What’s Going On

( – promoted by Patrick)

If Democrats truly believe that war is not the answer, then why have they spent the entirety of this decade waging war on George W. Bush?

Years from now, historians will marvel at the extent to which this President has been demonized by his political adversaries. Richard Nixon was also treated harshly during his time in public service, but Nixon brought a certain amount of that opprobrium upon his own head.  What explains the immeasurable level of Bush-hatred that defines political discourse today?

Even if Bush had defeated Al Gore without any controversy in the 2000 election, Dubya would still be loathed by the Democrats and the press, as Ronald Reagan was two decades ago. Like Reagan, Bush is a Republican who managed to succeed in spite of the left’s vigorous attempts to discredit him. It vexes progressives that American voters didn’t agree with the left’s distorted vision of Bush in 2000 and 2004.

Let’s face it: Bush is to the left what Bill Clinton was to the right. Conservatives will never understand how 43 percent of the electorate went for “Slick Willie” in 1992; hardcore Republicans are still mystified that so many voters bought into the “Man from Hope” imagery. Likewise, committed Democrats still can’t comprehend how the cowboy-Christian shtick found favor with the electorate in 2000.

In both cases, it’s a matter of willful ignorance. Fifteen years ago, with the Reagan coalition divided between George H. W. Bush and Ross Perot in 1992, Clinton knew that all he had to do was to present himself as a moderate, personally likable Southern gentleman and he’d capture the White House. Clinton was a master politician, a candidate who understood the power of imagery as arguably no predecessor did. The “Comeback Kid” speech, the appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, the “Sister Souljah moment”–these were all ingredients in Clinton’s recipe for victory.

Bush prepared a similar meal eight years later–and the left has never forgiven him for essentially borrowing Clinton’s cookbook. “Compassionate conservatism” was a Clintonesque political masterstroke–a well-crafted slogan that positioned Bush as a non-ideologue. Several months after the Clinton impeachment saga created a (false) public perception of the Republicans as rigid, Puritanical zealots, Bush effectively positioned himself as an independent-minded Republican more concerned about the success of the people than the success of his party. While Bush’s September 1999 denunciation of congressional Republicans for supposedly trying to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor” received justifiable scorn from conservatives, it nevertheless became the candidate’s own Sister Souljah moment, a media event that furthered the image of Bush The Non-partisan.

Bush carefully studied the 1992 Clinton playbook, and he scored numerous public-image victories: the December 1999 debate in which he declared that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher, the September 2000 appearance on Oprah, the speech at the 2000 Republican National Convention. By implementing the Clinton image strategy, Bush literally beat Gore at his own game.

Gore became the Bush 41 of the 2000 election–an exhausted, hapless figure who seemingly couldn’t handle a more energetic, more politically gifted opponent. Most Democrats believe that Bush “stole” the 2000 election because of the events in Florida, but the reality is that Bush had captured the White House from Gore long before November 7, 2000.

Both Clinton and Bush utilized imagery to secure re-election, much to the consternation of their political adversaries. Clinton successfully depicted his 1996 race against Bob Dole as a battle between the politics of the future and the politics of the past; Clinton also effectively characterized the race as a fight pitting the moderation of the incumbent against the (supposed) extremism of the opponent. Although Clinton had never seen combat, he convinced the electorate that his war-hero adversary represented a flawed political vision unsuitable for today’s world.

Of course, Bush did the exact same thing eight years later in his bruising contest against John Kerry. This time, Bush depicted Kerry’s progressivism as a dangerous anachronism in post-9/11 America. The incumbent subtly suggested that Kerry’s experience in Vietnam did not necessarily make him suitable to lead our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just as Clinton skillfully characterized Dole as a man beholden to the reactionary right, Bush convincingly characterized Kerry as a politician who would appease and obey the far-left as President.

The right was disgusted by Clinton’s defeat of Dole; the left felt similar displeasure after Bush conquered Kerry. The right’s criticism of Clinton increased sharply after November 5, 1996; we’ve all born witness to what the left has done and said in the aftermath of November 2, 2004.

Could it be that the left really hates Bush simply because he appropriated Bill Clinton’s tactics? Perhaps progressives feel that the politics of image are the exclusive property of the left, and that Bush somehow engaged in trademark infringement with his “compassionate conservatism” theme in 2000 and his “strong leader in a time of terror” storyline in 2004. The left will always believe that Bush was not one of our wisest Presidents–but he was certainly wise enough to use Democrat strategies to secure Republican victories.

About D. R. Tucker