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February 9, 2004

President Disappears, Suit Takes Questions

Posted by Phil on February 9, 2004 7:15 PM

Here's a heavily linked Claim/Fact breakdown of Bush's appearance on Meet the Press Sunday, from the Center for American Progress (via Salon).

In terms of his political appeal, I no longer claim any ability to interpret/predict how people will respond to the man. I thought Bush held his own in speaking to his base. Like his State of the Union speech, I thought everything he said was either meaningless fluff, hysterical fear-mongering, or breathtaking nonsense, but I figured people who didn't already think that wouldn't think it now. Given the fact that he had to know he wouldn't be having this particular sit-down if his ass wasn't crackling over the campfire, he seemed self-confident and comfortable, and he said all the stuff he had to say, or the only stuff he could say, about his pre-war (lack of) intelligence, his splotchy Guard record, and his budget of sand and fog.

On his Guard record (and, lookit, after eight years of bumperstickers calling Clinton a "draft-dodger," I for one am not going to leave Bush's Guard record alone), Bush hauled out a big set piece allowing as to how he wasn't going to sit there and listen to anyone making fun of the National Guard, because a lot of fine people have served in the National Guard, and if you don't think the National Guard is a Real Armed Service, then you don't know anything about the National Guard. He flew planes, you know. In a "squadron," with a cool name like "Freedom Squadron" or something. If any black-jammied VC had creeped on Galveston in a sampan, George W. Bush's "Freedom Squadron" would have been ready. You know, if he was around.

(Monday morning on NPR, Cokie Roberts gave us all what seemed like a little finger-wagging for caring about the AWOL issue at this late date. I think a lot of Americans are hearing about this for the first time, or paying attention to it for the first time because, as he ceaselessy reminded us, Bush is a War President now. During the summer and fall of 2000, we weren't at war, and Bush seemed reassuringly disinterested in getting into one, but now he seems alarmingly interested in never getting out of this one, so his military record kinda sorta matters now. It's a Character Issue. And his records would stop mattering really quickly if it were easier to suss out exactly what they tell us. As it is, there's a big gap in his reports, and there's only one torn half of one document to defend his record against the recollections of officers who would have been his commanders, but don't recall that he ever showed up and saluted.)

Anyway, stylistically, I figured Bush appealed to whoever he's always appealed to. It does seem like he's been watching a lot of The 700 Club--he really acts like Pat Robertson, smiling weirdly, as if to indicate sad, condescending amusement at anyone who doesn't agree with what's coming out of his mouth. ("Because you and I know they're going to Hell, don't we?") People respond to the kind of reckless self-assurance that comes from a lifetime of privilege and party-crashing. They take it for "leadership." No one could be that sure of himself and be wrong, right?

But the surprising buzz is that lots of conservatives were apparently chagrined at his performance. Peggy Noonan tried to be as gentle as possible ("it's OK--it happens to lots of men"), but she said he looked tired and unprepared and some other things that to me he always looks like. Andrew Sullivan was already really upset about the gay marriage thing--but now he can't believe how uninformed Bush is on fiscal policy! Which lots of conservatives are getting antsy about, although not because Bush has given the Treasury keys to the rich, but because he's spending too much money on children and spaceships.

So what's new? I mean, "That's my Bush," right? But these reactions are not about what went on inside the Oval Office Saturday afternoon, they're about the world outside: Bush's poll numbers are dropping like the February temperature.

It really should be obvious, since we've been hearing so much about it lately. Come on, don't you recognize the the dissatisfaction, the cranky second-guessing, the buyer's remorse? The Republicans are having Electability Issues! You think the Democrats are worried about John Kerry? Look who the Republicans are stuck with!

The illusion of Bush as a competent, responsible leader with a sound vision for our future only ever had substance because people wanted, maybe even needed, to believe it. Now people are starting to disbelieve it, despite his appeals to the fears that bound them to him, and President Bush is fading before our eyes.

p.s. See the NY Times book reviews for Fareed Zakaria's thoughtful and fair review of Richard Perle and David Frum's recent book, "Battling the Booger-Men," or whatever it's called.


"after eight years of bumperstickers calling Clinton a "draft-dodger," I for one am not going to leave Bush's Guard record alone"

But that's just why you should leave it alone -- you can't sink to the same level. Clinton's draft dodging should have been a non-issue outside of the earliest moments of his campaign. In office, it should have been dropped completely.

