Sunday, October 03, 2004

Analysis: Bush's long kiss goodnight


A week or two after the GOP's national convention, I wrote -- I don't remember where, but it was probably in an email post to one list or another -- "George W. Bush will never again be as popular as he is right now."

It's hard to tell how accurate that prediction was, the way the poll numbers have been bouncing around, but I'll stand by it. Kerry's getting his first post-debate bounce, and now we get to watch Bush's real slide begin. Here's why:

  • Bush took a shellacking in the first debate. Not on the issues (necessarily), but on his demeanor. He looked, and acted, like a cornered rat, while Kerry came off as presidential. This won't be easy to recover from. Anything short of perfect comportment in the other two debates will just cost him more ... and I don't think he can comport himself perfectly. He is a cornered rat. Every public statement he's made for the past 3 1/2 years has been made from the position of authority. Once you put this guy down on the same level as another candidate, he actually has to defend his actions -- and he can't. Kerry doesn't have to have better positions. He just has to not be George W. Bush. It's all in Bush's court, and Bush is confused and enraged that "because I say so" is an answer that's suddenly stopped working.

  • Today is October 3rd. On October 5th, "Fahrenheit 9/11" hits the shelves of video stores. No, I'm not going to tell you it's a great flick (I haven't seen it yet). No, I'm not going to tell you that it's gospel (I understand that it's far from truthful in many cases). It will, however, be popular. It will change some minds and it will bump Bush down another smidgen in the polls. Most importantly, it will energize those who already oppose Bush to get to the polls less than a month after its release. It's a big-time "Get Out The Vote" tool. It's already at #3 in Amazon.Com's DVD sales rankings, and it's not even out yet (it's #1 on their "early adopter" list). Bad juju for Bush.

  • It's October. Things have been getting uglier and uglier in Iraq since June, and they're about to get uglier yet. Afghanistan's elections (sic) are scheduled for next week, and the violence will likely pick up there, too, both before and after. Every new casualty report is going to raise one thought in undecided readers' and viewers' minds: "That guy wasn't able to explain himself."

Some more on polling: Yeah, the numbers have been bouncing around nationwide, but where they've been creeping along is in the "swing states." And they've all been creeping Kerry's way.

Bush needed an early knockout punch in two of three among Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and he didn't get one. Now it's almost certainly too late. Any two of those states will likely be enough to put Kerry over the top, and right now it's looking like he'll take all three.

Libertarian Michael Badnarik still has strong chances of "spoiling" in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon and Wisconsin. That's 36 electoral votes Bush can't afford to lose, and 36 electoral votes he probably will lose. If Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida remain tight, Badnarik could be a factor there, too.

It's not over 'til the fat lady sings, but she's sipping some hot tea with lemon and practicing her scales right now.

A brief digression:

I don't carry any brief for John Forbes Kerry. The only reasons I find him preferable to Bush are that he'll probably have a pissed-off Congress with at least one house in the hands of the opposing wing of the UniParty, and that I believe Bush and his party require punishment for their misrule (if there's any prospect that the GOP can become a libertarian party -- I don't know if there is -- they need to be taken to the woodshed to be moved in that direction).

However, I'm somewhat confused at the round condemnation of Kerry's "global test" line on military action. To hear "conservative" commentators talk about it, one would think that Kerry had consigned the US to sitting in an empty room and taking a multiple choice quiz, to be graded by the members of NATO, before defending itself.

But that's not what I heard Kerry say at all. What I heard Kerry say is that when the US uses force, its judgment in doing so will in turn be judged.

I happen to agree.

The key libertarian argument on foreign policy is pragmatic (I've already briefly discussed the fallacy that non-interventionism, per se, is rooted in the Zero Aggression Principle). Interventionism makes enemies who otherwise would not have been enemies, and therefore makes America less safe. As far as that argument goes, I think it has great merit.

What Kerry pointed out was a different phenomenon entirely: that current US foreign policy is narcissistic. The underlying logic of the Bush administration's actions is that they can't be wrong because hey, it's the Bush administration -- or, in their own minds, America -- taking those actions.

That logic, needless to say, is flawed. America can be wrong, and so can the Bush administration. Actions have consequences. As far as I can tell, Kerry's "global test" is nothing more than common sense: Can America do X, and then come before the rest of the world and say, with a straight face, "this was right and necessary?"

Yes, I know there will be some quibblers, regardless of what America does. The "global test" isn't about the quibblers. It's about whether the quibblers are right.

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