Skip to comments.Why He Drives Them Crazy (A MUST READ!)
Posted on 10/04/2002 9:29:00 PM PDT by Pokey78
WHEN IT ALL boiled over that day in September--with a red-faced Tom Daschle denouncing the president from the Senate floor--George W. Bush had already given the Democrats two very bad years. Two years of predictions that never quite happened. Two years of gotchas that never came through. Two years of hopes dashed.
Two Septembers ago, let us remember, candidate Bush appeared dead in the water. He misspoke, went off message, blew his big lead. In the debates, surely, Al Gore would finish him. Not quite. Bush won the debates. Then Bush won Florida, and Democrats went into what became their default position: (a) Bush wasn't president; (b) Bush was dumb. As to (a), newspaper recounts, they kept telling themselves, would clearly show that Gore won Florida. As to (b), Bush would soon fall flat on his face. Didn't happen. They said Bush couldn't govern; Bush had a honeymoon. Then in late summer 2001, things settled down, and Bush stalled. Democrats could look forward to tormenting Bush for a year, before taking back Congress. Then came the attacks.
For a couple of days, the usual suspects tagged Bush as being both dim and a coward, flying around the country instead of back to Washington. But by the time most of these snipes had seen print, it was September 14, and Bush had been in the morning to the National Cathedral and in the afternoon to ground zero, where he was cheered as a heroic commander in chief in the heart of blue country, in a state he had lost by 28 points. His poll numbers soared. People said his numbers would drop, and so they did drop, all the way down to the 70s, after eight or nine months. Then came a few months of punishing headlines, and liberals brightened. Surely the Teflon would peel off of this poseur. People would see Bush the way that they saw him. People would see.
Or would they? Over and over, hopes budded, blossomed, and then fell away. In April, hopes were pinned on reports that the president "knew something" about the attacks before September 11 and had done nothing about them. What did the president know? Did he know that he knew it? Turns out the problems were in intelligence agencies, and were being corrected. "It seems clear the president has won this round," reported the New York Post's Deborah Orin, who quoted a pollster: "In the short term, it backfired--the Democrats probably helped boost Bush's numbers by pushing the agenda back to terrorism, which is his strength."
Then came a slew of problems that were not his long suit. Bush and Cheney's pals at Enron turned out to be presiding over a con game that tanked the company and wiped out the employees' pensions. The stock market tanked, partly because of the scandals. Happy days were here again, weren't they? Democrats did not yet have a candidate for the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but surely they had their dream opponent: George Herbert Hoover Bush. "In a few short weeks, America's political economy has been stunningly transformed," wrote Robert Kuttner in the American Prospect. "President Bush is suddenly in trouble. . . . The Bush administration, the Republican party, and three decades of conservative ideology are facing a potential rout." And properly so. "How utterly fitting. Bush's own financial biography, on a pettier scale, epitomizes the corruption that now threatens the whole system. . . . Bush irrevocably symbolizes the tawdriness of crony capitalism, right down to his insider self-enrichment based on the sale of the fraudulently inflated Harken stock." Michael Tomasky called the Harken charge the beginning of the end for the president, "the very point at which the spokes started coming off the wheels" for his highness. In the New Republic, Ryan Lizza wrote, "For over a week now, President Bush's dodgy stint at Harken Energy . . . has followed him around the country like a dark cloud. . . . the White House that dodged the Enron bullet might not be so lucky a second time. . . . Bush isn't only on the defensive on corporate fraud; corporate fraud is putting him on the defensive about almost everything else." Democratic leaders happily counted the possible gains in November, and gleefully tracked the slide in Bush's approval numbers, now falling at a rate of about 4 points a month. By Election Day, his numbers might be down in the 50s, and life would be back to normal. The Democrats' year of living defensively would be blessedly over. How could they miss?
