Born Under a Bush Sign
Was it dumb luck, good karma, or was President Bush just born under the right sign? How else to explain the recent polls that show Bush surging ahead of presumed Democratic presidential rival John Kerry? Worse, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll and a New York Times/CBS Poll found that Kerry's negative had shot up, and that more voters consider him a guy that flip-flops on the issues. The week of sledgehammer hits by former Bush counter terrorism expert Richard Clarke before the 9/11 Commission that virtually indicted Bush officials for sleeping at the wheel before the September 11 terror attacks, and Kerry's virtual disappearance from the campaign circuit for skiing and surgery, did nothing to reverse Bush's political luck.
That's been the trademark of the Bush administration since the days after the Florida election debacle in 2000. Then, millions of voters passionately believed that Bush, and the Republicans, stole the White House, Democrats branded him a weak, inept and horribly compromised would-be president. They predicted that a Bush presidency would be strewn with malapropisms, domestic and foreign policy bumbles, a plunging economy, and tormented by hostile Democrats in a deeply divided Congress. They gleefully predicted that if ever there was a one-term president, Bush was the one. But they could not predict or foresee the fateful turn of events that have played into Bush's hands.
September 11. Before September 11, Bush wallowed at the bottom of the polls.
Environmentalist, women's, civil liberties, and minority groups pounded him for his tax cut giveaways to corporations and the rich, his plan to privatize social security, impose school vouchers, school prayer, restrictions on abortion rights, Alaska drilling, and to pack the federal judiciary with a handful of politically retrograde nominees. But the terror attacks instantly turned things around for him. It escalated his poll ratings, secured public allegiance, further increased the Republican Party's political dominance, and deflected public attention from domestic problems.
The well-timed deluge of terror alerts, and warnings have kept Americans on edge, heightened their fears, and boosted Bush's image as a tough guy president that can and will relentlessly wage the anti-terrorist war. In a recent AP-Ipsos poll, even one-fourth of Democrats preferred Bush to Kerry to handle terrorism.
Iraq. Despite the escalating casualties, the butchery of American civilians, and the failure to find the phantom WMDs, Bush has stood the negatives on their head and made the case that they are the reasons to stay in Iraq and finish the job. The parade of generals, weapons experts, military analysts, and incessant talk of military tactics, strategy, and Post-Hussein pacification plans for the country prop Bush up as an effective war time president.
Nader Factor. Polls still show that voters are almost evenly split politically. And though Kerry met with independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, and according to reports Nader and Kerry agreed that Bush must be beaten at all costs, if Nader appears on the ballot in the handful of swing states that almost certainly will decide the election he could wreak havoc on Kerry's campaign. Polls show that disaffected Democrats, independents, and young voters like what Nader has to say. If Bush's strategy of tarring Kerry as a big spending, jack up taxes, wishy-washy liberal works, and Kerry overreacts by moving to the right, the millions of voters that regard Republicans and Democrats as corrupt and suffocated by special interest groups, and suspect that Kerry is a corporate deal-making party hack who will trade principles for a bump up in the polls will stay away from the polls in droves, or vote for Nader. That would be the political kiss of death for Kerry.
Busted Economy. This is supposed to be the Democrats' big issue to hammer Bush. But though the economy is sluggish, the federal deficits are mountainous, and Bush's boast that his policies created thousands of new jobs is phony and hollow, the economy hasn't crashed. The Federal Reserve's micro-managing of interest rates, a relatively low inflation rate, the continued expansion of the retail and service industries, and a single digit unemployment rate, give the appearance that the economy is poised to take off. If it does, Bush will get the credit.
Wedge Issue. The Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage, and the well-publicized press shots of gay couples in loving embraces at marriage ceremonies at San Francisco's City Hall, was a godsend for Bush. This gave him the issue and excuse he desperately needed and searched for to fire up his core troops, white, male bible spouting, conservative fundamentalists in the mid lands. They are the trump card that he depends on to keep his job if the election gets tight.
These are the political plusses that through a mix of fate and political calculation have helped roll the dice in Bush's favor, and against Kerry. And that's not a good sign.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.