Jewish World Review May 1, 2003 /29 Nissan, 5763
U.S. security, not economy, is key for prez
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | On Monday, President Bush visited Dearborn, Mich., which is as close as you can get to the Middle East without a passport. There, he promised a crowd of cheering Arab-Americans: "Iraq will be democratic."
Bush's trip had a dual purpose: to support the small-D democrats of Iraq and smite the big-D Democrats of Michigan. Bush lost there in 2000, but a recent poll shows two-thirds of Michigan voters approve of the job he is doing.
If the 2004 election were held tomorrow, the President would turn practically the entire electoral map of America to solid GOP red. In New York, for example, which hasn't voted for a Republican since 1984, a recent Quinnipiac survey puts Bush ahead of every announced Democratic contender. And in California, where Bush lost by 12 points, a statewide Field Poll has him beating a generic Democratic opponent 45% to 40%.
Bush's father held a big lead after his victory in the first Gulf War and squandered it by ignoring the economy. The conventional wisdom, which the White House is doing nothing to shoot down - is that Bush can win only by concentrating on domestic issues, thereby sending the country an "I care" message.
This strikes me as wrong, for at least three reasons, and a bit tricky, too.
First, this Bush is a much better campaigner (and a much better President) than his father. He doesn't need to broadcast an interest in the economy because he doesn't radiate patrician detachment from the daily lives of his subjects. Bush the First famously didn't know the price of a loaf of bread. W not only knows how much bread costs, he knows the price of Wonder Bread.
Second, the President is lucky in his opponents. Of the nine announced Democratic candidates, four - the Rev. Al Sharpton, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean - are walking campaign ads against letting a Democrat anywhere near t he Oval Office. Sen. Bob Graham of Florida is recovering from open-heart surgery. Of the others - Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri - none makes a convincing economic savior. Nor is it likely that Bush will have to contend with a Ross Perot-style domestic-issue spoiler.
Finally, and most importantly, the world is far different than it was in 1992. The major Democratic candidates all voted for the war in Iraq (Kerry grudgingly), but none can match Bush's prestige and authority on matters of national security. That's why the President's main electoral challenge is to keep the country focused on the dangers of a hostile world.
Obviously, that doesn't mean ignoring domestic issues. In Dearborn, the President met with the heads of Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler to talk jobs and taxes. But the atmospherics of the trip suggested that, in a dangerous world, America needs a proven war leader.
Lately, the White House has been spinning a 2004 scenario in which
the President stays above politics until the Republican convention in
September, then swings into a 60-day, $200 million media blitz. But I
suspect - especially after Dearborn - that this is disinformation. The
real Bush campaign is already underway, not a two-month air war but a
sustained political ground campaign aimed at keeping the country
focused less on the discontents of the middle class than on the perils of
the Middle East.
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