The Back Page

BUSH’S REALLY BAD YEAR

The conventioneers will come to praise him. The voters should dump him.

BOB LEVIN August 30 2004
The Back Page

BUSH’S REALLY BAD YEAR

The conventioneers will come to praise him. The voters should dump him.

BOB LEVIN August 30 2004

BUSH’S REALLY BAD YEAR

The Back Page

The conventioneers will come to praise him. The voters should dump him.

BOB LEVIN

IN THE LAST BLAST OF SUMMER, with the heat of the political high season still ahead, George W. Bush stands an actual chance of getting re-elected. This fact, like other oddities of American life—Fox News, say, or Paris Hilton—is very hard to explain.

Next week the Republicans will gather in New York to laud the President’s policies, and his family values, and his steadfastness in the war on terror, as if he were riding into the convention on a wave of success. Even Democrats, replying from the sidelines, will be mostly respectful, careful not to offend squeamish fence-sitters in a country that’s jittery

enough as it is. Which is why Bush craves the Manhattan backdrop: to remind Americans of the bold commander-inchief who grabbed the bullhorn at Ground Zero, back when a shaken nation rallied ’round him and before his own boneheaded hubris blew it all to hell.

And blown it he has—“big time,” to borrow Dick Cheney’s phrase. Huge time, like few before him.

A Babe Ruth story comes to mind. It was in the midst of the Great Depression, and the Babe was demanding a whopping $80,000 salary—which, a reporter noted, was more than President Herbert Hoover made. “I know,” Ruth famously responded, “but I had a better year than he did.”

This year, most gainfully employed Americans can say the same about Bush. He’s turned a robust surplus into record deficits; he’s lost more jobs than any president since Hoover. He’s miraculously transformed global goodwill after 9/11 into fear and loathing of the U.S.A. He’s watched his justifications for his Iraq war—WMD, an al-Qaeda-Baghdad link—vanish like a dream, leaving him clinging to a we’re-liberators line just in time for the Abu Ghraib horror show.

Even capturing Saddam Hussein only briefly stalled his sliding public approval, as flag-draped coffins keep coming home from the mission he deemed “accomplished” over a year ago. That Fahrenheit film hasn’t helped either. Never mind the caustic voiceover by Michael Moore (like the Babe, a large, hard-swinging lefty)—that classroom

clip, Bush looking befuddled for seven long minutes after learning the nation was under attack, is damning enough. Hey: got a work crisis, deal with it. Excuse me, children... How hard is that? As for his credibility—what can you say about an administration when people even doubt its terror alerts?

Little wonder that, last spring, 80 per cent of respondents to an informal survey of historians rated Bush’s presidency an overall failure. Yes, historians tend to be liberal, and maybe it’s too early to pass judgment. But their indictments—on integrity, foreign relations, fiscal policies, civil liberties, health care, the environment—are striking nonetheless. Bush, said one, “is by far the most irresponsible, unethical, inexcusable occupant of our formerly highest office in the land that there has ever been.”

Okay, so maybe you think that’s overthe-top; maybe not. But to be running neckand-neck in the polls with John Kerry? What’s

going on? Partly it’s the old culture clash, the GOP preaching the religious-right gospel on abortion and gay marriage. Partly it’s the Fear Factor—don’t change horses in midswamp—and the intentional blurring of enemy lines that left a majority of Americans seeing Saddam’s phantom fingerprints on 9/11. Then there’s Kerry’s charisma gap and the Republicans’ relentless attacks on him: flip-flopper, undistinguished senator, liberal rich guy, not one of us. Something funny about that Vietnam hero tale, as well. Forget his Band of Brothers, the men who actually served on his boat—we’ve got our own Band of Bubbas who know the real story.

It’s time for Democrats to play rough too. Make clear their opponent can’t be trusted, that he sent Americans off to fight and die on a lie and has been flailing for rationales ever since; you want to talk flip-flops, you could break your back doing Bush’s Iraq contortions. Drive home that his Saddam obsession motivated a new generation of terrorists, while letting many of the real 9/11 bad guys get away—that he’s made America less secure, not more. As for the slams on Kerry’s record, an occasional reminder of Bush’s past—AWOL National Guardsman, failed oilman bailed out by daddy’s rich friends—wouldn’t hurt.

A lot can happen between now and November. If terrorists were to strike on U.S. soil, would people rally ’round the Prez again—or turn on him for not keeping them safe? Hard to say. But unknowns aside, my money’s on Kerry: as in the recent Canadian election, the polls may be tight till the end but the vote, I think, will be more decisive. Friends in the States—Canada is my home but not my native land—offer encouraging reports of Republicans who backed Bush in 2000 now saying, no, sorry, not this time. Nice to hear. Nice to feel a cockeyed faith in America’s collective wisdom, and in the simple justice of the workplace.

He’s done a lousy job. Fire him. CT1

Paul Wells is on vacation.

Bob Levin is Executive Editor of Maclean’s. bob.levin@macleans.rogers.com