Skip to comments.Andrew Sullivan: Bush Boom?
Posted on 11/05/2003 10:20:37 AM PST by Pokey78
When even George Stephanopoulos concedes it, you know a new pro-Bush conventional wisdom has been born. Speaking at Northwestern University in Chicago last week, the former Clinton flunky opined the following about the political future of the U.S: "It looks like we are coming out of the recession. Wages are starting to go up. Productivity is starting to go up. Generally if you look at polls across the country people respect President Bush even when people don't agree with his policies. He has an amazingly strong hold on the Republican party. He's not going to have a primary opponent. I think when you add all that up it puts President Bush in a very strong position going into the next election."
He said that the day before the astonishing third quarter economic growth statistics came out. They showed the economy growing at 7.2 percent, the highest level since 1984 - during Ronald Reagan's re-election boom. Worse for the Democrats, the numbers are not a fluke. Sure, they are likely to be downgraded in the near future. But they reflect remarkably buoyant consumer spending, and, more critical, a huge uptake in business investment. Productivity has bee growing fast; inflation is negligible; interest rates remain at historic lows. The dark side is employment - but the notion that the economy growing at around 4 percent for the foreseeable future will not reduce unemployment is absurd. And what matters in electoral terms is not so much the past, but how people perceive the future. All of this suggests a buoyant economy in a re-election year - what every incumbent president dreams of.
Now look a little closer. President Bush's approval ratings are currently around 55 percent. More to the point: they have been at 55 percent or above in more than 90 percent of the polls in his presidency. In his third year, Bill Clinton hit a low of 42 percent in the polls; Ronald Reagan's nadir was 35 percent. Both went on to win in landslides. Bush's father, in contrast, was cresting before an unprecedented fall, caused in part by an economic slide that began in his third year in office. His son has timed his recession much much better - getting it out of the way in his first year in office. Anyone looking at history will find it hard to avoid the conclusion that this president is better placed for re-election than anyone since Nixon in 1972.
Of course, all the historical precedents pointed to a Gore landslide in 2000 - and it didn't happen. A year in politics is an eternity. Bush could still technically lose. The country is still evenly divided on partisan lines. One recent theory was that Bush 2 will be the reverse of Bush 1. If the father won a war but lost the election on the economy, the son has botched a war and still might be rescued by the economy. But this strikes me as, if anything, too pessimistic about Bush's prospects.
Consider the obvious current weak spot: Iraq. Last week began with a truly terrible day for the reconstruction of the country: carnage and destruction on a new scale. If terrorists are able to keep Iraq constantly off-balance, and security this tenuous, then the prospects for a successful transition to democracy are slim. That's the downside. The upside is that, at the same time, the new violence marks a new era in the Middle East. For the first time, the Islamist forces of terror are targeting Arabs. They are targeting innocent civilians in Iraq; and they are doing so with no concern for any religious propriety or military decency. They have bombed mosques and the Red Cross - a pretty damning combination. And they launched their mayhem on the first day of Ramadan. So much for their religious piety.
This makes a difference. At some point, Iraqis will perhaps see something that was obscured before. These terrorists are the enemies of Arab self-government, of Arab democracy, of Arab freedom, and of Islam itself. While they only targeted Western targets and murdered Westerners, this truth was obscured. Now it isn't. Iraqis are beginning to see this more clearly; and the newly free press in that country will help illuminate it even more. The Iraq liberation has therefore changed the dynamic in the Middle East in dramatic ways. It has opened the first real front for democracy in recent Arab history; it has separated Islamist terror from Arab interests; it has moved the battle from America's streets to Arab streets. If you believe, as I do, that Arabs have as much interest in and need for representative government as anyone else, then this is a deep and important turn-around. Without the invasion of Iraq, it could never have happened. And without such a turn-around, our prospects for defeating Islamo-fascism in the long run were dim. Now they are real. And the credit goes in part to Bush and Blair - and, in due course, to the beleaguered Iraqi people themselves.
If Bush can hang tough, his strategy therefore has a decent chance of working. Last week, the Congress reversed itself and passed the $20 billion for Iraqi reconstruction as grants not loans. That $20 billion is a huge amount of money for an economy as ransacked and destitute as Iraq's. It's eight times the support per capita that the U.S. gave to post-war Germany. Similarly, international aid has come in at the high end of expectations. The administration is rapidly speeding up the training of Iraqis for internal security. All these developments point to a chance for real progress.
The one thing that can wreck this is if the American and British publics sour on the war and decide to cut and run. Much of the left, the BBC, and the liberal media are busy trying to achieve just that in both countries. But Bush will not give in. It's not in his nature. The good economic news also helps buttress his foreign policy position. If Bush is perceived as more likely to be re-elected because of economic growth, then the policy in Iraq seems more secure in the long run, and the momentum against terrorism is maintained. It's a virtuous cycle. Since the war in Iraq pivots on psychological warfare against the Baathists and Islamists, this matters. Despite all the setbacks and continuing violence, the light at the end of the Iraqi tunnel just got a little brighter.
Am I being too bullish on Bush? Maybe. No one should under-estimate the challenges ahead in Iraq. But the president isn't running for re-election this November. He has a year to demonstrate real gains in Iraq, and if, with the resources being expended, he comes up empty, then he will not deserve re-election. Meanwhile, however, the Democrats are busy pandering to an anti-war base that is already sapping Middle America's confidence in their ability to handle the war in terror. If they don't have a bad economy to run on, they're going to have a near-impossible task next year. Their only hope of innoculating themslves on national security - General Wesley Clark - is fast fading, as his hapless campaign fails to gain any traction in the critical states. Hoping for catastrophe in Iraq is the Democrats' last hope - an election strategy as hollow as it is negative. Bush, meanwhile, with a record $100 million in campaign funds and no primary opponent, is smiling. As well he might.
I'm not guaranteeing a win; I just like his odds.
But it looks like the Dems may not be smart enough to give either of them a shot.
The problem is it would be playing spoiler. No modern-day incumbent president who has faced a serious primary challenge from his own party has survived to be re-elected.
The GOP could defeat Schumer in NY, but only if Rudy G. ran. And he's not biting.
As you can see, I'm especially skilled at using the "Preview" function.
Since the 22nd amendment no party has carried the White House for 4 consecutive elections, have they? George Bush couldn't pull it off.
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