Ross Douthat's New York Times column has already drawn some criticism for giving President Bush credit for acting to fix catastrophes he created and for its concluding suggestion that Bush was a good president. But there's another problem: in his desire to defend Bush, Douthat offers a strawman version of one of the central criticisms of Bush:
And if we give Bush credit on these fronts, it's worth reassessing one of the major critiques of his presidency - that it was fatally insulated, by ideology and personality, from both the wisdom of the Washington elite and the desires of the broader public.
In reality, many of the Bush-era ventures that look worst in hindsight were either popular with the public at the time or blessed by the elite consensus. Voters liked the budget-busting tax cuts and entitlement expansions. The Iraq war's cheering section included prominent Democrats and scores of liberal pundits. And save for a few prescient souls, everybody - right and left, on Wall Street and Main Street - was happy to board the real-estate express and ride it off an economic cliff.
I don't really think one of the major critiques of Bush's presidency is that it was "fatally insulated" from "the wisdom of the Washington elite." When is the last time you heard someone say "If only George W. Bush had listened to Tom "Suck on This" Friedman?" Or "Why, oh, why, didn't Bush listen to Richard Cohen's and Jonathan Alter's pleas for torture?"
No: One of the major critiques is that Bush was insulated from opposing viewpoints. And, of course, those opposing viewpoints generally turned out to be correct.
The Washington elite, as Douthat notes, generally went along with Bush administration schemes like unnecessary and unpaid-for tax cuts and wars. Douthat seems to think that undermines the criticism that Bush was insulated from those who disagreed with him and deaf to opposing (and better-considered) views. It doesn't; it merely demonstrates that Bush was not alone in that flaw -- he was joined by, among others, many of the journalists who make up the Washington elite.
Given that Bush is gone and that Washington elite is still here, Douthat would have done far better to examine why the Tom Friedmans and Richard Cohens of the world were in such agreement with Bush than to use their agreement to absolve Bush. Or why the Washington elite is so quick to bless right-wing policies. Or why, despite that, the Washington elite persists in thinking they are insufficiently solicitous of conservative viewpoints.