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   Why Bush Can't Win in 2004

COMMENTARY:

Why Bush Can’t Win in 2004

by J. Russell Tyldesley

The Democratic candidates need to get a transcript of ABC-TV’s “Prime Time” show on December 16. Bush may have thought he did a good job in his interview with Diane Sawyer, but he indicts himself by his own words--if you stick to those words and don’t let the press tell you what he really meant to say.
I realize that saying Bush can’t win in 2004 is a radical statement to make this early in the election season, and, of course, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Nonethless, I base my claim on a careful study of the interview aired on ABC TV “Prime Time” on December 16, wherein Diane Sawyer questioned President Bush and then, at the very end, was joined by Laura Bush.

Sawyer did a pretty good job--she asked some tough questions and was quite persistent in trying not to let Bush duck the question as has been the press’s tendency heretofore, if only to avoid embarrassing moments.

Bush’s overall demeanor during the entire interview was uncertain, defensive, wary, tense and, I thought, scared. He didn’t look like he was comfortable inside his skin. It is quite obvious that the President is off his game in an unscripted venue.

For now, I’ll assume that the questions were not cleared in advance; but even if they were, there was no teleprompter, and no amount of rehearsal could avoid a vulnerability that Bush is not accustomed to. The President, as is his wont, tried to use the tried and true (and tired) answers to every question. This style has served him well from the outset of his first campaign. Now, of course, he has more experience and has added several new words and phrases to his skimpy vocabulary, mostly words loaded with patriotic rhetoric and abstract content.

On the question of the lack of evidence of the WMD that arguably gave the administration justification for a pre-emptive attack on and invasion of Iraq, Sawyer was relentless in pressuring Bush to admit that it was a hoax, and that the public and the Congress were lied to. This was the highlight of the show and Bush became animated and his voice rose for effect. His response was, “There was no question Saddam was a threat.”

Of course, that is precisely the question: What evidence was there that Saddam was an imminent threat to the world? It remains unanswered because it cannot be answered--the evidence is at best undiscovered, nine months after the invasion. Bush, in so many words, announced that he is not going to answer that question no matter how many times it is asked.

Bush relied heavily on two arguable assertions during Sawyer’s interview: (1) Saddam was “dangerous,” and (2) There was no doubt that the US had to act after 9/11. Well, there are all sorts of degrees of “dangerous,” and the reason we “had to act” was more for political than for security reasons.

Democrats take note: Bush is invoking executive privilege to lie in the interest of his perception of a higher national security calling. For to avoid answering the question of WMD is to admit to the lie. On the issue of intelligence, he keeps repeating the refrain that it was “ good, sound intelligence.” If that is the case, then that intelligence was ignored or misused given the situation as we now know it today. Bush has apparently abandoned the claim that they will eventually find WMD. Inasmuch as he still claims that bin Laden will be found, the contrast is striking. But, of course, we know bin Laden exists. It makes one wonder if they know where he is and are waiting to bring him out just before Prom night. Well, the existence of WMD has morphed into the existence of “weapons programs.” This is now, perhaps, easier to prove, but that was not the rationale given in numerous pre-invasion speeches by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell before the UN and Bush himself in the state of the union address.

Bush was a little petulant at times with Sawyer. He remarked that had we gone to the UN with just the proof that Iraq had a “weapons program,” it would have been a clear violation of UN resolution 1441. Problem is, at the time this would not have given the administration the cover that they needed to invade Iraq without a new resolution for the use of force. A new resolution would have been most unlikely with evidence of only a “program.” This would hardly have been news. Also, with the inspectors crawling all over Iraq at the time, any such program would have been in suspension. Therefore, such a claim would have been meaningless.

The other problem for Bush is that it is now apparent that Hussein did indeed disarm even as we were claiming he had not. So, he was not, in fact, in violation of resolution 1441 unless we stand on the technicality that he could not show “proof” of the destruction of some of the weapons he was known to have had before the weapons inspectors began to supervise the destruction of Iraqi weapons after the Gulf War. In fact, Iraq was doing a pretty good job of providing comprehensive reports that the administration chose largely to ignore, and they denounced even before they studied them. But this is old news.

Bush relied heavily on two assertions during Sawyer’s interview. He claimed as facts two arguable premises: 1. Saddam was “dangerous,” and, 2. There was no doubt that the US had to act after 9/11.

Well, there are all sorts of degrees of “dangerous,” and the reason we had to act was more political than necessary from a law enforcement standpoint. The act Bush wanted had to be dramatic for political advantages, and by showing himself as a tough “wartime” President, he could move his ratings off rock bottom, where they were beginning to settle. The famous “trifecta” remark was indicative of the magic trick about to be performed--the classic misdirection of renowned tricksters.

It was anything but self-evident that invading Afghanistan and then Iraq was the best or most effective response to bin Laden and Al Queda. Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 caper, and our heavy-handed response allowed bin Laden to escape and remain at large. Perhaps, we needed to have him at large to justify war without end and hundreds of billions in spending programs for our military industrial complex. Many experts outside the administration have always thought a more rational approach would have been effective police and intelligence work with friendly countries, behind the scenes. It would have given the terrorists a lower profile at which to aim their guns and vituperative rage. We are a much bigger target now as we muscle our way around lands and cultures we don’t understand and play the role of infidel and neo-colonial conqueror.

Bush told Diane Sawyer that he reads no editorials and is proud of that--it kind of keeps him pure. He doesn’t seem to realize that this is not a virtue, and shows utter contempt for the views of others.

