Bush's Political Liabilities
In January religious talk show host Pat Robertson predicted that Bush's reelection was divinely ordained. Though not blessed with Robertson's special pipeline to the Divinity, a legion of political pundits agreed that Bush looked invincible. He fought a cakewalk war in Afghanistan. He launched what appeared to be another cakewalk war in Iraq that knocked off a hated dictator who ostensibly threatened to blow the world to smithereens. His approval ratings soared.
Meanwhile, the then pack of six Democratic presidential candidates had not found a touch-a-nerve political issue, raised the required king's ransom in campaign funds, or attained the household name recognition needed to make the 2004 presidential race a real horserace. But even then, underneath Robertson and the Republican's giddy euphoria over the prospect of a smash Bush victory, there were warning signs that the election will be hard fought. There was the Bush family political history. Bush Sr. also had a sky-high approval rating after Gulf War I in 1990. But soaring joblessness, recession, and urban riots helped sink him.
There were similar shades of Bush Sr. in Bush's fumbles and bumbles with Congress. It slashed his tax cut, stymied his bid to open the Alaska 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 virtually buried his plan to cap malpractice suits.
Next, there is the Republican Party's bigotry problem. It pays endless lip service to diversity and inclusion, and swore that it canned the borderline racism of former Senator Jessie Helms and defrocked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Yet, several Congressional Republicans have made foot-in-the-mouth racial and gender slurs of blacks, Jews, and Japanese-Americans, and perennially bash gays. Top Republicans have been mute on their outbursts, and that includes the man at the very top, Bush.
This is evidence that racial and gender fault lines are deeper than ever. This has given civil rights, civil liberties, and women's groups and environmentalists an even bigger opening to pound Bush on his domestic failings. Before the Iraq war, they had 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.
Bush has also incurred the wrath of three powerful foes. The League of Conservation Voters is mad at Bush for his gut of environmental regulations. The American Association of Retired Persons is mad at him for his cave-in to the drug manufacturers in passing a dubious prescription drug benefit. The labor unions are even madder at him for the loss of thousands of industrial jobs, his tax cuts, and pension meltdowns. They have sworn to mobilize millions behind Democratic presidential contender John Kerry.
Kerry is a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and centrist Democrat who looks and sounds like a commander in chief who will be strong on military preparedness, and tough in the war on terrorism. He has the solid backing of Democrats, and can duke it out with Bush on almost equal terms when it comes to raising the bushels of campaign dollars it takes to topple a sitting president.
Then there's the Iraq war. A New York Times/CBS Poll taken the day the bombing started in 2003 found that a big majority of Americans backed the attack and took pride in the American military. The endless body count, the failure to find WMDs, an inept Iraqi political leadership, and the total lack of a plausible Iraq exit plan have turned what looked to be Bush's crowning glory into a crown of thorns.
This is by no means to write the political epitaph for Bush. He has taken big hits from filmmaker Michael Moore and the 9/11 Commission. He has been slammed for corporate cronyism, gaping malapropisms, and drug dependence. That's enough to derail most politicians. But polls still show him marginally behind, or in a dead heat with Kerry. Bush has a colossal campaign war chest, the conservative media in his hip pocket, and the rock solid backing of evangelicals. In addition, many Americans expect another terrorist attack on American soil before the election. They are jittery about making any change at the top.
Bush can and will play on all this at the upcoming Republican convention and during the fall campaign. But that won't cancel his political liabilities. And that insures that the election won't be, as Robertson claims God has pre-ordained, a walkover for the Prez.