Sunday, November 07, 2004 the Triumph...of the Real

George W. Bush began his first term essentially even, with no mandate as the term is conventionally understood. He therefore proceeded as if he had one anyway, realizing that the powers of the office he had so narrowly won, combined with his own persuasive powers, meant more than what the "conventional wisdom" might attempt to dictate.

He was successful beyond what anyone had thought possible. His first tax cut and "No Child Left Behind" education reform both passed. Neither was what it could or should have been; Jumpin' Jim Jeffords gutted the former (and then bolted the GOP anyway) and Ted Kennedy was allowed to strip school vouchers out of the latter. But it was amazing - or considered that way by the "conventional wisdom" - that either passed at all.

Still, as summer turned to fall in 2001, Bush's approval rating was still in the low fifties and drifting downward, just as his Administration seemed adrift as well.

Then came 9/11. And that gave Bush his mandate.

The President could never have won congressional approval for an invasion of Iraq absent the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, the notion would never have been proposed. Such is the outcome of unexpected, catastrophic events.

It's also true that most presidents would not have risked the popularity they had gained in the aftermath of 9/11 and the liberation of Afghanistan. Bill Clinton embodied this sort of personal political caution. I doubt whether he'd have even gone into Afghanistan, heeding the "conventional wisdom" of a "quagmire" where both the British and Soviet empires had foundered.

But George W. Bush isn't most presidents. He knew several things: (1) we had to start taking down the state sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East, not just limit our strategy to a law enforcement-style "manhunt" for Osama bin Laden; (2) Saddam Hussein was the logical first choice, since the international legal framework already existed for direct military action; (3) Iraq was perfectly located for the task geostrategically, bordering on both Syria and Iran and putting American forces on either side of the mullahs; (4) Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and the ambition to produce more, and to use them, including against us; and (5) it was imperative to get American boots on the ground in the Middle East so that the American people could see that we really are at war against the Islamists.

So, he spent most of that post-9/11 political capital on a mission that he knew would send his left-wing enemies, already staunchly and contemptuously hateful of him, into paroxysms of extremist partisan insanity.

The risk to his presidency was that (1) a majority might actually be converted by the anti-war crowd, a la Vietnam post-1968; and (2) a majority might not be converted but might opt instead for the option that would make all the vitriolic uproar go away. In short, the "squeaky wheel getting the grease."

#2 nearly worked. Though the President maintained double-digit leads on national security for the entire campaign (pointing to the failure of #1), he only won the popular vote by three percentage points. He spent almost, but not quite, all of his post-9/11 capital.

He won his gamble. He survived.


Does mere survival earn the winner fresh political capital? Hard to say. And does it really matter when we know that GDub will move ahead as if he did?

Or could it be that the for all the turmoil of his first term, the effect of Bush's re-election simply reflects the small demographic GOP-ward movement between 2000 and 2004?

After all, Dubya gained in just about every demographic category. He did better with blacks, Hispanics, Jews, and women. And he mobilized the evangelical vote as never before, and particularly as it was not four years ago (thank you, DUI stink bomb).

This reflected the overall GOP get-out-the-vote effort (the "72-hour program") as well as its voter registration drives, which successfully overpowered the Democrats' vote fraud and thuggery campaign across the country. Consequently, the President came closer in "blue" states, flipping two of them (Iowa and New Mexico) into his column, and won bigger margins in the "red" swingers (Florida in particular). The Democrats only succeeded in stealing Wisconsin and flipping New Hampshire, and the latter was only because their candidate was from the state next door. Their maximum efforts in Ohio and Florida fell far short.

Another GOP innovation was to get "religious right" groups, pro-life organizations, and (belatedly) the NRA into the fray, as well as ratcheting up the star power of the President's surrogates on the campaign trail (Rudy Giuliani, Ed Koch, Zell Miller, Lynn Swann, Mel Martinez, John McCain, even the Governator) to get his message to the public directly, and thus evade the Big Media blockade. Kind of like a quick slant pass past a maximum blitz that goes for big yardage. The alternative media, including the blogosphere in particular, was of immense help in this effort.

