Bush bashing fizzles

Michael Barone
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Posted: Jul 25, 2005 12:00 AM

This summer, one big story is replaced by another -- the London bombings July 7, the speculation that Karl Rove illegally named a covert CIA agent, the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, more London bombings last week. But beneath the hubbub, we can see the playing out of another, less reported story: the collapse of the attempts by liberal Democrats and their sympathizers in the mainstream media -- The New York Times, etc., etc. -- to delegitimize yet another Republican administration.

 This project has been ongoing for more than 30 years. Richard Nixon, by obstructing investigation of the Watergate burglary, unwittingly colluded in the successful attempt to besmirch his administration. Less than two years after carrying 49 states, he was compelled to resign. The attempt to delegitimize the Reagan administration seemed at the time reasonably successful. Reagan was widely dismissed as a lightweight ideologue, and the rejection of his nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987 contributed to the impression that his years in office were, to take the title of a book by a first-rate journalist, "the Reagan detour." As time went on, as the Berlin Wall fell and Bill Clinton proclaimed that the era of big government was over, it became clear that Reagan was a successful transformational president -- something the mainstream media grudgingly admitted when he died in 2004 after a decade out of public view.

 You think they'd learn. But for the past five years, the same folks have been trying to undermine the presidency of George W. Bush. The Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore was denounced as an outrage, and Democrats noted, accurately, that Bush did not win a plurality of the popular vote in 2000. The nation rallied to his support after September 11, but Democrats held up his judicial and other nominations even if they had to violate Senate tradition to do so. Coverage of Bush during the 2004 campaign was heavily negative; for months the mainstream media mostly ignored the Swift Boat Vets' charges against John Kerry and broadcast accusations against Bush based on forged documents eight weeks before the election. News of economic recovery in 2003 and 2004 was pitched far more negatively than it had been when Bill Clinton was president in 1995 and 1996.

 Now the unsupported charges that "Bush lied" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have been rekindled via criticism of Karl Rove. A key witness for the Democrats and mainstream media was former diplomat Joseph Wilson. Unfortunately for his advocates, he turned out to be a liar. A year after his famous article appeared in The New York Times in July 2003 accusing Bush of "twisting" intelligence, the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a bipartisan report, concluded that Wilson lied when he said his wife had nothing to do with his dispatch to Niger, and Chairman Pat Roberts said that his report bolstered rather than refuted the case that Saddam Hussein's Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa. So despite the continuing credulousness of much of the press, it appears inconceivable at this point that Karl Rove will be charged with violating the law prohibiting disclosure of the names of undercover agents. The case against Rove -- ballyhooed by recent Time and Newsweek cover stories that paid little heed to the discrediting of Wilson -- seems likely to end not with a bang but a whimper.

 So, too, with the political left's determination to defeat Bush's first nominee to the Supreme Court. Democrats, with much help from the press, argued successfully in 1987 that Robert Bork was out of the mainstream and in 1991 brought up spectacular charges that cast a pall on Justice Clarence Thomas. They seem almost certain not to have such success against the obviously highly qualified John Roberts. They may try to argue that Roberts is "out of the mainstream." But the vote on Roberts's nomination to the appeals court was 14 to 3 in the judiciary committee. Who is in the mainstream now?

 The bombings and attempted bombings in London have brought home to the American public that we face implacable enemies unwilling to be appeased by even the most emollient diplomacy. Yet, mainstream media coverage of Iraq has been mostly negative. But mainstream media no longer have a monopoly; Americans have other sources in talk radio, Fox News and the blogosphere. Bush's presidency is still regarded as illegitimate by perhaps 20 percent of the electorate. But among the rest, the attempt to delegitimize him seems to be collapsing.