Entries from October 2003

Against Panic

David Frum October 27th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Here’s
an understatement: President Bush provokes strong emotions. On the left:
hatred. On the right: anxiety.

Before
he won the presidency, Bush caused conservatives anxiety because they did not
yet know him and were not sure of what he would do. Would he take risks for
conservative principles? Or would he sell out? Unlike Ronald Reagan, Bush had
not spent a quarter-century eating chicken with conservative activists before
ascending to the presidency; conservatives liked him, but they did not yet
trust him.

Over
the past three years, though, Bush has given conservatives very different
reasons for anxiety. Yes, it turned out that he was more than willing to take
risks for conservative principles. He repeatedly took huge risks: the tax cuts,
the restrictions on stem-cell research, the innovative tactics of the Afghan
campaign, the decision to keep fighting the war on terror even after the Afghan
success. By now, Bush has won enthusiastic and near-unanimous support from the
conservative base. And that’s just his problem: As his standing has risen with
the country’s conservatives, it has slumped with everybody else. In late
September, his poll numbers for the first time slipped below 50 percent.

Conservatives
who used to worry about George W. Bush now have to worry for him.

Item:
The U.S. economy has lost some 2.7 million jobs since January 2001. It picked
up 57,000 non-farm jobs in September, which is nice — but for the employment
numbers to recover to where they were when George W. Bush took office, the
economy will have to add an average of more than 200,000 jobs in every one of
the 13 months until Election Day. That’s not impossible — the U.S. economy
created jobs at an even faster rate during the 1990s — but at the moment, it sure
is looking unlikely.

Item:
Poor employment numbers in swing states translate into poor re-elect numbers.
Bush can probably shrug off his 44 percent approval rating in New York. But
it’s worrying that he is down to 55 percent in Ohio — and was at 54 percent in
Florida at the beginning of August.

Item:
The administration has been buffeted by negative news from the war on terror.
The recent report by David Kay confirmed that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had built
an infrastructure to produce weapons of mass destruction — and was still
concealing that infrastructure from the United Nations inspectors until the
very end. At the same time, though, Kay did not find weapons that were ready to
use. Meanwhile, the costs of Iraqi reconstruction have risen unexpectedly high
– and Washington was convulsed in late September by a media frenzy in which
the Bush administration stood accused of exposing a CIA agent to score a
political point.

So
is the jig up?

Hardly.
Having derided liberals for misunderestimating the president, it would be all
too painfully ironic if conservatives became discouraged by the same error.

Here
are three countervailing facts to remember:

exactly;mso-list:l6 level1 lfo9;tab-stops:list 0in' class="MsoNormal"> mso-list:Ignore'>1)
mso-spacerun:yes'>ÊGeorge W. Bush remains far and away the most
trusted political figure in America on issues of national security. Sixty
percent regard him as a strong leader; 60 percent also credit him with making
the country safer from terrorist attack. Nor do things look auspicious for the
Democrats’ continued attempt to besmirch Bush’s character — more than 50
percent of Americans regard Bush as more honest than most people in public
life.

exactly;mso-list:l6 level1 lfo9'> mso-list:Ignore'>2)
mso-spacerun:yes'>ÊThe situation in Iraq gets better every day.

Perhaps
you missed this dispatch by Pamela Hess of UPI, filed September 27:

>"The surprise to me upon arriving [in Iraq] in July was that
it wasn’t nearly as dangerous as I thought it was going to be. People are on
the streets evening and morning, eating at restaurants and doing their
shopping. They swim in the Tigris to keep cool. They play soccer.

>"And at least as far as operations in the south are concerned,
I can attest to a nearly constant stream of heartwarming developments — the
engraved bells donated to each new school the U.S. Marines rebuild and open;
the young reserve Army sergeant now enthusiastically leading the clean-up of a
Najaf slaughterhouse; the happy children running out to greet Marines when they
walk through downtown Hillah without body armor or rifles because they have
worked long and hard to win the trust of the townspeople, and they have
succeeded."

Hess
goes on to acknowledge that there is bad news too. But as she notes, if the
press emphasizes the bad over the good, that reflects less the facts on the
ground than the poor treatment Iraq-based journalists are receiving from the
"undermanned and unenthusiastic" press office of the U.S. occupation
authorities. It’s never smart to maltreat the press. But it can be just as
unwise to believe what you hear from journalists who feel maltreated.

exactly;mso-list:l6 level1 lfo9;tab-stops:list 0in' class="MsoNormal"> mso-list:Ignore'>3)
mso-spacerun:yes'>ÊThe Democratic base may thrill to the
isolationist old McGovernite slogan, "Come Home, America." But most
Americans know that the terrorists would be only too delighted to follow
through the door. So the voters will want to know: What’s the alternative? You
don’t like the Patriot Act? Iraq? Fine — what would you do instead? None of
the Democratic candidates has a serious or coherent message on terror — and
none seems to have any interest in developing one.

Wesley
Clark, the momentary front-runner, has appeared on all sides of the Iraq issue.
Howard Dean knows only that he wants to declare the war over and then quit. But
2004 is not the year to go to the nation without a coherent and convincing plan
for national defense — and yet the Democrats seem intent on doing so all the
same.

Back
in the 1980s, Jack Kemp chided Republicans for their complacency. "We
can’t," he said, "count on our opponents to go on digging their own
graves election after election." He was right. We can’t count on it. But
all the same: They’re now doing it.