The gist of this was that a multi-faceted campaign message was communicated effectively despite fanatical opposition propaganda resistance, above all else, because the respective issue stances, as well as their target audiences, did not conflict with each other.

Or, as Bush himself said repeatedly, "You all know where I stand."


And yet, the nagging question will not go away: How could a wartime president of such historic accomplishments have been given such a fight by a stiff, boring, aloof, condescending, pompous ass left-wing Massachusetts senator who ran one of the more incompetent campaigns in American political history?

It isn't "50/50 nation" for many reasons, not the least of which is that we're now "51-48 nation." I'm hoping that whole paradigm gets interred as it deserves to be, though I'm not hopeful about it.

It isn't because John Kerry overachieved, as some on my side of the aisle are overmagnanimously suggesting.

It isn't even what I wrote in my first segment above, in the sense of that being the whole story.

Rather, I think it is what would have been the central theme of a post-mortem on a Bush defeat: the ten months of silence between Bush's "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" carrier landing in May of last year and Super Tuesday this past March.

In May 2003 George W. Bush averaged a 64% approval rating. Then came the ensuing all-out left-wing propaganda barrage: the anti-war agitating, the "BUSH LIED!!!" attacks, the "Iraq is the new Vietnam," "Plamegate," "Yellowcake-gate," "Can't capture Saddam," "Halliburton," etc. all under the black, foul umbrella of what I dubbed "Bushophobia."

Those of us in the grassroots were so caught up in defending the Administration against these relentless attacks that it took a while to realize that the Administration itself was not in the trenches with us. Rather, the White House was, ironically enough, AWOL in this fight. It wasn't that they did a poor job of defending themselves and their policies; it was that they weren't defending themselves at all. It couldn't even really be described as a "rope-a-dope," because there was no chance of the lib/Democrat establishment "punching itself out."

Looking back, you can see the steady erosion of Bush's approval numbers: 61% in June, 57% in July, 56% in August, 52% in the fall months, a slight uptick to 55% in December after Saddam was captured, and then 53% in January, 50% in February, and 49% in March when Senator Kerry clinched the Democrat nomination.

This is why Kerry entered the general campaign already tied with Bush. The table had literally been set for him, thanks to both his party's year-long hate campaign against the incumbent and the incumbent's utter failure to do anything to counter it. What's that old saying? "A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has pulled its boots on." In this case, the truth was still in bed, snoozing away.

One would think that after the demonstrated success of the Clinton "instant response" strategy in the late '90s, no president would ever just stand there, arms at his sides, and let his opponents beat the living hell out of him for months on end. But that's what George Bush did. Why? I couldn't say. Maybe it was the fact that he and Karl Rove accepted the "50/50 nation" paradigm uncritically and figured '04 would be a "close" election no matter what they did. Maybe it was the fact that George Bush is both a decent man and a classy competitor (IOW, not a professional politician) and a traditionalist throwback who appears to believe that there is a time for campaigning and a time for governing, and never the twain shall meet.

All I know is there is no way, by any conventional measure, that a challenger as manifestly awful and radical as John Kerry should ever have been within single-digits.

[UPDATE: Methinks that if the knowledge, from the diary he now-understandably kept hidden, that Kerry met with Vietnamese terrorists in Paris in 1971, had gotten wide dissemination, the margin might have been a tad wider.]


This was reflected in Kerry's inability, despite the huge Big Media tailwind at his back, to ever take a statistically significant lead in the spring, early summer (when Fallujah and Abu Ghraib were raging), and even after the Democrat convention. And is it any wonder? He was uninspiring, never connected even with his erstwhile "supporters," never had a consistent, or even coherent, message, and utterly lacked the Clinton ability to engage in outrageous insincerity (e.g. his refusal to take Clinton's advice and come out against sodomarriage) and hypnotize his listeners into buying it.