Each side is so eager to match wrongs in hopes of making rights that the bickering from administration to adminstration never stops. It's so tiring to see one party -- either party -- decry the character-destroying tactics of the other as political and petty, and then turn around and do the same thing come Inauguration Day.

Somebody's got to have the courage to just stop it one of these days, refuse to respond in kind, and leave the other side looking the fool. I don't care which party does it; it's just a cycle that doesn't deserve to continue.

Posted by: nate at February 11, 2004 4:21 PM

nate, thanks for writing. Unilateral disarmament is just not going to work. It's a valid point and an honorably idealistic position that I wish I could espouse, but it's just not going to work. These guys play hardball with pipes. Do you think Karl Rove and Tom DeLay are going to start playing nice as soon as liberals show we're simply not going to fight dirty?

Let's forget the Clinton years for the moment, and just focus on what the Republicans currently in power are about. Remember in Florida in 2000, the state Bush's brother governs, the state whose secretary of state, Katherine Harris, was a Bush campaign worker? Remember how Gore's team more or less tried to let the system work, and Bush's team stormed county offices and physically intimidated election employees attempting to count votes? Remember the "Sore/Loserman" signs? Remember how prior to the election, Florida state Republican operatives deprived or intimidated minority citizens of their right to vote? A right that people died for in the 1950s and '60s?

Remember in Texas last fall, when the media got a chuckle out of Democratic legislators absconding to Oklahoma then New Mexico, but seldom mentioned that it was to prevent Texas Republicans, backed by Rove and DeLay, from a shameless off-year redrawing of congressional districts for the GOP's benefit? Which they finally pulled off?

How about Antonin Scalia going duck-hunting with Vice President Cheney, then refusing to recuse himself from the case demanding that Cheney reveal just which private corporate representatives lent their two cents to the Bush energy plan?

No, nate, not this year, not this time. You can ignore all other issues except the environment, and still the conclusion has to be that this administration's record and the future it promises must be stopped by any reasonable means. And they will fight like cornered rats.

And Bush's military record is more than a squishy-soft character issue. It goes to the heart of his sense of civic responsibility. Clinton got called a draft dodger for avoiding service in a war he opposed. Bush skirted the light duty he was handed in a war he supported, and then lied about it. I find his hypocrisy a far greater character flaw.

They have to be stopped, nate. If we lay down, they'll stomp right over us, and laugh at what liberal wimps we are.

Posted by: pk at February 12, 2004 6:49 PM

[snapping papers... tapping a pencil on the microphone... sniggering to himself]

Please, oh please, John Kerry, make a big deal about Bush's Viet Nam National Guard service. Because I can't wait to dive into Kerry's anti- war activities following his tours of duty in Viet Nam. Go for it!

Posted by: Rush Limbaugh at February 13, 2004 9:01 AM

I agree with Nate. It perplexes me when people preoccupy themselves with the period that is Vietnam -- military service and so forth. Isn't this a good example of misdirection, if one were to look at character rather than substance it negates the debate, if any. Look at the choices you might face, Kerry or Bush. AWOL or anti-Vietnam status is just a reframing of the issues for digestibility. A damn shame.

Posted by: Gummi at February 14, 2004 3:50 AM

I agree it's a damn shame that presidential elections are so much more about personality than about policy. I think if that weren't the case, Gore would have beaten Bush. And maybe Dole would have beaten Clinton (though I don't think Bush Sr. would have). The point is that this is the game that politics is, and this is the game I was writing about. And the ball in play currently is Bush's Guard record.

I was preoccupied this week with Bush's Vietnam-era behavior, but my opposition to him is rooted in the actions and policies of his administration. On the environment, foreign policy, the economy, corporate influence and corruption, gov't social programs, civil rights, and, yes, even security, Bush has been a terrible president, and a second term would be disastrous. As the president is always saying, "I look forward to that conversation." If they ever have it, I'll probably write about it.

Posted by: pk at February 14, 2004 8:04 AM

Clinton and Character issue in the sames postings? Wow!

I can't wait to see who Kerry picks for VP. Why? Well, if we're at war and war time experince is necessary as the DNC implies and the VP is just a heartbeat away from becoming president then the VP better be a vet also.

Hmm, the DNC saddled this horse, lets see them ride it.

Posted by: BartB at February 14, 2004 12:55 PM