WASHINGTON -- This is a very glum time for President George W. Bush. Cock your ear toward Washington and what do you hear? Democrats, even the sensible ones such as John Francois Kerry and Sen. Joe Biden, the admirer of British political oratory, adjudge him hopeless. Now even conservatives are weighing in. My own colleague at The American Spectator, The Prowler, writes that "at this stage of the game … this Administration is [probably] done for." Alas, time to amble back to the ranch, George.
Or is it? Every normal presidency in recent decades has been through times like this. I say normal because at least one, the Clinton presidency, and possibly a second one, the Nixon presidency, were decidedly abnormal. From Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the present president, every president has found himself occasionally forlorn and rejected. Yet, with the exceptions of Jimmy Carter and Lyndon Johnson (remember, we have placed Clinton and Nixon in a class by themselves), these presidencies have for the most part been successful. Well, that might not be exactly true of the presidency of John F. Kennedy, but maybe he too should be placed in a class by himself.
Despite the gloom surrounding the White House, it is too early to predict this president's success or failure. He is engaged in a war and wars are always fraught with vicissitudes, failed predictions, and setbacks, even for the victorious side. Who announced that all U.S. troops would be out of Germany by 1947? That would be FDR at Yalta in 1945. Why was Washington so desperate to bring the Red Army into our war with Japan as late as the winter of 1945? We had no clear idea of how effective the atomic bomb would be against the Japanese. Most of the criticism of this Administration's execution of war in Iraq is ignorant, opportunistic and hypocritical. Consider Boy Clinton's recent eruption of bosh, claiming that the president acted precipitously and "with no real urgency, no evidence that there were weapons of mass destruction." Thitherto Clinton has deposited scores of statements on the public record contradicting these partisan judgments, which make this famed perjurer once again a candidate for the Hypocrites' Hall of Fame.
One of the reasons that it is too early to count this admittedly struggling president out is that his opposition is in disarray, greater disarray than it has been in years. The Democrats have no program, no coherent ideas and no leader who is not perilously controversial. I have in mind the mesmeric Hillary, who mesmerizes Democrats, is repellent to Republicans and unattractive to most independents. She is the first First Lady ever to suffer the disapproval of a majority of Americans since pollsters began polling the approval ratings for First Ladies. She is, aside from her husband, the most scandal-prone person in American politics.
Another reason it is too early to count this president out is that he, and his fellow Republicans for that matter, bring out the worst in the Democrats, and at their worst the Democrats are very unappealing. In their rebarbative lecturing to Judge John Roberts they did themselves no good with average voters. Most Americans know that it is repugnant to boast of one's own virtue. By strutting their moral superiority over Roberts and condemning him as inhumane without any supporting evidence they looked like a panel of frauds. That is the Democrats' problem in a profession that attracts fakers; they are brazen fakes. Voters are not always unaware of this.
Blessed by such unimpressive opponents this president still has a good chance of ending his presidency in three years as a success. Much depends on the economy, which is robust. Much more depends on his most historic initiative, which means: victory in Iraq, suppression of terror and the spread of peace in the Middle East. Developments in Egypt, Lebanon and Libya suggest that peace might be spreading. Whether the administration's goal of democracy can spread is a question beyond me, but who can scoff at the goal? The spread of democracy has been an American ideal going back to President Woodrow Wilson, and the presidents who have been most fervent on behalf of democracy have usually been Democrats.
In foreign policy and even in many of his domestic initiatives, this Republican president has achieved a neat trick. He has assumed policies usually associated with the most honored Democrats. The almost unprecedented anger against him is the anger once exhibited by Midwestern and small-town Republicans as they watched FDR pass them by. The shrieks heard from the Democrats these days puts me in mind of one of my most deeply held beliefs about politics, to wit: Rather than being shaped by principles or by interests, most political issues are shaped by mental illness, namely the need of some citizens to be perpetually angry.