Bush's Troubles and Democratic Opportunities
Even though today’s jobs report was upbeat for the first time in months, there is little else for George W. Bush to be happy about this week. Bush is now reaping what he and his team have sown over the last two years since he blew the opportunity to unite the country and the world against terror and in support of the United States.
Most of the problems faced by Bush are of his own making and cannot be blamed on political opponents or unforeseen events. The cumulative effect of a deceitful sales job for the Iraq war, confirmed with the report by a hand-picked survey team leader that Saddam was anything but the imminent threat portrayed by the Administration, coupled with ongoing deaths amongst our occupation, international rejection of our diplomatic rebuilding efforts, growing fears that felonies were committed against political enemies, unjustified occupation costs relative to domestic needs, and apparent political cronyism have led to doubts about Bush’s ability to manage crises and improve the economy.
None of this results from anything that Bush’s political opponents did. Complaints from the GOP about partisanship, lack of patriotism, or political opportunism from Democrats as reasons for Bush’s failures are hollow attempts to deflect criticism and accountability from where it truly resides: George W. Bush and the GOP.
But buried in the poll numbers are voters’ assessments that only half of the necessary sale for next year has been made to date. Even though it is now valid to conclude that Bush is lacking in integrity and competence for the job, something that was a tough sell only months ago, voters need to see from the Democrats solid reasons and credible alternatives before they will dump an incumbent. The CBS News/New York Times poll from yesterday reflects that although concern is increasing about Bush’s competence to handle crises or turn around the economy, voters still know very little about Democrats and have yet to see why they would be better.
This means that after months and months of anger from Howard Dean, and attacks by Democrats against each other and at Bush, it is now time to close the deal and reinforce in voters' minds why dumping Bush is a good idea. Yes, the recent polls have shown that named and unnamed Democrats are running even with Bush. Yes, according to the aforementioned CBS News/NYT poll from yesterday, Bush has his lowest favorability rating since before 9/11, his lowest approval ratings of his term, and is felt to be a pawn of the rich.
But the Democrats have reached the stage where they need to put forward the “big idea” or grand visions behind their candidacies. Now that the tables have been set for voters to consider replacing Bush, it is time for the candidates to close the sale and demonstrate as simply as possible why the country’s best interests as a whole, and voters’ best interests personally rest with a particular candidate.
Howard Dean’s anger against Bush, Kerry’s long-winded resume, Gephardt’s health care plan, Lieberman’s “I’m not Dean” mantra, or Edwards’ empathy for working folks in and of themselves are not enough. What’s lacking from each candidate are simple-to-remember themes and specific issues that resonate with voters and convince them that they are better off with a particular Democrat, instead of Bush.
At this point in the campaign in 1991, Clinton was already laying this out, as was Bush in 1999. It is not difficult to do, but what hampers each of the candidates are their individual limitations, and a media-fostered perception that each needs to kill each other off, as well as the late entry of Clark.
Clark has already shown an ability to talk concisely and connect with voters, something that frankly still eludes John Kerry in his public speaking. Clark has managed to credibly go after Bush directly without the anger of Dean, with more gravitas than Edwards, and with a newness and background that neither Lieberman nor Gephardt have. Curiously, his military record is being defended already by the media of all places . But it remains to be seen if he can put forward the big ideas and theme than can help voters visualize him replacing Bush in 2005.
It is a challenge facing all the candidates, and the ones who do the best job over the next 60 days of switching from intraparty warriors to real leaders and visionaries will be best positioned to benefit from Bush’s ongoing self-inflicted wounds.