Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Texas Tin Ear

The concern over George Bush being the anti-Clinton as it pertains to his refusal to campaign even for the viability of his presidency continues to spread, and mount.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) is the latest to take notice:

Saying the White House has been afflicted by a political "tin ear," Senator Norm Coleman on Tuesday called on President Bush to bring in a new team.

"I have some concerns about the team that's around the President," said Coleman, a Minnesota Republican with close ties to Bush. "I think you need to take a look at it."

Coleman cited the White House's handling of the response to Hurricane Katrina, the failed nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the now-scuttled plans for Dubai-based DP World to take over terminals at six major U.S. seaports.

"All of a sudden we're hearing the phrase 'tin ear,"' Coleman said in a telephone interview. "That's a phrase you shouldn't hear. The fact that you're hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear-to-the-ground that you need in the White House, isn't there at the level that it needs to be."
Coleman was being diplomatic. It's rather like the villains in cartoon shows who invariably surround themselves with bumbling fools for henchmen and then invariably complain about their henchmen being such bumbling fools after the heros defeat them yet again. Whose fault is that? Who is the bigger fool? Doesn't the villain bear any responsibility for his personnel decisions?

The President's team serves at the pleasure of the President. He chose them, and he's keeping them around. That suggests that they're doing precisely what he wants and is pleased with their performance. And that means that the tin-ear syndrome doesn't stop at the Oval Office door.

Dick Morris had the temerity to come out and say so today:

If Bush doesn't get his act together and begin to work hard at building popular support, his self-indulgence will land him in ever-deeper misery. His ratings will stay stagnant; then he'll lose one or both houses of Congress - and spend his final two years in office dodging opposition bullets, subpoenas, perhaps even impeachment. It will mean personal misery for this good man, and leave a cloud on his legacy that will take years to erase.

All because he doesn't want to do what he must - get up every day and go out and speak to America.

President Bill Clinton kept his job rating over 60% through all the days of Monica and impeachment. It had nothing to do with a good economy; as Bush is finding out, a growing GDP doesn't guarantee growing approval ratings. Clinton went before the nation every day with a new speech, an executive order, a proposal, a bill signing or some other media event...

At first, Press Secretary Mike McCurry objected to the furious pace, contending that we should have only one major event each week rather than the daily prattle of proposals. But the polling showed that each day's initiative got the attention of a quarter to a third of voters and played a key role in keeping Clinton's majority in line.
My guess is that Karl Rove would like to put the President on this kind of schedule, but that the Bushes don't see the point when he can't run for re-election. But you need a daily majority to stay in power. You may hold the office until the end of your term (maybe), but you'll have no power if your ratings aren't topping 50%. You get zapped by opportunistic infections like Harriet Miers, Dubai ports and Cheney shootings. Molehills take you down and you have no resistance to infection.

Bush needs to tell his political team to start churning out events, as they did before the 2004 election, every day, every week, every month. His presidency's future depends upon it. [emphases added]

I don't think Republican congressional fortunes are tied to those of the White House, but on the rest of it Morris is spot on. Dubya stubbornly insists upon governing as if politics doesn't exist. I'd lay even money that he wouldn't have campaigned in 2000 and 2004 if he could have won without it (Think the "front porch" template). He's as reticent and attention-averse as Sick Willie was an insufferably ubiquitous gloryhog. And while we all got sick of Clinton (some of us sooner than others), Bush's enemies are making a lot of Americans sick of him because he won't go out and defend himself and his policies.

Politics is the selling of ideas, and politicians are both salesmen of and vehicles for those ideas. If a politician won't peddle his wares, it's guaranteed that nobody will buy them even without his foes taking baseball bats and blowtorches to his inventories.

Sometimes I still think it was a miracle that Bush was re-elected in 2004. His absence from the field of political combat between May 2003 and March 2004 should have buried him. It didn't because the other side put up the worst available challenger, but it wasn't for lack of not-trying. Pretty much since November 2004, with isolated exceptions from time to time, the President has again been AWOL from the partisan fray and showing no signs of any interest in returning to it. And in the meantime his approval numbers keep going down, down, down, because his enemies do not share his sheer laziness.

It seems as though Dubya needs an external mission or cause to animate him and penetrate that pervasive lethargy. He had that from September 2001 through May 2003, and the '04 campaign itself, and in those periods he was untouchable. I don't know what cause could arise now, since domestic policy isn't much of a passion for him and he appears disinterested at best in finishing the war aganst the terror masters. That doesn't leave much else.

Except, of course, the Democrat Party. To invert a phrase, with enemies like these, who needs friends?