“Division and Accusation”

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Bush Administration, Congress, Iraq War

Howard Fineman made some interesting remarks last night on Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Yeah, I know, it’s Howard Fineman, but he did make some points. Really! Check out this truncated bit of the transcript, with obligatory “Democrats are just as bad” content removed:

OLBERMANN: Is it possible that we‘re overstating how bad those poll numbers are for the president? Is there some silver lining in there that we have overlooked?

FINEMAN: I don‘t think so. I was talking to a Republican today, a top strategist, who said, you know, he hasn‘t seen numbers like this since he‘s been in the game, which is quite some time. … what‘s happened to the president is that his numbers for honesty, honesty have crumbled, and just as important, his backing by the core Republican Party has begun to crumble as well.

So without the reputation for personal honesty and character, and without the hardcore support of his own Republicans, he‘s in deep trouble, probably is glad he‘s getting out of the country for a while.

OLBERMANN: The effort to get himself out of the deep trouble began, obviously, on Veterans Day, on Friday, in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Bush began this campaign to rehab his image by essentially accusing anybody who was critical of the war in Iraq or of how it started, or perhaps of even looking, investigating this question of prewar intelligence, of being deeply irresponsible.

We just heard tonight, in Alaska, he did exactly the same thing, used exactly the same analogies. Is there any indication yet that the strategy is working for him, either within his own party or within the public as a whole?

FINEMAN: No, I don‘t think so. And the numbers are so bad now that they‘re not going to be turned around by that kind of thing.

But he has two additional problems. First of all, he accepted bipartisanship when the war was gearing up. But he didn‘t really seek it out. He didn‘t really make bipartisanship, the notion of politics ending at the water‘s edge, the hallmark of his policy. It was sort of my way or the highway. And, you know, a majority of the Democrats, not all Democrats, but a majority of the Democrats in the Senate went along.

The other part of the problem he‘s got is, what he‘s really implicitly saying is, We went to war for the wrong reason. But the Democrats made the same mistake I made.

So it‘s a negative argument, not a positive argument. Not to mention the fact that he‘s essentially accusing Democrats practically of disloyalty when he says that they are sending, quote, “mixed signals” to the troops. That‘s one stop short of saying that they‘re undercutting the war effort.

OLBERMANN: That other key element to the strategy, the—well, the Democrats also believed this. He even invoked John Kerry‘s name last week, which makes Iraq sound not like Vietnam but like the Spanish-American War, Remember the “Maine,” and damn the torpedoes, and we‘ll find out later if they really attacked us.

Is it smart to be debating your election opponent a year after you have won the election?

FINEMAN: … I think a better strategy for George W. Bush, rather than to pick a fight when he‘s in this bad of a political position, is to look for some common ground.

But George Bush has never operated as a political leader, nor has his strategist, Karl Rove, by the search for common ground. Instead, they‘ve operated by division and accusation. And that is really going to, I think, dig them in deeper here. But that seems to be the policy they‘re pursuing.

OLBERMANN: Confound your enemies and entertain your friends by (INAUDIBLE), try to, trying to breach some sort of peace with the other side. It would be at least a novel approach.

I honestly believe that if Bush could get out of his “Oh, yeah? Well, you stink worse” mode and try to work with Congress, including Democratic members, to create a real exit strategy with authentic bipartisan support, I think Bush’s poll numbers might stop falling. They might even go back up a tad. I think lots of fallen-away Bush supporters would rally to him if he could show he is bringing order out of chaos. I emphasize that for this to work he’s got to produce tangible results that people can see, particularly a substantial reduction in violence.

But instead what we get with Bush are glib phrases (e.g., as they stand up we’ll stand down) and empty promises that after (Saddam is captured; sovereignty is transferred; elections are held) everything will get better.

The benchmarks pass, and it’s not getting better.

Instead Bush’s Iraq policy is just drifting along, directionless, and I think people are realizing that. (This is something I want to write about in more detail in a future post, but for examples I recommend “Why Iraq Has No Army” by James Fallows in the current edition of Atlantic Monthly. Unfortunately if you are not a subscriber you’ll probably have to buy a copy. But Fallows’s latest entry at The Huffington Post is really good, too, and you can read that online.)

Congress is stepping into the leadership void that Bush refuses to fill. For example, Bloomberg reports:

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Senate opened debate today on measures that would put the chamber on record for the first time asking President George W. Bush to set limits for keeping American troops in Iraq.

The Bush administration “needs to explain to Congress and the American people its strategy for the successful completion of the mission,” say resolutions introduced separately by both Republicans and Democrats.

Both parties also would require that Iraq’s rival political factions be told they must make the compromises necessary to achieve a stable government, united against the insurgency, which will allow U.S. troops to leave.

[Update: for today’s developments, click here.]

