Friday, January 13, 2006

The imaginary leadership of George W. Bush

At Slate, John Dickerson explains why Bush is open to the idea of Congressional hearings on his (illegal) domestic spying program. No, it has nothing to do with uncovering the truth. And no, such hearings wouldn't, as Bush claims, be "good for democracy". Rather, Bush wants to sidestep the unpopularity of his disastrous war in Iraq and attempt to boost his sagging presidency by turning the discussion, and national attention, back to 9/11 and terrorism -- where Americans have yet fully to grasp his utter incompetence and lack of real (as opposed to imagined, rhetoric-driven, lie-based) leadership.

If Bush can effectively tap the mood of those fearful days after 9/11, he'll once again try to use America's darkest day for a purely partisan purpose, that is, for mythologizing himself as a tough, courageous war president even as he vilifies his opponents as somehow weak and soft and not at all patriotic enough.

Hence the hearings: "He's inviting Democrats to another round of self-immolation." More: "While Democrats are often confusing, with too many leaders and no clear message to push back against the commander in chief, the president is passionate when he talks about fighting terrorists, and a majority of voters still approve of his handling of the issue. And because the spying program was initiated soon after 9/11, it offers Bush an opportunity to discuss his more popular days as a take-charge executive after the 2001 attacks."

But Dickerson is right: This isn't 2001 anymore. Democrats were defeated soundly on terrorism in 2002 because the country trusted Bush in the shadow of 9/11 and rewarded his party in the midterm elections. But 2006 isn't 2002. Bush may try to turn the country's attention back to 9/11, but he has lost the confidence of many Americans who were willing to support him in a time of uncertainty by pursuing his diversionary war in Iraq and more generally by proving himself to be a truly incompetent president. Americans won't look the other way this time.

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For more, see:

Political Animal: "All this is by way of saying that although Democrats would like the 2006 election to be about Jack Abramoff and Republican corruption, the White House still has something to say about that. George Bush is going to do his best to keep national security front and center, and Democrats had better have a more crowd-pleasing answer on this subject than they did in 2002 and 2004."

Hullabaloo: "The politics are very different now than they were in 2002. This country is no longer in thrall to a president with an 80% approval rating. Iraq is a huge drag, the Republicans' credibility is in shreds because of it --- and the Abramoff scandal just reinforces the whole ugly mess. The man with the bullhorn is now seen as the man with the bullshit to around 60% of voters."

Pandagon: "I have no desire to live in denial about political prospects and ramifications, but I do think it is important to note, that the metrics have changed, both in terms of the presidents popularity, and I suspect, the urgency with which Americans feel toward terrorism. Also the Democrats do have a stronger political argument, provided they make it in a unified and coherent fashion. If Democrats had to have a plan for Iraq, like Kerry had to in 2004, there would be cause for concern. But I don’t think they do. Certainly not one single unified plan. And otherwise there are, indeed, a lot of differences between congressional investigations of domestic wiretaps and the possible fallout therefrom, and the muddled debate on arcane policy matters concerning the Department of Homeland Security. The Democrats will be on the offensive against a weakened president, as opposed to whatever it was they were doing when Bush was at the summit of his powers.

See also The Carpetbagger Report, The Mahablog, and TAPPED.

If you check out these posts, you'll find a friendly debate among some of the best of my fellow liberal bloggers. But I would say that they're all right -- in part. Times have changed, as Digby stresses, and the Democrats are now in a much better position to challenge the president's handling of national security and foreign policy. But, as Kevin suggests, Bush will do everything he can to spin national security and foreign policy in his favour and to force Democrats into a defensive posture. Times have changed, and Republicans deserve to lose, but it's still up to Democrats to stand firm and to provide Americans with good reasons to vote for them, that is, with a compelling alternative to Republican leadership.

This is no time for complacency.

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