Losing faith in Bush

The Bush administration's new, new plan to sell the war to public is barely a week old, and it's already attracting a lot of flak -- and from Republican spin guru David Frum, no less:

By now it should be clear that President Bush's words on the subject of Iraq have ceased connecting with the American public. His speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars is the latest - and one of the most serious to date - manifestations of the problem. ...
Let me mention just one single but maybe decisive problem. Again and again during the Bush presidency - and yesterday most recently - the president will agree to give what is advertised in advance as a major speech. An important venue will be chosen. A crowd of thousands will be gathered. The networks will all be invited. And after these elaborate preparations, the president says ... nothing that he has not said a hundred times before.
If a president continues to do that, he is himself teaching the public and the media to ignore him - especially when the words seem (as his speech yesterday to the VFW seemed) utterly to ignore the past three months of real-world events. [LINK]
Frum then goes on to suggest that Bush should have either delivered a "blood, sweat, toils, and tears speech" -- as though we haven't heard the "hard work" schtick over and over again -- or itemized "the reasons to regard Iraq more positively than most journalists do." But in order to do that, Bush would have to violate Frum's other edict on Iraq: "Presidential speeches cannot seem disconnected from reality as it is perceived by a majority of the American public."

The bottom-line is that the reality of Iraq can no longer be disguised by a better PR strategy. If Bush wants to turn his fortunes around, he will have to take the risk of actually doing something -- whether it is sending more troops in or pulling them out. "Staying the course" is no longer an option since it is now perceived -- correctly -- by the American people as a poor guise to hide the lack of leadership. What Americans want from their president is purposeful leadership. If Bush's words ring hollow even to his own supporters, it's because he clearly doesn't know where what he's doing in Iraq -- or even what he hopes to achieve in this interminable war.

Here's what one of Frum's Ohio readers wrote in response to his post:
I remember a few months ago waiting in anticipation in front of the TV screen screen when Bush delivered his 'major speech,' at Fort Bragg I think. I felt myself getting frustrated and even bored as I watched, this was just the same old rhetoric, fight the terrorists, stay the course, blah blah. I wanted details! What is going well, what is not going well, how have the plans changed, etc... I would so much rather hear the President lay out what was done right, what mistakes were made, how are they adapting to these mistakes. The speech was completely devoid of substance. I read about our troops being killed by roadside bombs. Why are they on the road? Where are they going? What are they doing? What are they building? Does the administration still believe Iraq will be a happy democracy? In three years? five? ten? You won't find a stronger supporter of the President then I am but when I watch his Iraq speeches I just want to scream! AAAHH!!!
Here's another from California:
I want the United States to win the war. But I'm not seeing any signs of a Bush adminstration strategy beyond Iraq, and without such a strategy we will never achieve victory. I suspect this is why the White House is doing such a poor job at communicating; you can't speak clearly and convincingly on the war unless you have a strategic vision to integrate the facts into a compelling narrative. And no, in this context 'the Iraqis have a government' is *not* a compelling narrative. A compelling narrative is one that explains how, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan on the Cold War, 'we win and they lose.'
Judging from the other email, it is clear that a no-holds-barred all-out offensive would at least satisfy the "red meat" voters. But since even Bush administration hawks now know that a decisive victory is a remote possibility, escalating the conflict will just raise the stakes without changing the outcome. Besides, a number of Frum's readers also reflect increasing doubts among staunch conservatives about the war itself:
What irritated me most about his speech yesterday is the repetition of 'we must fight on to honor the 1800+ deaths.' I don't think that will wash with the American people. As much as they want to honor the military dead and their families for the sacrifices, Americans are too pragmatic to throw more deaths at past deaths unless they see a vital national interest like defeating terrorism and/or saving our western civilization at stake. I am getting to the point where I become embarassed when listening to Bush's formulations of things, and I'm a strong supporter of a muscular U.S.
The only hope for the Bush presidency is to find a way out of Iraq. He can either embrace withdrawal and sell it as his idea -- while most of the Democrats in Congress are just as busy not suggesting any course of action. Or he can have it thrust upon him by a reenergized antiwar movement and leaders like Russ Feingold.

Note: I apologize for absent-mindedly confusing Frum's name with his Democratic counterpart Bob Shrum. All those political hacks tend to meld into one oily persona in my mind.

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