Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Living in a Bubble: Bush and Cheney

The Republican revolt

As the president prepares to make his State of the Union address his popularity is at an all-time low - with the public and with his own party.


Sidney Blumenthal - Guardian Comment is Free

When the hopelessly prodigal son mounts the podium to deliver his sixth State of the Union address, seated behind him will be the parents he never had: the good mother, caring yet demanding responsibility, and the bad father, granting license for misadventure. As he evades and rebuffs the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, President Bush clings to the vice-president, Dick Cheney, as his permissive authority figure.

On Monday, the day before his speech, Bush descended to "the weakest point of his presidency, facing deep public dissatisfaction over his Iraq war policies and eroding confidence in his leadership", the Washington Post reported, referring to the ABC News/Washington Post poll that disclosed Bush as the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon on the eve of his resignation.

In the face of such dire political prospects, Bush has decided that public opinion is no longer a factor that concerns him. Every other president coping with the hazards of war, from Lincoln to Nixon, strained to manage public support. At a similar stage in the Nixon presidency, Nixon was drunk, speaking to the portraits on the White House walls, and forcing Henry Kissinger to pray with him on his knees. With the public hardening and broadening its opposition to his policy, Bush has simply cut himself off from its opinion. He has abandoned caring what the country thinks, except in his imagined end of the story, where he is the victor. For now, he will escalate as he pleases, blessed by Cheney.

"Have you read about Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam? Do you draw any lessons from that?" a reporter from USA Today asked the president in an interview published on Monday. In response Bush telescoped the entire tragic history of the Vietnam war and Johnson's agonies into slogans, slurring Johnson's patriotism in order to create a contrast with his own. "Yes, win," he replied. "Win, when you're in a battle for the security ... if it has to do with the security of your country, you win."

Johnson, indeed, worried that if he failed to commit militarily in Vietnam or that if that commitment faltered, he and the Democratic party would be smeared as soft on communism. He operated in the shadow of fear of the recrudescence of McCarthyism. Bush's casual distortion of history and defaming of Johnson's motives only prove Johnson's political perspicacity about the incorrigible mentality of the right wing, if not his actions.

In another interview a week earlier, on January 14, on CBS's 60 Minutes, Bush repelled any suggestion of responsibility for error in his Iraq policy. He located the lack of public support in the United States in the insufficient thanks offered by the Iraqis. "Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?" asked correspondent Scott Pelley. "That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?" replied the president. "Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion." "Not at all," said Bush. "I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq." Two days later, Gianni Magazzeni, the chief of the UN assistance mission for Iraq, declared that 34,452 Iraqi civilians had been killed and 36,685 wounded in 2006.

As Bush's popularity continued to plummet, Cheney appeared on January 14 on Fox News to wave away the polls. Drawing on his experience in three previous trouble-plagued Republican administrations - Nixon's, Gerald Ford's and elder Bush's - he stated categorically, "I've seen embattled administrations, and this isn't one of them." Hence, by virtue of the power vested in him as wise man in residence, there is no reason to pay further attention to an ungrateful public or the Congress it has just elected.
More - if you can stomach it...

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