Back in March Bush held a press conference (remember those?) at which he repeatedly emphasized that for him, protecting the American people was Job #1. Now, I previously pointed out how such an attitude is actually problematic, in that a president’s sworn duty is to preserve and defend the Constitution. That means a president must sometimes weigh the protection of individual liberties and the democratic system of government against the need for enhanced security. Otherwise, the logical thing for Bush to do would just be to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law, thereby dramatically improving the efficiency with which he can defend the people against physical threats.
Bush would be scary enough if that were the only danger he represented. But of course, it’s worse than that. It’s not just that he’s willing to jeopardize our democracy in order to defend national security. It’s that he’s willing to jeopardize our democracy, and our national security, merely to avoid acknowledging his mistakes.
Those rooting for a Bush (re-)election in 2004 like to say that “Republicans have more credibility on the issue of national security than Democrats do.” Maybe that’s true of Republicans generally, but among the sane, I think Bush’s reputation for being able to defend our national security is rapidly — and justifiably — eroding.
Consider the evidence: Violence in Iraq is increasing, rather than decreasing. Despite the administration storyline that things are going just great over there, with progress as far as the eye can see and the “dead enders” disorganized and on the run, actual events indicate otherwise. Apparently our enemies in Iraq are getting more organized, more dangerous; now they appear to have the ability to mount multiple, coordinated attacks aimed at killing visiting administration officials. True, those attacks failed in this case, at least in terms of killing Wolfowitz, but as our own experience shows, trying to take out specific enemy leaders is a difficult task. The fact that Iraqi insurgents even have the ability to mount an operation like this raises grave questions about what’s really going on over there, and where it is leading.
Or look at this story, from today’s Washington Post: Search in Iraq fails to find nuclear threat. It makes it increasingly clear that the administration is just spinning when it tries to claim anything other than a horrible failure, or outright deception, on the question of the pre-war claims about the Iraqi nuclear program. The Bush people can try to pin the failure on the CIA, but besides being contradicted by lots of other evidence, that kind of whining and finger-pointing really doesn’t make much of a case for administration competence on national security.
Or look at this story from today’s New York Times: 9/11 commission could subpoena Oval Office files. It’s one thing for the Democrats on the 9/11 commission to charge that the White House is impeding the investigation. It’s something very different for the chairman, the Republican ex-governor of New Jersey, to make those charges. What is the White House hiding? Their foot-dragging looks bad enough; whatever it is they are trying to conceal must make them look absolutely horrible. (Presumably, Bush received one or more specific briefings about al Qaeda flying airliners into buildings in the weeks before 9/11, and didn’t do anything about it.)
Or look at the continuing investigation into the Plame outing. Let’s all say this together one more time, shall we? The White House political operation was willing to compromise an undercover CIA agent working on WMD proliferation merely to undercut the credibility of an administration critic (a critic whose charges, let us remember, have been thoroughly vindicated).
Personally, I think Bush has revealed himself to be the worst president of my lifetime (a lifetime that includes people like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon). But that doesn’t matter; I was never going to vote for him anyway. And there are those on the right who still love him, and will vote for him regardless. Which, again, doesn’t matter.
What matters is what swing voters think.
All politicians lie, and cheat, and steal. Both major parties (and all the minor ones, too, probably) are corrupt. Any politician with enough power to mount a credible bid for the presidency, and enough ego to actually want the job, is almost certainly going to be, on some level, an amoral scumbag you wouldn’t trust to hold a box of Girl Scout cookies for you.
With that said, though, there still are degrees of badness among them. And I think that from the hypothetical swing voter’s perspective, someone like Howard Dean is starting to look like a much better risk than Bush, even on national security issues.