Stumbling Blocks For Bush on Reelection Path

A beaming President Bush told a crowd of reporters after an Easter church service that "It's a great day." Bush had much reason to beam that day. He fought two effortless wars that firmly established him as a successful wartime president. He whipped France back in line in the U.N. when it agreed to his demand to lift sanctions against Iraq. Iran and Syria have made conciliatory gestures to him. And most importantly, his approval ratings have again soared skyward.

In addition, six of the nine declared Democratic presidential candidates have not yet found a touch-a-nerve political issue, raised the required king's ransom in campaign funds, or attained household name recognition, needed to make the 2004 presidential race a real horserace. Two other candidates, Howard Dean, and Dennis Kucinich, hammered Bush on the war. But they are still seen as little more than single-issue protest candidates. Then there's the Reverend Al Sharpton. Mainstream Democrats are scared stiff that Republicans will finger his candidacy as proof that the party is a safe haven for race hustlers, and fringe radicals. And that special interests i.e. feminists, minorities, and gays still have a hammerlock on the party. If the election were held today Bush would win handily. But it's in 2004. And there are stumbling blocks in his reelection path.

The Bush family political history is one. His father had a sky-high approval rating after Gulf War I. But soaring joblessness, recession, and urban riots sank him. There are shades of Bush Sr. in Bush's fumbles and bumbles with Congress. It slashed his tax cut, stymied his bid to open the Alaskan Artic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration, blocked his effort to confirm conservative appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada, watered down his faith-based initiative, stalled his proposal for a Medicare prescription drug benefit and his plan to cap malpractice suits. Bush blames obstructionist Democrats for derailing his package. However, enough Republicans broke ranks with him to help them torpedo it.

Then there's the Republican Party. It pays endless lip service to diversity and inclusion, and swears that it has canned the ugly bigotry of former Senator Jessie Helms and defrocked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Yet, a recent parade of state and Congressional Republicans have made foot-in-the-mouth racial and gender slurs of blacks, Jews, and Japanese-Americans. The topper was Senator Rick Santorum's unrepentant bash of gays.

But more troubling than their racist and homophobic outbursts is the deafening silence of top Republicans. They did not call for their heads. In Santorum's case, Bush weaseled out of publicly condemning his remarks with the lame excuse that he doesn't comment on cases before the Supreme Court. Yet, he had no qualm about publicly backing the anti-affirmative action lawsuit by white students against the University of Michigan currently before the Supreme Court, and filing a friend of the court brief supporting them. Senate Republicans did not call for Santorum's censure, let alone removal from his post as chair of the Republican Senate Caucus. Several conservative Republican groups went much further and cheered his remarks.

The silence at the top of the Republican heap, and applause at the bottom, over bigotry, is evidence that racial and gender fault lines are deeper than ever. This gives civil rights, civil liberties, women's groups and environmentalists a big opening to pound Bush on his domestic failings. In fact, even before the Iraq war, they shed their terror of being branded unpatriotic and had started to peck at Bush on the Florida vote debacle, his refusal to back expanded hate crimes legislation, to speak out on police and corporate abuses, to sign the Kyoto global warming treaty, his support of school vouchers, Alaska drilling, elimination of abortion funding, and his gut of civil liberties protections in the Patriot Act, and the even more draconian Patriot Act II rumored to be on the drawing board.

The League of Conservation voters which made no presidential endorsement in 2000 is so terrorized of a Bush second term that it strongly hints that it will back a Democrat in 2004. Some Green Party members, still mindful of the charge that Ralph Nader tipped the election to Bush in 2004, openly say they will vote for whatever Democrat gets the presidential nod.

Still, Bush will have a colossal campaign war chest, a good chunk of the media in his hip pocket, and the rock solid backing of conservative Republicans. He can boast that he, not a Democrat, can best wage the war against terrorism. But the fury of millions at Republican bigotry and Bush's failings guarantee that 2004 will be no cakewalk for him.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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