Shape of the Coming Election
We are starting to see the talking points for the upcoming election. First there are the oped pieces that question the sanity or patriotism of the Democrats in oh, such reasonable language. And every friendly scolding lecture delivered is accompanied by at least one hard hitting piece designed to dehumanize and intimidate those who speak out against Bush. As Seeing the Forest says, we need to get used to it. This is how they campaign.
And then there are the stories that say Bush's election is inevitable and we ought to just stop trying. While it is certainly true that Bush has much going for him including all branches of the government, much of the financial might of the US, Pat Robertson's god, his "likeability", the media and punditocracy collaborators, better economic news, etc, it is not true that all he is invincible and therefore, we should pack up our bags and go home.
Although Bush is very strong, he has sown some really bad seeds that are coming home to roost in a big way. Last April there was a belief that Bush's (and the Republican party's) hold on foreign policy was permanent and anyone who opposed the war was destined to be left in the cold. But even then many people questioned the pre-emtive policy and warned that Bush's policy misread human nature and so, was guaranteed to fail. Bush had taken the country into war based on his will and belief that force would create a world where he would lead and others would follow. As late as last November, the Republicans bragged that they would run on the pre-emptive war policy, believing that they had discovered a way to assure US preeminence forever. Well, now around the country, editorial boards are asking, is the Bush policy working? And the assessment is decidedly no, this policy is flawed.
After three years in office, it is clear that President George W. Bush has presided over one of the most radical transformations of U.S. foreign policy in history. His policy of unilateralism, pre-emption and regime change represents a dramatic and dangerous shift in emphasis away from more than 50 years of policy that was characterized by cooperation with allies, recognition of international norms and support for arms control.
When Bush stands for re-election later this year, Americans are going to be asked to ratify that new policy. Along with the effect on the nation's long-term fiscal health of huge deficits, the Bush foreign policy ought to be a central issue in the presidential campaign.
Bush's foreign policy is not just about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Indeed, this editorial page reluctantly supported the war against Saddam Hussein because we believed he represented a unique threat to U.S. security interests and could no longer be contained or reliably deterred. Rather, it is the manner in which Bush got the United States into the war and the overall thrust of the administration's diplomacy that causes us great concern.
In addition, news stories are saying that Bush' policy is changing: that in the lead up to the election, Bush's policy is to emphasize diplomacy rather than force, knowing that the US forces are sorely stretched. Yet if Bush has another term, is he more likely to prefer multilateral diplomacy over unilateral force? Especially since it is highly likely that the sole voice in his administration advocating multilateral polices will leave the administration? Everything that we see now says that if Bush wins the election in 2004, Bush will continue to paint things in black and white, prefer force rather than diplomacy and that the country will need a draft to cover the troop needs to back his goals. Bush's record on foreign policy is no longer unassailable, but rather a real chink in his armor and one that Democrats have to exploit if they are to win the next election.
The other fatal seed that Bush sowed is in his handling of the economy. Although the news leading up to Christmas was how the US economy was rebounding and Bush's policies have proven good, today, the news is about an economy that is staggering under unsustainable debt. And, even more ominous, that the US economy threatens to damage the world economy. Although Bush believes he is the most powerful person on earth, he too can only succeed if others agree to support him in this. Today, rather than controlling our own destiny, we are beholding to the kindness of strangers who hold our bank notes. As in the case of foreign policy, Bush's "strength" in economic policy can quickly turn into a weakness. Unfortunately, the real problem is, with Bush in the White House, the question is not whether a crisis of debt happens, but when.
Does Bush have an advantage going into the election? Yes, right now he does. Yet, the foundation he has laid for his campaign to demonstrate competence and strong leadership is anything but stable. He has to rely on everything going right in countries where he has little control over events and that the US economy does not succumb to the wasting disease he has promoted by his tax cuts and irresponsible fiscal policy. Bush's odds are not as good as the RNC would like us to believe.