They could miss like this: By late August, Enron and Harken were history. While liberals tried to frame it as "the people versus the powerful," Bush framed it as the straight versus the crooked, with himself on the side of the straight. He had done nothing to help Enron when it went under. No one could find much amiss in his dealings with Harken except for the people who found all business sinister. The "crony capitalism" Bush was said to have symbolized was accepted instead as part of the much older pattern of favors done for children of powerful families (such as the Gores and the Kennedys). The liberals had counted on a theory of guilt by resemblance--i.e., CEOs, oil, and Texas--without much in the way of real evidence. The public decided that the scandals were scandalous, but agreed with Republicans that they were the result of criminal acts, not systemic flaws. They wanted to see the criminal punished so that corporate capitalism could thrive again. No one wanted a new New Deal. In July, a Gallup poll found that respondents still considered big government more of a threat than big corporations, by a margin of 47 percent to 38 percent. A poll by the Pew Research Center even found that "the public, 36 percent to 31 percent, sees the GOP as best able to deal with corporate corruption," the Washington Post said in late September.
And as with the scandals, so with the market in general. People had long ago stopped believing that politicians could do much to help the economy. Polls on who could handle it best appeared inconclusive. "The economy is not a clear-cut issue for many voters as they assign blame," the Washington Post said in a September 29 story. The pessimists were far more inclined to blame terrorism or the business cycle than Bush. In fact, in the summer some polls found that fewer people blamed Bush than blamed Clinton. Talk about pain.
By the start of September, Bush had been off-stage for a month, and the war had moved to the op-ed pages, where GOP heavyweights duked it out with each other. Bush's poll rating fell, all the way down to, oh, 60 or so. Surely this time the Teflon would finally flake off? Democrats murmured once more that Bush wasn't "up to it." In a September 11 anniversary issue, Time suggested that perhaps Bush hadn't risen to meet the level of history, that history had for a moment "fallen" to his. In a double issue timed to be on the newsstands on September 11, the New Republic informed us: "The sense of destiny that characterized George W. Bush in the weeks and the months after the attacks, that lifted him unexpectedly above his own sorry limitations, was long ago dissipated by business as usual. . . . The hollowness of the president, the poverty of his resources for leadership, is plain, and it is 'partisanship' to find anything Churchillian in the man."
Oops. While this issue was still on the newsstands, Bush addressed the country on September 11 and the United Nations the day after; he recast the Iraq debate on his terms and his timing, quelled the dissension within his own party, boxed the Democrats into the trap in which they are still squirming, and pulled a neat piece of judo on the U.N., putting the burden of action on them. Bush's numbers reversed, and recommenced climbing. Republican prospects began to look better. Deep rifts were exposed in the Democratic caucus that had gone unstressed since the end of the Cold War. The one thing that many Democrats seemed to agree on was that Bush had brought up Iraq now for political reasons. But polls showed that 59 percent of respondents thought Bush was being sincere in his actions, and an equal number thought the Democrats were trying to politicize the debate. It was at this point then that Daschle exploded. No wonder. And Democrats cheered. But at the end of the week, polls showed Bush unaffected and Republicans gaining a slight general lead.
CRAIG CRAWFORD of Hotline has suggested that Bush goaded Daschle, hoping to elicit an overreaction. Perhaps. Whether by design or instinct, Bush has a history of driving people who are sure they're much smarter than he is to incredibly silly and self-immolating acts. In the Texas governor's race in 1994, he was the lightweight against the incumbent, Ann Richards, who felt herself demeaned by having to run against him. Making her disdain clear, she addressed him as "shrub" and as "Junior." He addressed her as "Governor Richards." She called him "clueless." He called her "Governor Richards." She called him "the anemic link at the tail end of the gilded Bush dynasty." He said he found her "interesting" as a study in character. At last, she blew up, and called him "some jerk" at a rally. He won by 6 points.
