who's back there pulling the strings? Who's in the back room saying, you know what? Here's the way we want the legacy to go. It didn't go all well for this guy - for our president. However, [it] wasn't all his fault. It was a bunch of guys around him who were pulling his strings. SLATER: Well, I think - I think with respect to this piece, and other things that have been written, the number one person is Karl Rove. He's the big legacy builder. But there are others. There are others in the administration who weren't very happy about Donald Rumsfeld - others who aren't that excited about Dick Cheney - folks who really believe that George Bush was not well treated, was not well served by some of the people around him. And although he left office with one of the lowest approval ratings of any president, by comparison, this legacy building process might lift him a bit so that people will think, well, he is not as bad as those other guys.
SANCHEZ: He's not so bad - he was a good guy after all. You know what's interesting about this - I'm going to tie these two stories now. One - you and I had a conversation about this, and the folks at home probably remember - the story about Abu Ghraib and why it is that Lindsey [sic] England and some of these other people went to prisons, while, you know, the vice president and the secretary of defense did not, and now, we hear that they may have been responsible. Well, same situation here - there was [sic] so many people who were criticized after Katrina - the mayor, the city council, the governor, the president. Now, again, we start hearing, look who really was, in many ways, at fault. There's starting to be a pattern here, isn't there?
SLATER: Absolutely a pattern - you saw it in Abu Ghraib. After Katrina, we saw congressional investigations. They sent it high level - inquiry, which really at the end didn't do much except to say Brownie - Michael Brown, and as you said, the mayor and the governor of Louisiana were - contributed to the problem. But you never saw this stuff about Rumsfeld. You never really saw the people at the top. It was people lower down who took the fall - exactly what happened at Abu Ghraib, where there was an investigation - and that's not to say that the people who were - who got caught up in it were guiltless. But it is that it's amazing how the people at the top always seem to escape responsibility and blame.
SANCHEZ: And not just the people at the top but the same people.
SLATER: Same people.
Minutes later, the CNN anchor brought back Slater just before President Obama spoke to a group of small business owners, and immediately afterwards. This, as you might expect, brought in the debate over whether the Democrat's policies were socialistic. Slater disagreed with this line of criticism, and instead used his "fairly moderate line" label.
SANCHEZ: Wayne, how important is it for this president to come off as a business-minded president, as opposed to much of the criticism that he's getting from the right, saying that he's a socialist? SLATER: I think - I think it's real important for that perfect reason. You have the right wing pounding on him day after day for the - for bail-outs, and as I said - a liberal, a socialist - and yet, here you have a guy who really is tracking a fairly moderate line, and what you see, for example, today, with respect to the emissions standards, this is a case where he has brought together labor and the auto industry in a way that the previous administrations could not do, to do something - do something really dramatic.
SANCHEZ: So if you're a Republican and you really want that socialist banner to stick, what do you go for here? Do you talk about the fact that he's spending so darn much money of - so much of our money?
SLATER: Well, you do two things. You talk about - you continue to talk about the bailouts. You talk about those until they start to work, and if that happens, then you don't talk about them anymore. And that will be a while before we really know. The other thing you talk about is anything that suggests tax increase, anything to suggests government intervention -
SLATER: Reinforces that, and in this case, this is a government plan with respect to gas emissions - gasoline emissions on automobiles. But as you criticize that, as the government's stepping in and mandating certain standards - when, in fact, what it really is is something the industry wants, and that's instead of having a patchwork of standards - California has one thing, other states have others - but the federal government established a uniform standard, and so it's really quite remarkable that he's working at the behest both of the industry - and I say - and labor, at a time that it's going to be very difficult for Republican critics to criticize him.
# 3:52 pm:
SANCHEZ: As we watch the president now shaking hands with the winner of this year's small business award, and the small business administrator, we can't help but mention, Wayne Slater, if you're still there listening, that these are the very people that the right will say will be overburdened and overtaxed by the Obama economic plan.
SLATER: That's exactly what the right is going to say. That's what they are already saying, and that's really the subtext of this announcement today. It is that I, Barack Obama and this administration - we are not the enemy of small business. We are the friend of small business. We are not a socialist operation. We really understand that having been given an economic conflagration, that we understand that small business really does produce the jobs that we need, and I'm going to do something about it. Now that's what you talk about today. We'll see what they actually do in the future.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, yeah. The jury is still out on this one - I think a lot of people on both sides would argue.
-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.