Taking a tangent away from our conversation about why I think it might be better for conservatives to simply allow Barack Obama to win in 2008 and regroup in 2012 – my current thinking is to just get the pain over with, like getting a root canal, ala Jimmy Carter, so we can get back to reality – a friend asked me why I thought George W. Bush’s approval ratings were so low. Being a know-it-all, I naturally took the bait.
I gave her my usual answer, which is that many Americans blame Bush for invading Iraq when Saddam Hussein did not pose a credible threat to the U.S., lying or misleading Congress and the public about the reasons, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars there, and getting 4000 American soldiers killed while failing to complete the mission in Afghanistan or exterminate Osama bin Laden.
I was about to continue my tirade by bringing up the huge spike in the price of foreign oil the Iraq war helped create, the stretching of our military to the breaking point, how Bush was complicit in wracking up more than a trillion more dollars of debt while wearing the guise of a conservative Republican, and the administration’s many excess uses of presidential authority when she interrupted me.
"I think it’s because President Bush doesn’t care about marketing himself," she said (more or less, I didn’t have my notepad handy at the time). "When Bill Clinton was getting grilled by Ken Starr over Monica Lewinski he was also working hard to maintain his popularity. That’s why he had such high approval ratings even when he was on trial. Of course, it might also have been that people didn’t agree with of the charges the Republicans brought against him."
"Jenna Bush’s wedding is a prime example of how little President Bush cares for media approval. If she had been Bill Clinton’s daughter there would have been media all over the place, snapping pictures and running them in every newspaper from coast to coast. But she wanted a private wedding and President Bush doesn’t care about his image in the same way the Clintons do, so the media was more or less pushed away. He gave up a golden opportunity to make himself look good to the public by giving Jenna a fairy tale wedding."
"There aren’t any more Princess Di’s, not in this country, anyway," I said, trying to laugh it off.
However, there is something to what my friend was saying. It often seems that George Bush couldn’t give two bits for the media’s opinion of him. That indifference to external pressure is one thing to admire about him, among others.
But I also believe that Bush’s lack of popularity is intrinsically tied to America’s fortunes in Iraq. To-date, the invasion of Iraq seems to have been a colossal mistake by any and all measures a lay person – by which I mean anyone without direct knowledge of the evidence that prompted the administration to act as it did – can apply to the situation.
Worse, if a Democratic president is elected and commits the blunder of the new century by precipitously pulling our troops out of Iraq, Bush’s presidential legacy will be the historical equivalent of a black hole sucking his name down into oblivion and Iraq will likely descend into the depths of a hellish civil war as a result, one that America and that president (Obama?) would bear ultimate responsibility for.
If, however, our next president keeps the commitment that America made to Iraq by continuing to help rebuild that shattered nation into a stable, prosperous, free friend and ally, then George W. Bush’s steadfastness in the face of a hostile opposition will look positively prescient in the history books, as would the spread of republican government in the region, should it take a non-fundamentalist direction.
At its core, George Bush’s presidency is about doing exactly what he and his close – too close, some say – advisors think is best, regardless of the opinions of the public, the media, and his Democratic opposition. Outsiders are simply are not important, an fact of his leadership that, as I said before, is quite admirable. Admirable so long, that is, as the right decisions are being made. Unfortunately, Bush’s sense of rightness has been far from certain in many cases.
Perhaps President Bush would be well-advised to consider following in Bill Clinton’s footsteps. If a little stroking of the press can send a two-timing, philandering pervert out of office on a tide of public approval, think of what it could do for someone who’s a man of positive Christian principles.