Bush probably doesn’t like Congress stepping on what he sees as his turf. But if he would step up, I ‘spect Congress would step down.

Instead we get division and accusation, because that’s all we ever get from Bush. And apparently he doesn’t know any other way to “lead.”

For more of Bush’s “my way or the highway” mode, see today’s E.J. Dionne column.

Update: See also today’s Dan Froomkin column.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. joanr16  •  Nov 15, 2005 @2:31 pm

    “I honestly believe that if Bush could get out of his ‘Oh, yeah? Well, you stink worse’ mode and try to work with Congress, including Democratic members, to create a real exit strategy with authentic bipartisan support, I think Bush’s poll numbers might stop falling.”

    maha… just checkin’, but you are talking about George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, right?

  2. mamameow  •  Nov 15, 2005 @2:42 pm

    please let’s not help bush. he has shot off both feet and is now above the ankle. you do not want to help your opponent when he is doing himself in. bushies/repugs are good at winning/stealing elections but they do not know how to govern. do you know when i was about 10 give or take a few, eisenhower was running, i remember my dad, who was in the real estate business, always saying if the repugs get in then we the people lose, but with a democrat you have a better chance of winning. my great-grandfather james mcgill of louisville was owner or editor of the louisville newspaper and a union organizer. my mom said she did not know until she was in her early teens that uncle sam was not her uncle but samuel gompers. many stories about the brutality of union organizing then. anyway my great-grandfather taught his 9 children to be democrats, the winning party for the common man. they were all active dems. if you research the philosophy behind the repug party when it was formed, you will see that the bushies are following this completely. it was a losing policy in the past and will continue to lose, eventually!!!

  3. maha  •  Nov 15, 2005 @2:49 pm

    “but you are talking about George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States, right?”

    Hypothetically, but he can’t do it. He doesn’t have it in him to actually accomplish anything, any more than he can fly.

  4. alyosha  •  Nov 15, 2005 @3:06 pm

    “I honestly believe that if Bush could get out of his ‘Oh, yeah? Well, you stink worse’ mode and try to work with Congress, including Democratic members, to create a real exit strategy with authentic bipartisan support, I think Bush’s poll numbers might stop falling.”

    That would require a remarkable step in the direction of maturity and honesty that isn’t in this guy (yet). He’s too busy being a childish brat. And it shows, and it’s going to kill him, with every word that comes out out of his spoiled mouth. And the whole world must put up with this childishness for the next three years, unless he can be made to somehow step aside.

  5. Stephen Stralka  •  Nov 15, 2005 @3:06 pm

    On a related note, I was about ready to go find John Kerry and punch him in the face yesterday when I heard him on the radio talking (finally!) about how Bush misled the country into this stupid war. It’s nice to see him getting on board, but it would have been a whole lot nicer if he’d used some of that in his campaign last year.

    (But then I thought, Wait a minute. You know things are bad for Bush if even John Kerry feels safe to attack him now.)

  6. Swami  •  Nov 15, 2005 @4:44 pm

    Until Bush can fess up and admit he made a mistake( and decieved the American Public) there is no hope for turning the Iraqi situation around. His arrogance on the world stage is a bigger problem for America than the Iraqi fiasco. Bush doesn’t have the right stuff for real leadership or honesty. He’ll continue with his gimmickry of sound bites and photo-ops to create the illusion of substance of character, but he remains a shell of a man.

    He’s an asswipe! an empty suit…a butt weasel..a flim flam man. I want to see him go down in flames..big time!

  7. Rick  •  Nov 15, 2005 @7:08 pm

    Honorable…intellegent…hell even civilized will not be any path Bushit takes. He’d rather flame the country with his own manufactured bird flu so he can come out the hero or dictator, whichever your point of view…

  8. jerri  •  Nov 15, 2005 @7:25 pm

    Bush is toast. There is no come back in his future because the time for him to be honest with the American people has come and gone. Where do you think he will fly off to when his polling numbers hit 35%?

  9. Donna  •  Nov 16, 2005 @1:04 am

    Something is deeply shifting in the USA and those nefarious types who felt so smug and protected by Rovian spin are in free fall with no safety net. This shift gives me hope that many knee-jerk voters might gain some much needed maturity, maturity being the ability to make finer and finer distinctions. Yeah, I guess I’m an optimist.

  10. merciless  •  Nov 16, 2005 @11:37 am

    He doesn’t know what to do. None of them do. They’re using the worst kind of playground tactics, bullying, tattle-telling, and outright lying, and the good people of this country are appalled by it. After all, we all spent time on the playground.

    Many msn types and bloggers see the tipping point as Katrina. I say it was poor Terri Schiavo. At that point, the happy clown mask was stripped off to reveal the Freddy Kruger who wanted to control even our most private moments, and laugh about them afterward. It was then that the good folks woke up from their Republican-induced hypnosis and realized how evil these guys can really be.



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