Election 2004: Let the Cynicism Begin!

Somebody hand David Brooks a Kleenex. He’s upset that President Bush’s victory dance last Thursday was interpreted politically.

Boy am I in a terrible mood. I watched and listened to the punditry on President Bush’s speech on the USS Lincoln. . . .

And what do my fellow pundits say? They sit in the studios and point out sagely that the speech was a tremendous photo-op. . . .

The only thing that matters [to the pundits] is that this was a campaign event and it’s to be judged as just another rally on the way to the convention.

– “Cynics and the USS Abraham Lincoln,The Weekly Standard online, May 2, 2003

What kind of cynical bastards would call it a “photo op” when a civilian official swoops onto an aircraft carrier in a combat jet? W. was probably just trying to round out his Air National Guard commitment; how was he to know there would be cameras everywhere? Rest assured that The Weekly Standard would have held its tongue had Bill Clinton done anything like this. Our commander-in-chief electioneering? How dare you say such a thing!

Yet, in their own coverage of the event, the Republican press couldn’t resist offering little previews of the 2004 ad cycle. Michael Ledeen unveils a rough draft of the Forrest Gump spot:

George W. is the most amazing president. How could anyone have imagined that such a man, who lacks all the credentials to conduct foreign policy (he hasn’t traveled, he hasn’t studied foreign cultures, he doesn’t speak foreign languages, his knowledge of world history is skimpy, and he hasn’t memorized the last decade of the New York Times) would turn out to have the best foreign-policy instincts imaginable? He reminds me more and more of Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. He has the most important quality of a great leader: He instinctively finds the words to express what the American people believe. And his are simple words, not fancy ones.

– “The Lincoln Speech,” National Review Online, May 2, 2003

Harry Truman? Watch out Dean, Kerry, Edwards, and Lieberman: the neocons have kidnapped one of your own. Everyone loves the accidental president made good – whether he’s a haberdasher or a petrol prince. As Gleaves Whitney notes in National Review, “It doesn’t require much imagination to see parallels between Truman and Bush, the commanders in chief who led America to victory in World War II and Gulf War II respectively.” Thanks, Gleaves, for throwing in that “respectively”; in all the triumphal confusion, I was tempted to credit Don Rumsfeld for D-Day. In 18 months, I’ll probably think he rode a Higgins ashore.

Yes, WWII nostalgia charms the oldsters and their guilt-ridden, draft-dodging kids, but will it rock the vote? Newt Gingrich knows what will. Commenting on the Lincoln bonanza on Fox News, Gingrich compared W. to the president in Independence Day, a Desert Storm vet who takes the cockpit to zap invading aliens and save the planet. Great allusion. The sort of lowbrows it was aimed at probably won’t notice that

A) the Iraqis were not the invading aliens in the recent war,

B) George W. Bush never put his smirk in the same hemisphere as harm’s way, and

C) it looks as if the planet might not have needed saving, after all.

Of course, ballots are blind to IQ, making nincompoops the most sought-after bloc in American politics. Many of them already know how they’ll vote. Rush Limbaugh asked his fans to try to picture any of the Democratic candidates in a flight suit, thereby unleashing a flurry of empty cartoon bubbles above dittoheads. One hopes that at least a few listeners mumbled, “Score one for the Democrats,” but don’t count on it. Years of party loyalty whittle the mind down to sawdust.

Nonetheless, if you equate the nation’s survival with Bush’s reelection, your sawdust must be giddy. Not so fast, though, writes Dick Morris in a recent piece for FrontPageMag. The guru patiently explains election ’92:

Bush I faced an opponent who took away his best issues. . . .

Can a Democrat take away Bush II’s issues as effectively in 2004? It depends on which Democrat. If it’s Lieberman, perhaps he can. Voters may come to believe that the Jewish Senator from Connecticut will be as fierce against terror as the president has been. But, if the opponent is Edwards or Gephardt who have been lukewarm on the war, or Dean or Kerry, who have been largely opposed, Bush will certainly have terrorism as his core issue.

Terrorism will still be Bush’s core issue a year from now? Why so optimistic, Dick?

Bush Sr. had no domestic policy issue with which to control events.

Since Bush I had no domestic policy agenda beyond fighting the recession and cutting the deficit, he lost control over the political dialogue. Here, Bush II faces much the same problem. He lacks a domestic policy issue. If terror fades – either because of Bush’s success or because Lieberman wins the Democratic nomination – he’s got no backup strategy. Tax cuts aren’t the answer; nor is partial birth abortion or energy production or lawsuit limitation. Bush needs a hot button domestic issue with which to dominate the debate of 2004. I think that a crackdown on immigration from terrorist nations and drug testing for students in schools may offer the best choices.

“[N]o domestic policy issue with which to control events?” Watch your words; we conspiracy theorists might get the wrong idea.

“[A] crackdown on immigration from terrorist nations?” Yeah, don’t do that now – it might nullify your core issue.

“[D]rug testing for students in schools?” This is going to make America safer? Freer? Or just more Republican?

Wait ’til David Brooks gets wind of all this cynicism.