Consequently, although his fellow-travelers battered GDub about as low as he could be driven, Kerry was never able to capitalize on it and put the President away. He collected the entire anti-Bush vote, but that vote was never a majority of the electorate. Because he accepted uncritically his party's myth that the country couldn't wait to "fire" Bush, he never moved beyond being the "anybody but Bush" candidate. And that proved to be a fatal mistake.

Or, put another way, Dubya did his best to lose this election, but benefitted from weak and woefully insular and misguided opposition.

This is not the same as saying that Bush "got lucky." Historically, two-term presidents have always benefited from weak opposition. Clinton did (Bush41 and Dole), Reagan did (Carter, Mondale), Nixon did (Humphrey, McGovern), Eisenhower did (Adlei Stevenson), and FDR really did in that you practically have to be a history major to remember them (for the record, Hoover, Landen, Wilkie, and Dewey).

Had the Democrats had the presence of mind (i.e. sanity) to put up someone like Joe Lieberman or even Dick Gephardt, men who actually had credibility on the war, the outcome might have been markedly different. Or perhaps not, since either of them would have been dragged leftward to where John Kerry already was, which is part & parcel of why he, and not they, were nominated in the first place. And both were from the party's congressional wing. And both were boring. And Lieberman was from the Northeast. And...well, you get the idea.

Conversely, even sticking with Howard Dean would have made more sense than substituting the Boston Balker, since Dean, in addition to being a former governor, was honestly and openly anti-war and, with the passion of the true zealot, could hardly have failed to make their case more effectively than Lurch's aimless tactical meanderings, which only served to obfuscate it.

It must be bitterly ironic for the DisLoyal Opposition that for all of John Kerry's flip-flops, he ultimately settled on Michael Dukakis' "competence not ideology" schtick. No wonder they've already begun flensing his rotting political carcass, using their bigoted lashings out at "red state America" as cover.


So Bush could have made it a blowout but didn't, and Kerry was given every chance to eke out a victory but couldn't. But does Bush have mandate?

Well, he has more of one than he had the first time. Which, while it might not matter much, certainly doesn't hurt.

But what he has this time that he did not after 2000 is (1) twice the time to prepare for the second term - even more so considering that he's already in office; and (2) coattails.

This is, I think, what has the libs truly panicked. Last time they could say that he didn't win the popular vote; this time he did. Last time they could say that he was "selected, not elected" (not accurately, but work with me here...); this time there's no questioning his legitimacy (which is why Bushophobia has grown into "MiddleAmericaphobia"). But last time, Bush's "controversial" election was accompanied by a GOP loss of four Senate seats, collapsing a 54-46 majority into a 50-50 tie. This time, the President's party gained four Senate seats, including the unmistakable symbolism of the defeat of the Democrats' lead obstructionist, Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

This was the product of the final, and key, aspect of the Bush-Cheney'04: it was a campaign deliberately strategized and run as a party-wide "team" effort. Republicans down the ticket were not left to fend for themselves. Everybody was on the same page, and actively sought to attach themselves to Bush (quite unlike Dems who spent the fall fleeing from Kerry). And that "everybody" was fleshed out by quality candidates, reflecting the White House's emphasis on candidate recruitment. Indeed, had they lured a few more such stars into the fray (particularly in Washington state with Jennifer Dunn), the Senate seat haul on Tuesday might have been even bigger.

They say that power is its own mandate. And in a democracy, that means numbers.

Given what Dubya accomplished without them in his first term, now that they're in his possession, the sky may indeed be the limit.


In short, life for the donks has just become a whole lot more difficult. And this is largely of their own doing.

Will they finally learn from their mistakes? Have they hit rock bottom? Will they now begin the process of doing what they have to do to get back to where they used, and want, to be?

Or will they annoint Hillary Clinton as their "savior"?

It is to that topic that we will turn tomorrow.