November 13, 2002
Is Bush Vulnerable?George W. Bush defied historical odds by his party's winning seats in Congress in a midterm election even in a bad economy. He is truly on top of the world now, the unopposed leader of a monolithic government in which all branches are controlled by his extreme right wing faction. And his faction is using all the power it has to consolidate a still tighter hold on power. The Bushies are in the process now of packing the courts with the kinds of judges who will hold partisan advantage over the law, like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in the Bush vs. Gore decision. He also has the power of the incumbency, and all the power of government at his fingertips to use toward achieving his own re-election, which seems a foregone conclusion to most observers at this stage of the game. Could it be possible that he is vulnerable? You bet he is.
In early 1991, Bush's father had approval ratings in the 80s. He was the commander in chief during the Gulf War. He seemed unbeatable. Few Democrats wanted to throw away their political careers on a sure loss. That left an opening for an unlikely young man from Arkansas who ended up giving Bush a trouncing, in spite of a well-financed and organized smear campaign based on his tendencies as a philanderer that was already in full swing at that time.
Almost unapproachable in 1991, and with the advantage of incumbency, Bush was defeated the very next year.
In 1972 Richard Nixon was elected in one of the largest landslides in presidential history. Few knew at that time how much the Nixon team had manipulated the Democratic side of election to defeat opponents like Muskie through a well-organized dirty tricks campaign. But by the election of 1972, the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building was already publicly known. The fact that the burglars were agents of the Nixon re-election team was publicly known, but it had not had any visible negative effect on Nixon's power or electability.
Less than two years later, his presidency was history. Such are the vicissitudes of political fortunes. George W. Bush is riding a wave of triumph now, but it is a wave. His ascendancy is not immutable.
Bush very well may triumph in this next period as well. He may succeed in winning that second term, surpassing his father for the first time in his life. But he does have vulnerabilities.
Bush's actual performance is extremely dismal. A strong economy in the previous two terms was wrecked almost instantly by the fiscally irresponsible policies of the Bush regime. What is called a "tax cut," was really a marathon of corporate welfare, a bonanza for Bush's big donors, and it wrecked the fiscal integrity of the country for some time to come. The bad effects of those moves are not over, they are barely begun. They may very well catch up to Bush.
Bush is opposed to the majority on almost every issue, including environmental protection, corporate corruption, management of the economy, civil liberties, abortion, even the war policies that have been the single theme on which he has based his presidency and secured his support, is in opposition to a majority of Americans. They are being dragged along reluctantly. This too may run out on Bush. These other issues are increasing in intensity and may reach a threshold at which the public demands satisfaction.
All of Bush's success flows out of 9-11. His approval ratings had fallen below 50% by September 11, based on Bush's abysmal management of the economy and his extreme right wing agenda that favored corporate interests over public welfare on every issue. September 11 turned him into a big hero based on his performance in a few speeches that won over a majority of very frightened people in need of a hero. So far he has been able to parlay that patriotic fervor into one war for oil and now another. It remains to be seen how long that little trick will last. People may grow weary of all these wars, while conditions at home continue to deteriorate.
Like his father, Bush's power is based on deception. He was not elected by telling what he really believed in. He essentially coopted the Democrats issues and called them his own. It did not concern him that he was lying. He proceeded to break his campaign promises one by one once in office. So far it hasn't caught up to him, again primarily because of the war smokescreen which keeps the public so riled up people can't focus on less dramatic issues.
Like his father's Gulf War, Bush's Afghanistan and Iraq wars are also based on deception. They are trumped up, sold as wars to make Americans secure from attack, when they are really transparently about control of oil resources.
Like his father, Bush has trouble with "the vision thing," as his father put it. As the phrase reveals, to them "the vision thing" is merely a product to be sold, a PR device to be used as a tactic in a campaign. That is as deep as any of it ever goes for them. It is all about manipulating the public, leading them on with grand themes that resonate, while hiding your true motives. Their real agenda is also all about war and plunder, but that doesn't sell so well, so it has to be dressed up.
Bush's campaign promises are no more real than his campaign's smearing of McCain during the primary campaign of 2000, when they spread rumors that he had gone crazy as a war prisoner, that his adopted daughter was an illegitimate child by a woman McCain had had an affair with, that his wife was a drug addict. It's all about political tactics. But there are problems with such tangled webs of deception. They do sometimes come back to haunt the perpetrators. The Bush's multiple careers of deception and plunder may yet catch up to them. It could happen before the next election. And if it does, that justice will be very sweet.
One of the best things Bush has going for him now is the extreme gutlessness of the Democrats. Even given all of Bush's weaknesses as a president, he cannot defeat himself. There must be an alternative. And so far the field is not looking very promising. Few Democrats have risen above the behavior of sheep. The fact that so many of the Americans who championed the people against the powerful have died violent deaths must weigh on them in the back of their minds. They like their opulent lifestyles and are not eager to put their lives on the line.
Nevertheless, though the Democrats currently on the horizon are uninspiring at best, it is still possible that these extreme times may yet bring forth a leader equal to the challenge and the tremendous need of the people for an alternative to the corporate oligarchy now in control of America.
Crazier things have happened.
How It Could UnravelWilliam Rivers Pitt at Truthout.com explains how the mountain of corruption upon which George W. Bush's "presidency" rests may not stay put even with Republicans in control of all three branches of the federal government (and happy to compromise any law or principle to protect their power). As Pitt points out, they do not control the California attorney general, Bill Lockyer, who "is spearheading something called the Energy Task Force. This task force of 85 attorneys has been given a $9.7 million budget. Its purpose is to discover exactly how Ken Lay and Enron bilked California ratepayers out of $8.9 billion by rigging the electricity grid and energy trading markets during the 2000-2001 energy crisis. Currently, his group is sifting through 400 boxes of Enron documents and 400 fully stuffed computer disks for evidence. They have, to date, filed over 70 legal actions against Enron and its subsidiaries before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission."
In June 2001, Lockyer had this to say about Ken Lay: "I would love to personally escort (Ken) Lay to an 8-by-10 cell that he could share with a tattooed dude who says, 'Hi, my name is Spike, honey,'"
When Nixon was elected in 1972, anyone who cared to know could have found out enough about Watergate to know Nixon was worse than a crook, was an archcriminal whose actions respected no law but expedience. It still took a while to all come down on him. We'll see how George W.'s house of cards holds together.
More on Bush's vulnerability, see "Weakness in Reserve in The Guardian.