Finally, it seems that someone from the Bush administration is actually explaining why they are doing what they are doing. The key phrase, which the White House has apparently figured out, is “Islamic Fascism.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has finally gone off the defensive and is now reminding people, not so gently, of the wages of appeasement. As he should – comparing the modern Democratic Party to Neville Chamberlain is absolutely appropriate. And it’s going to cheese a lot of people off. It may even do some good. But I suspect it may be too late.
Future historians will likely be puzzled by the way W. and his minions managed the public relations battle that is integral to politics. They have, for most of their tenure in office, largely ignored p.r., and the results could be potentially disastrous for their wayward colleagues in Congress this year. Whether you agree with the Democrats or not, one thing is absolutely true about them – they never stop attacking the Republicans. Whether it is Harry Reid, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, John Murtha or the “netroots” left festering in the blogosphere, they never miss an opportunity to bash Bush and his administration. And, for the most part, they have gone unrefuted. It’s not surprising that the holy “approval ratings” for W. have had a hard time getting over 40%; every day there is a Greek chorus of catcalls emanating from Washington and elsewhere excoriating him. If you are the average Joe who doesn’t have the time or the inclination to involve yourself in politics, what you know about George W. Bush is likely framed by the daily denunciations of his opponents.
I also suspect that future historians will be puzzled by the behavior of Bush’s critics. The amount of invective and ad hominem attacks that Bush has faced are so completely out of proportion to his performance that, at times, his opponents have seemed absolutely rabid. I understand how that happens – when Bill Clinton was president, he managed to do something nearly every day that would cause foaming outrage among conservatives, or so it seemed. Clinton’s real sin, as we continue to learn, is that he was almost the polar opposite of George W. Bush. Clinton was exquisitely attuned to the need for public relations, and he never ever stopped touting his accomplishments, even when they were things he actually opposed (like welfare reform). I can still remember his performance at the 2000 Democratic convention, where he entered the auditorium like a prizefighter, with a continuous crawl of every positive event of his time flashing across the screen. If you believed that Bill Clinton was responsible for even half of what he claimed, he’d be the greatest president in history and the pivotal figure of the second half of the 20th Century. I’m sure Clinton does believe that, too.
Most Americans think we are losing the war in Iraq. Most Americans think that George W. Bush is personally responsible for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Many Americans think George Bush is in the pocket of “Big Oil.” Whether or not any of these assertions is true, and there is ample evidence to indicate otherwise in each case, perception is reality. And the question for this president is a simple one: for someone who was willing to take the fight to his enemies in the Middle East, why hasn’t he been willing to take the fight back to his political enemies?