Letter to President Bush: You Rose from the Canvas
October 10, 2004
Dear President Bush,
It’s astonishing what preceded your comeback. First, you got your ears boxed the week before by a debating opponent who reduced you to a series of inane and lethargic utterances. Then you received another public report emphasizing your error in asserting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. At the same time you had to notice many Americans were becoming evermore disenchanted by your relentless and quite preposterous claims that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were co-conspirators and Iraq had been a haven for Al-Quaeda. And, inevitably, you got hammered by more news of people being blown up in the streets of Iraq. That’s now the dominant part of your political resume and probably the first thing history will note, along with your failure to plan to maintain security after your boast: “Mission accomplished.”
On the domestic front, the topics were less emotional but decidedly downbeat. You must have heard more angry talk about your presiding over the first net loss of jobs since Herbert Hoover resided in the White House. And lots of folks were still unhappy about the deficit, the G.W. deficit, the one $2.6 trillion deep less than four years after you inherited a surplus greater than $5 trillion. That’s what happens when even a legendary fiscal conservative increases spending while reducing taxes and cutting revenues. But there was something that must have troubled you more: your vaunted base – the righteous and even more so – was losing faith in you. You knew what they were saying: maybe G.W. can’t get it done.
You were in the skillet, all right. Another debating blowout and you might’ve been able to make immediate plans for permanent residence on the ranch. But you didn’t get hammered Friday night in St. Louis. By George, you entered the ring like a guy who’d never been hit. And you started throwing haymakers. Your chest wasn’t strapped down on one of those dang podiums. You were free to step around and get pumped up. Your opponent, naturally, had those options as well. And John Kerry walloped you as often as you tattooed him. But after last week, a draw for a reeling, wartime president is really an electoral victory.
I know you think you won outright. Of course you do. Kerry wanted the cameras on you as he spoke, so he often looked at you when making his points, but you undercut that effort. You didn’t grimace or smirk. You even joked a few times. Since the “town hall” audience was effectively embalmed, we can’t be sure how your demeanor played with them, but on TV it looked immeasurably better than your petulance of last week. Indeed, you were a fount of energy, often bounding up before Kerry had finished speaking to force moderator Charles Gibson to cede you thirty seconds of rebuttal. And, so often, you overwhelmed the need for rational assessment of your statements. You did so with repeated assertions of your ability to be “energetic and forceful…firm and consistent… steadfast and strong and determined.” These Herculean traits were essential, after all, because you’re the one who’s to thank that “freedom is on the march” worldwide.
You have quite a spirit, Mr. President; damn few with your record could have delivered such a convincing performance. And I say it was a “performance” only because you did it at a certain place and time and in the way you wanted. But it wasn’t really a performance, not for you. It was the real you, the essential G.W., the evangelical warrior, the special man chosen by the Almighty to overwhelm the philistines. You don’t need facts for such a transcendent task. In this era, a handful of sound-bite friendly distortions will suffice.
Thus, the recent Duelfer report that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction actually backs you up because the reports indicate Saddam wanted to possess them. Likewise, all that baloney about Saddam and Osama being allies doesn’t matter because Saddam is gone and probable-Afghan-resident bin Laden is hiding, and Iraq and Afghanistan are joining the community of democratic nations. I can see why you’re convinced by your rhetoric. Even as I write this, I’m thinking: maybe this could work. Isn’t it possible that people will ultimately act in their self-interest? It’s not only possible. It’s inevitable. People will demand democracy. They’ll do that when they’re ready. Perhaps they were ready yesterday in Afghanistan. Lots of people showed up at the polls. Being able to vote was clearly very important to them. The democratic experiment resumes in January in Iraq. Damn the reports there of chaos and death. To hell with international disapproval. You don’t need approval. You said you’re not trying to be popular. You’re doing what’s right. You’re on a mission.
While you’ve been obsessed with this mission, Iran and North Korea, as Kerry emphasized, have capitalized on your relative inattention and – real world stuff, Mr. President – actually become the nuclear menaces that Saddam could only fantasize about becoming. But despite the (internal) barbarism of President Kim and the hidebound nature of many Iranian leaders, don’t we have to cede them the fundamental right that you insist on – the right of self-defense. Don’t you believe in deterrence? It’s unlikely the North Koreans and Iranians are planning to physically use their nukes. If they did, they’d be annihilated. What they really want is to deter you from attacking them. And now they can do that. Just as one democracy has never attacked another, no nuclear-armed nation has ever gone to war with another. Will these two wretched regimes share their scientific bounties? They’ll try to if you insist on threatening them. Make them think you’re coming – the young soldiers of the United States, of course; not you personally – and they’ll open Pandora’s Box.
Let’s definitely call this debate a tie. Kerry’s superior intellect was neutralized by your adroitness in distorting facts. According to you, Kerry is outrageous because in twenty years in the senate he voted for tax increases a couple of hundred times, or was it about nine hundred times. You said both. It doesn’t matter. You haven’t read that many pieces of legislation in your life, and you know most voters haven’t, either, and many will listen to you and think: wonderful, George “The Deficit” Bush is going to protect us from that big-spending liberal from Massachusetts. The fanatical spender in this race is from Massachusetts, but he isn’t Senator Kerry, is he, Mr. President?
Many viewers, including Republican pundits who grinned after the bout, were amazed that Kerry wasn’t more specific in refuting your claims of environmental decency. You’d fired out a few arcane details about forest fires and mercury and engines and the hydrogen automobile you proposed before claiming, with nary a facial giveaway, that you were “a good steward” of the earth and that air is cleaner since your presidency and water’s better too. Perhaps you were referring to bottled water. Kerry merely called your environmental record one of the worst in modern history and lamented your ignorance of global warming. The exchange was indecisive. Advantage Bush.
Your base was doubtless pleased by your vow to limit the use of embryonic stem cells in research that could someday lead to the cure of Parkinson’s disease and diabetes and other illnesses. In a related matter, you also promised not to allow personal opinion to alter your selection of Supreme Court justices. You said you’re simply looking for those who will strictly interpret the constitution. The difficulty is that on other occasions you’ve said you need “good conservative judges.” They’ll try to help you back up your claim there will be “no federal money for abortions.” Maybe what you’re really angling for is no abortions at all. Then you would dominate the womb as you now dominate the world.
You, George W. Bush, are (and for four years have been) The Man, king of kings, ruler of the preeminent power on earth, and one who’s inherently convinced of his rectitude. Have you made mistakes? Sure, you conceded, but only on the small stuff. You said you’ve been right on all the “big decisions.” At present, many people around the world don’t think your big decisions look right. But that perception could change. Victory would alter everything. After all, you were a different man Friday night.