George Bush and Alex Scott: Strong and Wrong

RG Opinion (14 Oct. 2004)

George Bush and Alex Scott: Strong and Wrong

Dead Ringer: A person or thing that closely resembles another; an exact counterpart. Source, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

Bermuda’s Premier has what some might find an unlikely political dead ringer. Someone diametrically opposed in ideology but aligned in political circumstances and - if you listen to his critics - approach. Alex Scott and US President George W. Bush have a lot in common.

The ascension of George W. Bush and Alex Scott were both controversial, to say the least. George Bush’s critics argue that he was “selected” - not elected - by the US Supreme Court, after the well documented turmoil of the close and disputed US election. Alex Scott, in Bermuda’s case, was selected by his colleagues - as all Premier’s are - but only hours after an extremely close election and as a compromise to end the tumultuous removal of Jennifer Smith.

Another common thread is the widespread sinister belief that these individuals’ seconds-in-command are in fact the real power players. It’s often claimed that Dick Cheney is the mastermind of the White House, while here in Bermuda the presence - and ambition - of Ewart Brown is the elephant in the Cabinet Office.

Significant public outrage and sharply divided electorates dominated the post-election political landscapes. Both George Bush and Alex Scott embarked on short-lived charm offensives amid claims to govern from the centre in response. President Bush talked of being a “uniter not a divider” and promised to govern for all. Alex Scott, faced with both a divided country and party, used similar language, speaking of using his “new found political capital and position as Premier, to unite our people - all of our people.”

Both leaders experienced unforeseen catastrophes early during their terms. On September 11, 2001, just 9 months into President Bush’s first year in office, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, killing over 3,000 and causing billions in damage and economic disruption. In Bermuda, less than 3 months into Premier Scott’s tenure, Hurricane Fabian caused widespread devastation and tragically claimed the lives of four Bermudians.

In the wake of these situations, both leaders received positive reviews. Their communities responded positively, coming together both physically and emotionally, and indicated their approval with sky high job performance ratings. This atmosphere however was short-lived, their poll numbers quickly declined. Goodwill was replaced by mistrust and hostility.

Critics of both George Bush and Alex Scott argue that rather than put this unprecedented national unity to work on important bi-partisan issues, they embarked on ill-advised campaigns to appease the extreme wings of their parties. Bush began a war of pre-emption in Iraq coupled with tax cuts, while Alex Scott opted for an as yet to materialize campaign for independence.

Sky-high ratings were primarily used as opportunities to appeal to the religious wings of their parties and pursue wedge issues. Bush proposed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, while in Bermuda legislation banning gambling was hastily pushed through without public consultation. Unsurprisingly, both communities fragmented. The responses from President Bush and Premier Scott were strikingly familiar.

Mr. Bush counters criticism of his approach with talk of “steady leadership” and being “resolute and decisive”. “Strong leadership” was our Premier’s explanation for a lack of consultation on important and polarizing issues, or the resignation of a disillusioned Cabinet Minister.

Their styles of governance are also quite similar. Both leaders are accused of - shall we say – habitual truth-stretching and appeals to fear.

A stream of bad news on Iraq and the economy has inundated George Bush. Many people claim that he intentionally misrepresented the case for war in Iraq and alienated important allies. Compounding this, he’s accused of painting an overly rosy picture of a rapidly worsening situation and refusing to recognize the reality of the situation. In response the President’s surrogates delivered the message that John Kerry is the candidate of choice for terrorists.

Our Premier has also been known to pursue this approach. Perhaps recognizing that it’s easier to manage perception than reality, he repeatedly makes blatantly false statements as justification for ill-advised policies or his refusal to admit mistakes - look no further than the BHC, Berkeley and Independence.

Never one to miss an opportunity for political theatre and fear-mongering, the Premier stage-managed a series of phony confrontations with the UK. These commenced with the Chief Justice appointment and extended to internal self-governance and airport privileges, all intended to resurrect the spectre of a colonial master.

Bill Clinton characterized George Bush’s political strategy as follows: “People”, Mr. Clinton said, “will follow someone who is strong but wrong not weak but right.”

Sound familiar? Imagine how refreshing it would be for Bermuda to have a Premier who was strong and right.

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