Democrats are salivating at the prospect they may be able to cut short another Bush presidency. "He's got the same gene pool as his father," Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) recently smirked to the Washington Post. Although it's a little premature for the Democrats to be ordering tuxes and gowns for their Inaugural Ball, President Bush may be in more trouble than his advisors are willing to concede. Like his father, George W. Bush faces a mostly hostile press, out to prove that the economy is in the toilet and the U.S. military victory in Iraq is irrelevant. It's as if liberal editors and producers are simply recycling stories from 12 years ago.
In the 1992 election, the Democrats used the media to convince Americans that the first President Bush was presiding over "the worst economy since the Great Depression" -- a phrase then vice presidential candidate Al Gore coined to describe the short, relatively mild recession that lasted from July 1990 until March 1991. Although the recession was officially over long before the 1992 presidential campaign officially kicked off, news stories continued to describe a "Bush recession" right up until Election Day. Whatever credit Americans gave the first President Bush for winning the Gulf War couldn't overcome the antagonism created by the impression that he had single-handedly ruined the economy.
Today, the Democrats are invoking the Great Depression once again, this time to compare George W. Bush's presidency with that of Herbert Hoover's as only the second time in modern history a president has "lost" more American jobs than he "created." Never mind that presidents don't create jobs in the first place, except for those in the federal government.
Turn on the evening news or glance at the headlines of your local paper, and you'll learn that the current economic growth rate -- a healthy 3.3 percent last quarter -- represents a "jobless recovery." You won't hear much about the big improvements in productivity rates over the last couple of years, which are largely responsible for an economy that could grow at a decent rate but still not create thousands of new jobs. But you will hear lots of stories about the quagmire in Iraq and the Bush administration's "failure" to plan better for rebuilding the country and securing the peace.
But harping about bias in the media won't win the president re-election. If he wants to win, George W. Bush should take a page from Bill Clinton's playbook. Clinton didn't let the media control the message in 1996 -- he used a substantial political war chest to dominate the airwaves with paid advertising 16 months before the Republicans had even picked their nominee to run against him.
Clinton targeted states where he might be vulnerable and set about creating an image for himself and his administration as patriotic, law-and-order Democrats, tough on welfare cheats. And his ads were masterful -- with American flags billowing in the background, Clinton took credit for welfare reform, even though he had done little to push the idea while the Democrats controlled the Congress. It wasn't until the Republicans took over that Congress finally passed genuine welfare reform, over the objections of many in the Clinton administration and the Democratic Party.
But the Bush campaign shows no inclination to follow Clinton's example. Although Republicans have huge advantages in money raised so far for the 2004 presidential election, there's no intention to run ads anytime soon. Theoretically, the president could garner free, positive news coverage just by performing his presidential duties -- but that certainly hasn't happened recently. Whenever the president or anyone else in the administration makes news these days, it's usually negative, or it's reported that way.
Unless the Bush campaign begins to counteract these stories -- and soon -- the Democrats could just get their wish. Republicans are counting on the Democrats to defeat themselves with outrageous rhetoric and far left proposals. But if the Bush campaign isn't careful, the American public won't even notice how outside the mainstream the Democrats are. They'll be too busy being mad at George W. Bush for his "jobless recovery" and his "failed" war in Iraq.