Praise the president.
Win for “W.”
I’ve argued before, and argue again now, that conservatives cannot win in 2008 unless President George W. Bush’s political standing is at least somewhat rehabilitated. On Tuesday, Fred Barnes argued the same thing, and opined that a comeback is still at least conceivable. (Also on Tuesday, Al Hunt argued just the opposite, namely that the Bush presidency is irretrievably lost.) On Monday, a wise and moderate Democratic strategist was telling me that Republicans are doomed in 2008 no matter which presidential candidate they nominate, specifically because Bush’s unpopularity will suck any nominee down the drain.
Conservatives must face the reality that we can’t escape the Bush record in the next two years no matter what else we do. While the right sort of “distancing” from Bush could gain a candidate a small tactical advantage here and there, and while conservatives are rightly infuriated at Bush on any number of fronts, the fact remains that, in the short term at least, his legacy will be considered by the general public to be our legacy. His failures will be ascribed to us. His unpopularity will be an anvil tied to our ankles. To slightly paraphrase Ben Franklin (but in another context): If we don’t hang together, we conservatives will surely all hang separately.
Conversely, any comeback that Bush manages to make will make our own electoral prospects brighter. If the words “Republican” and “conservative” are associated not with presidential failure, but with success, any candidate anywhere who bears those labels will enjoy greater credibility no matter whether or not he has any direct connection to President Bush.
Consider this column as one vote on the side that says Bush still has a chance for at least a fairly significant comeback. Here’s why and how:
First (and this one is obvious), the better the situation looks in Iraq, the better Bush looks. Of course, this isn’t a matter of mere politics, but of deep and important national interest. No matter what one thinks of whether or not the U.S. should have entered Iraq, or of the strategies and tactics employed by the Bush team to secure the peace, it behooves not just all conservatives but all patriotic Americans to wish success on the “surge” and on the overall mission there as defined by the president. A United States that fails to succeed in Iraq is a United States that is seriously weakened on the world stage.
And we conservatives can indeed have an impact on the surge’s ultimate success. By all accounts, the surge needs time to work, more time than Washington politicians seem willing to give it. And by most accounts, the terrorists within Iraq have their morale sustained and emboldened by all the talk in the United States about a quick pullout of our troops. Patriots who want to counteract the morale boost to al-Qaeda and, more important, to provide the political support necessary to buy more time here at home for the surge, will stand up and insist, in public, that this is a fight we must not run from, but win. It’s not enough for our elected officials to be dragged, whining all the way, to voting for the surge and against the Democratic pullout plans; they should loudly trumpet every piece of good news from Iraq, and we in the rank and file should praise them when they do so.
Second, Bush can come back if he finally starts getting the credit he deserves for a phenomenally strong economy. Conservatives need to talk up the economy. Meanwhile, the biggest factor in fooling the public into thinking the economy is less than terrific is the high price of gasoline. The high prices were a predictable result from the various ethanol (and similar) requirements included in the energy bill the GOP Congress passed. Those requirements have hampered supplies, forced costly changes at refineries, and helped drive up all sorts of other food and livestock costs as well by putting a crimp in corn supplies. Conservatives ought to propose suspensions of those ethanol requirements.
Third, Bush can come back if conservatives pick some fights on which public opinion is in their favor. For instance, well-framed battles over judicial nominees win converts from the political center rather than push them away. So do efforts to permanently reduce the death tax. So do efforts to emphasize English as our common and official language. And so do battles against race-based quotas and various “quota-lite” measures, as long as they are combined with the right non-quota-related words and actions that show sincere outreach to dispossessed communities and individuals.
Fourth, Bush can come back if the Democratic congressional leadership continues to look like the anti-military, big-government extremists that they are. They already are showing a propensity to embarrass themselves. The more they do so — and the more sensibly and responsibly we act — the better Bush, and all conservatives, will look in comparison.
While we’re at it, and no matter what other legitimate complaints we have about the president, it’s time to give Bush some serious credit on one front. This is a man who is not only resolute on policy but also resolutely upbeat. His attitude in public is always hopeful, always forward-looking, and always with a “can do” faith in the rightness, goodness, and resourcefulness of the American people. There’s no Jimmy Carter-like malaise emanating from the Oval Office. And no blame games, cop-outs, or cutting and running. For all his faults, our president is a man whose basic values and sense of purpose and optimism are all admirable. He believes in free markets. He believes in traditional values. He believes in taking national security seriously.
And he merits some support.