Al Gore thought he was smarter than Bush, and in the debates planned to take out this pretender. He would show off his mental and physical dominance. Condescendingly, Gore sighed, smirked, interrupted, and unleashed tidal waves of details and assertions. Then Bush, as the Washington Post's David von Drehle astutely observed, "read Gore's effort to overshadow him, and, in an odd way, opted to make himself a little bit smaller," becoming relentlessly civil and courteous. It worked. At one point, wrote Jeff Greenfield, "Al Gore left his stool and walked slowly, stiffly, toward his opponent, arms at his sides, palms pointed behind him, looking oddly like [a] robot. . . . Bush glanced over his shoulder, took a beat--and nodded once, as if to say: Hi there--be with you in a moment. The audience laughed, and Al Gore was finished for the night." Something of the same sort seemed to happen to Daschle last week. After his outburst, the White House suggested he might have misread the story that caused it, giving him the chance to back down from his tantrum. He didn't take it, but went back on the floor of the Senate. His purpose was to help his own party's chances. At the end of the week, surveys showed the Republicans for the first time making small gains in congressional polls.
What happens to a dream deferred? Nothing pretty. The liberals' dream of "exposing" the president has now suffered blow upon blow. Simply speaking, their view of Bush--expressed on any given day by Terry McAuliffe, Paul Begala, James Carville, the Nation, Michael Kinsley, or the New York Times, is still this: George W. Bush is a moron who stole the election, had the great good luck to be president when terrorists struck at our two major cities, benefited unfairly from an irrational wave of hysterical jingoism, and now, when the glow from that burst has been fading, has cooked up a phony war to distract attention from corporate fraud and the stock market crash, which of course he caused. Their failure to sell this analysis to the three-fourths of the country not in the grip of terminal Bushophobia has driven them quite out of their senses. Every day, they get shriller and more desperate. Surely, if Maureen Dowd turns the smirk up one notch, if Frank Rich reviews Bush like another bad movie, the unwashed will awake and see reason? But no.
If you had told a liberal in mid-2001 that in the fall of 2002 the Dow would be somewhere below 8,000 and a cluster of scandals would beset corporate boardrooms, he would scarcely have believed his good fortune. That time has now come, these factors are present, and that liberal can scarcely believe his bad luck. There are two possible explanations: Either he has overestimated the extent to which his worldview is shared by the public, or he has underestimated George Bush. Neither idea is appealing. What kind of a populist are you if the people aren't with you? What kind of an intellectual are you if you aren't smarter than Bush? How can people so smart, and whose views are so popular, be beaten so often by someone so clueless? The idea that George Bush is a gifted politician whose views are quite mainstream would make their world crumble. On the other hand, if they are so often trounced by an out-of-touch moron, then what does it say about them?
And so it goes, in a widening gyre, with each new defeat feeding the fury. Bush-haters want their elected leaders to rip into the president, like the Times in full petulance. But this sort of thing hit a brick wall a year ago. The day after Daschle's ill-conceived tirade, vulnerable Democrats running for office clustered around Bush at a photo-op, hoping to be there in the picture if and when it was published at home. Republicans love Bush. Swing voters like him, as do quite a few moderate Democrats who are willing to fight him on this or that issue, but have no stomach for slashing attacks. In short, what the Democrats need to inspire their base is exactly what tends to turn off swing voters, putting success out of their reach. Hatred of Bush is becoming a weapon that helps him by dividing his political enemies. Bush is said to believe that in the terrorist attacks he discovered his "mission and moment," the work of his life, and its meaning. This may be true, but it's only part of the story. Bush's other destiny is driving Democrats nuts.
Fantastic read - and an excellent analysis of the Democrats lose-lose situation and Bush's smiling success. Thank you!
Since Bill Kristol has long been one of the President's political enemies, I find this particularly ironic, being that is published in Kristol's rag. This President is amazing, he's forced Gephardt, Kristol, McCain, and Lieberman all to jump onto to his train in just one week.
Buh bye, Daschle.....
How about in here?
Somehow..... I believe this :-)
Thanks for the ping!! This one is definately a keeper!