Forget, for the moment, the people like me, who basically hate Bush. Forget, too, the people who listen to right-wing talk radio and believe what it says. Neither of us is ever going to determine the outcome of a presidential election in this country.
Focus on the middle, the undecided, the independents. These are the people who, when it comes time to vote for president, vote for the candidate, not the party. These are the folks who are going to decide things in November.
I think these folks are going to send Bush back to Crawford. Why? Because his appeal is based largely on smoke and mirrors, and his failures as president are getting harder and harder to obscure. Also, many of those failures are in the area of national security, which, in case you haven’t noticed, is a key concern these days.
As of now, Bush has presided over two of the worst national security-related intelligence failures in the history of the country. That’s pretty sad for just three years in office. His supporters persist in trying to blame 9/11 on Clinton, but for non-partisans that’s a non-starter. With the two commissions investigating things coming out with their results, it’s increasingly clear that lots of mistakes were made. Bush can take responsibility, in which case he’s (rightly) toast; or he can claim ignorance and incompetence, in which case he’s (rightly) toast. Take your pick.
Meanwhile, we have Iraq, the war that savaged our country’s credibility throughout the world, the pre-emptive invasion of a sovereign nation for which we couldn’t get either UN or NATO support, or even a simple majority on the Security Council, but which Bush pushed through anyway, confident the post-war search would turn up smoking-gun WMD stockpiles that would earn grudging apologies from his detractors both abroad and at home. Except it didn’t. The search found the opposite: the detractors were right, he was wrong.
From today’s extremely Web-challenged LA Times: Bush defends Iraq war, intelligence agencies. I’m going to quote fairly extensively, since they like to change URLs:
Days after the top U.S. arms inspector, David Kay, said he did not believe that Iraq had stockpiled chemical or biological weapons or had a substantial nuclear weapons program, Bush did not answer directly when reporters asked about his own earlier claims.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat to America and others. That’s what we know,” Bush said. “We know that he was a dangerous man in a dangerous part of the world.”
Bush said he wants to wait until the Iraq Survey Group, which Kay headed until he resigned Friday, completes its work “so we can find out the facts and compare the facts to what was thought”…
Bush’s remarks immediately reverberated on Capitol Hill and among the Democrats competing to run against him in the autumn.
In a meeting later in the day between Bush and congressional leaders about this year’s legislative agenda, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) confronted Bush with the questions raised by Kay about the justification for the Iraq war, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
Daschle complained that lawmakers had based their votes on the war on erroneous information about weapons of mass destruction. Bush interrupted to defend the war as “a worthy effort.”
Daschle said he was not questioning the worth of the war but insisted that the government needed to get to the bottom of the intelligence failure. A senior Republican at the meeting, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), reportedly backed Daschle on that point…
“Clearly, the intelligence that we went to war on was inaccurate, wrong,” Kay told NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw in an interview aired Monday evening, one of several he has given in recent days. Kay also said the intelligence community owed Bush an apology.
But the president Tuesday expressed “great confidence” in the intelligence apparatus.
“These are unbelievably hard-working, dedicated people who are doing a great job for America,” he told reporters.
As with 9/11, Bush is on the horns of a dilemma. Either he played an active role in perverting the intelligence, lying to the world and his own people about the threat represented by Saddam, which would make him a very bad man, unworthy of the presidency. Or he is presiding over a spectacularly flawed intelligence process that leaves him unable to distinguish real threats from illusions, but he still believes the intelligence folks are doing a fabulous job, which would make him a doofus, and again, unworthy of the presidency.
He’s doing his best to avoid either horn by obfuscating (“weapons of mass destruction-related program activities,” anyone?) and changing the subject (steroids! we’ve got to do something about steroids!), but with Dean having given a backbone transfusion to the previously timid field of Democratic hopefuls, criticism of Bush’s national security failures is going to be a central theme of the debate between now and the election.
Unlike last time, Bush has a record. And it sucks. He can’t run on it, and he can’t run away from it. What’s left?
Hmm. Maybe this Onion article points the way: Bush 2004 campaign promises to restore honor and dignity to White House.
Update: Adam takes a contrarian view.