At one point in the Sawyer interview, Bush seemed to be relying on the most nebulous of rationalizations for the invasion. Saddam was “a gathering threat” and “the whole world was saying he was a danger for 12 years.” This was all based on “ sound intelligence estimates.” All this is, of course, unproven and, in the case of intelligence estimates, way off the mark. To assert that “the US is now a much safer country with Saddam out of power” seems an incredible self-serving stretch. I notice that Howard Dean is not allowing Bush to get away with such unfounded claims, although he is not much helped by his fellow Democrats, such as Lieberman, who is beginning to sound more like Bush than Bush.

All of this is to say that the Democratic contender in 2004, whoever he (or she?) will be, has tremendous ammunition. ABC and Diane Sawyer have handed them an early Christmas present. They need to get a transcript of the show. Bush may have thought he did a good job, but he is indicted in his own words if you stick to the words and don’t let the press tell you what he really meant to say. At one point he tried again the line that he was only helping to boost the UN’s credibility by ignoring it. Anyone with brains can see that he did exactly the opposite and has helped to reduce the UN to a debating society and a set of humanitarian missions.

One very telling part of the interview was when Sawyer asked Bush about his conversation with his father. Bush said he detected pride in his father’s voice when he congratulated young George on the capture of Hussein. It was painfully obvious that the younger Bush has been carrying an inferiority complex for a long time, and badly needs the approval of his father. I believe that Bush the younger has been engaged throughout his life, even into his presidency, in trying to throw off a loser image. I think he now finally feels like he has fulfilled his father’s hope in him, and that he can now match his father, image for image. Of course, the sad fact is that they are both little more than image, and the country is much the poorer for their failed visions of what America could be.

As Bush strives for exactly the right puppet regime in Iraq, as he has in Afghanistan, he will remain our puppet-in-chief, taking instruction from his inner circle who will give him the ‘unvarnished’ news that he requires, without editorializing. He told Diane Sawyer that he reads no editorials and is proud of that--it kind of keeps him pure. He doesn’t seem to realize that this is not a virtue, and shows utter contempt for the views of others. He ought to be reading the foreign press, given his inexperience in foreign affairs and admitted ignorance of much of the world and its leaders prior to assuming the presidency. Whom he gets his news from is enough to give one the creeps for, in fact, they are the creeps that populate the cabinet and national security apparatus.

Bush told Sawyer that he gets his news only from the people who “really know” what is happening. One is inclined to ask then: why don’t the people know what is happening? It is as if the public must be treated like children; they must know their place. They cannot be allowed to know what the true condition of the world is, but must be protected from the truth. The real dope can only be known by the secret society of skull and crossbones in briefings to only those with security clearances. We are, however, supposed to trust our parent/government to keep us safe. All this, of course, begs the question of what is being done in our name, and whether policies such as those outlined in the “Project for the New American Century” are something we want to sign on for. (I remember my amazement that Newt Gingrich had signed me and all the rest of us up for the Contract with America without any advance notice, let alone participation. It fell on its face in a hurry, as did old Newt, although he may be a threat to return if this administration goes a second round.

To me, Bush is obviously not capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of his office. I think he even knows it, although he disguises it well in cocky bravado. If there was ever an apt example of the Peter Principle, this is it. We can watch it play out every day. I’m sorry, but a C-minus student, who probably had a lot of help to achieve even that, should not be running the country. A National Guardsman who went AWOL for a year should not be entrusted with national security. A religious zealot who takes pride in the number of people whose executions he has presided over, should not get votes in a democracy.

Bush told Sawyer that he was too busy to debate his opponents at this time. Of course, he is busy attending dozens of fundraising extravaganzas, as with the $2,000 roast beef sandwich luncheon right here in good old B-More. He is so busy he doesn’t even have time to attend the memorials for dead soldiers arriving daily from Iraq via Dover, Delaware. When Sawyer quizzed him on the burgeoning deficit, his answer was the usual--Congress must cut spending. Gee, you’d think that the Democrats were the ones running things over there. Of course, the cuts in spending are not out of fiscal conservatism, but out of the very conditions he has created--massive defense spending, including the return of that old Reagan feature “Star Wars,” and the balance of trade and budget deficits, not to mention a tax giveaway to the rich that is historic in its proportions.

Near the end of the interview, Bush allowed as to how he had always wanted a son. I don’t think this is any reflection on his daughters--he appears to love them--but it does betray a masculine bias that should be evident to women. It is reflected also in his attitude towards his mother. When Sawyer asked if he had spoken to his mother to share with her the joy of Saddam’s capture, he said, no, but that if he had the conversation it would probably have been about how his hair was out of place on camera. He probably meant this as a joke and a sign of affection, but a comedian he is not. (He probably shouldn’t try African-American jokes either.)

Bush needs a son because he needs someone to look up to him. I’m not sure he gets that from his mother or his daughters. Bush is a scared puppy, if my instincts are correct. He knows he is in over his head, and he knows that just as he never found oil in his business life, he will never find peace in this world. He told Sawyer that he is running because there was “too much work left to do.” The Democrats need to translate that into “too much damage left that he could do” to an already badly damaged America in the eyes of the world and, increasingly, the eyes of his own citizens. If the Democratic challenger will refuse to let Bush dodge the hard questions, refuse to let him off the hook that he lied to Congress, then the people will get it. It is when the challengers go all soft that the voters wonder what their choice really is.

The “evil” of Saddam is irrelevant. There are much more important principles at stake. If the press persists on letting Bush duck the issues, the Democratic candidate cannot let them. We are long past politeness here--we are dealing with war crimes and the stakes couldn’t be higher.


J. Russell Tyldesley, of Catonsville, Md., is an insurance executive.


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This story was published on January 5, 2004.
  
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