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The Year of Vanished Credibility
Start with Bush. Never at ease before the cameras, he now has the glassy stare and mirthless smile of a cornered man with nowhere left to run. Nixon looked the same in his last White House days, and so did Hitler, according to those present in the Fuehrerbunker. As Hitler did before him, Bush raves on about imagined victories. Spare a thought for the First Lady who has to endure his demented and possibly drunken harangues over supper. The word around Washington is that he’s drinking again. At this rate he’ll be shooting the dog and ordering the First Lady to take poison, which I’m sure she’ll have great pleasure in forwarding to her mother in law.
Certainly it’s hard to escape Bush’s voice. Every time I turn on the radio, there he is giving a press conference, or yet another bulletin on the great triumphs in Iraq (where the recent election produced utter defeat for the United States and total victory for Iran).There’s talk of a bounce in the polls.
A week before Christmas the Washington Post suddenly trumpeted that according to the poll the paper commissions in association with ABC, Bush’s pre-Christmas approval had zoomed to 47 per cent, much higher than in simultaneous polls by USA Today and CNN-Gallup, which had him at 41. (The two former polls agree that 52 percent of the population does not believe that the Iraq war is worth fighting or that troops should have been sent in the first place.) The latest numbers from the usually reliable Zogby poll, made public on December 13 found that after edging back up above 40 per cent in November, Bush’s job approval rating was once again at 38 per cent.
I’m sure millions of Americans yearn to approve of Bush. He’s officially scheduled to be in the White House another three years, and who wants a lemon in the garage that long? And indeed, the president does still have his die-hard fans, clustered in their places of worship in the remoter regions of the country. A mid-November poll by SurveyUSA found that in only seven states did Bush’s current approval rating exceed 50 per cent. These consisted of the thinly populated states of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi. In twelve states, including California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Michigan, his rating was under 35.
All the same, we’ve mishandled the situation. When Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and said Mission Accomplished, we all sneered. Wrong move. We should have applauded, and said Now leave! Same thing when there turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We sneered again. We should have said, Great! So America’s safe. Let’s quit while we’re ahead.
Now Bush is saying that the job will be done when Iraqis enjoy the democratic freedoms guaranteed Americans. We should say, They do! Bought news stories, secret surveillance of phone calls, emails and faxes, arrest without warrant, disappearances, torture You’ve brought our democracies into sync. Call it a day, bring the troops home, and then we can start impeaching you.
But who would do the impeaching? The Democrats have lost as much credibility as the President and the Republicans. Ever since the New York Times loitered a year late into print with its disclosure about the NSA spying program (only the latest in a sequence of unconstitutional infamies by that Agency stretching back for decades, mostly against domestic political protesters) I’ve seen it argued that if the Times had gone with the story last year, Kerry might be president.
But if the Democrats had cared about the Constitution they could have broken the story themselves last year. Democratic congressional leaders knew, because the whistleblowers from the NSA desperately tried to alert them, only to get the cold shoulder. Kerry’s prime advisers Richard Clark and Rand Beers on such matters knew, because they’d previously been Bush’s top functionaries in the war on terror.
We’re heading into a year when the Democrats could be making hay, by actually doing the right thing. In 2005 is a pointer, they never will. The latest evidence is that Rahm Emanuel, in charge of selecting Democratic Congressional candidates for 2006, is choosing millionaires and fence-straddlers on the war. He shunned Christine Cegelis, who nearly beat sixteen-termer Henry Hyde in 2004, and whom Illinois polls show to be a popular contender to succeed Hyde. But Cegelis has the disadvantage in Emanuel’s eyes of not being very rich and of agreeing with John Murtha on immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. Emanuel picks Tammy Duckworth, who embodies the cynicism of the "Democratic strategists", being a double-amputee woman Iraq veteran who is not from the district, has a hot-air position on the war and is thought to espouse a "pro-business/centrist platform".
For years Democrats have been dreaming of having a brawny, non-nonsense type, preferably draped in medals, lead them into political battle. They picked a clunker last year, in the form of John Kerry, who had a glass jaw, six houses, a silly billionaire wife and an infinite capacity for talking out of both sides of his mouth. Along comes Murtha, who was actually a Marine drill sergeant at Parris Island, who has 100 per cent credibility on military matters, who showed how to talk about the war, how to say It’s quitting time. And they fled him like a poisoned thing. They still do.
I watched Murtha put Bush away last Sunday. It was effortless.
BLITZER: Here’s what the president said this past week addressing you specifically.
BUSH: Setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to our most important audience, our troops on the front line. It would tell them that America is abandoning the mission they are
risking their lives to achieve and that the sacrifice of their comrades killed in this struggle has been in vain.
MURTHA: This is a real war; this is not a war of rhetoric. What the troops get disappointed [about] is they don’t have the equipment they need. That’s the thing that demoralizes them I found a shortage of 40,000 battle jackets that they didn’t have. That’s the thing that demoralizes them. And they know they’re targets. I was out at the hospital the other day and I talked to a young woman whose husband had been to Iraq twice, wounded very badly, lying there in a hospital bed. She says, you know, he enlisted to fight for America, not for Iraq. The Iraqis have to do this themselves. That’s the answer to this whole situation.
So that’s it for Christmas, 2005: No credibility for the President, or for the Democrats, or for the New York Times, which took a year to figure out whether the Constitution is worth fighting for.
An earlier version of this column ran in the print version of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.