Jewish World Review August 13, 2004 /26 Menachem-Av, 5764

Robert Robb

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For prez to win, he must change his campaigning style | President Bush made a good case for his re-election while in Phoenix on Wednesday. To succeed, however, he probably needs an even better case. After 9/11, Bush did lead the nation, as claimed, with moral clarity and resolve. The country was united in the war to topple the Taliban in Afghanistan and deny al-Qaida safe haven.

Since then, the real war on terrorism has made substantial progress. Al-Qaida's senior leadership has been substantially decimated. Funding has been curtailed. Cells around the world have been rolled up and disrupted. And there has been a high degree of international cooperation in this effort, including by Germany and France.

If this were where things stood, Bush would probably win re-election in a cakewalk.

But Bush went to war in Iraq, which has become the signature event of his administration.

In Phoenix, Bush made a vigorous defense of the war in Iraq. The fundamental premise of the war, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons he was a danger to give to terrorists, has, of course, not been proved by events.

So, while Bush continues to make the case that Saddam was a threat, his argument is ultimately a utilitarian one, that the world and the United States are better off with Saddam out of power.

The world, and the people of Iraq, are undoubtedly better off. But given events on the ground in Iraq, and the monumental U.S. commitment there, whether the United States is better off is a more debatable proposition.

The prudence of the war in Iraq should be a fundamental issue in this campaign. But John Kerry is not in a good position to make it one. Kerry voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, and says he would do so again knowing what he knows today.

So, despite overheated rhetoric about misleading the country and going to war only when necessary, Kerry isn't really challenging the premise of the war.

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Instead, he says he could have mounted more international pressure to get Saddam to conform short of war, or prosecuted the war with more international participation. Given the relationship of the most important outliers — France, Germany and Russia — with Saddam's regime, that's a doubtful claim.

Regardless, Kerry is not making the argument that the war in Iraq was a mistake.

Nevertheless, the American people seem to be reaching that conclusion themselves. Support for the Iraq war has been steadily declining, as has public approval of Bush's performance as president.

The September 11 attacks and the terrorist threat will continue to be the most important backdrop to this presidential campaign. Bush's moral clarity and resolve are valuable assets in meeting and defeating this threat. But the Iraq war raises the question of whether Bush's resolve gets in the way of prudent judgment.

That makes domestic policy an even more important factor, and here the Bush strategy appears to have failed.

The Bush administration sought to pre-empt Democratic issues, such as education and prescription drugs for seniors. In fact, part of Bush's case in his Phoenix speech was that he delivered in those two areas.

But Republicans will always lose a bidding war to Democrats on expanding government. Bush doesn't appear to have gained much from the most extensive expansion of the federal role in education and of the entitlement state in a quarter century.

Except for tax relief, the conservative reforms Bush ran on in 2000 have been largely neglected. A commission was formed to study private retirement accounts as part of Social Security, but the administration has done nothing with its recommendations.

The administration did not fight to transform Medicare into a premium-support system as part of the prescription drug bill, nor for private school vouchers as part of No Child Left Behind.

There is reportedly a debate going on in the Bush campaign about whether to run on a substantive second-term domestic agenda of conservative reform, or rely on the paramountcy of national security concerns and Kerry's deficiencies.

In Phoenix, as elsewhere, Bush alluded to an "ownership society," basically a repackaging of previous positions on health care, home ownership and Social Security. At present, however, it's more of a sentiment than an agenda.

If Bush wants a second term, he probably needs to tell the American people more about what he will do with it, other than showing resolve.

JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.


08/03/04: Missing in Beantown was a sense of the art of the possible
07/26/04: Kerry inflated agenda reveals he's failed to truly make the transition from legislator to presidential candidate
07/12/04: Edwards punctuates Kerry fantasies
07/06/04: Kerry ups the ante in bid for Latino vote
06/30/04: High Court gave administration limits
06/25/04: Parallel (political) universes
06/21/04: Al-Qaida-Iraq interaction strengthens case for war
06/02/04: Gas whiners don't believe in or trust markets
05/10/04: Border reforms fail on black-market issue
05/07/04: It wasn't Bush's recession nor Bush's recovery
04/28/04: Arizona to become test market on immigration as a political issue
04/23/04: Accusations that the Bush administration has been shredding civil liberties are hyperbolic
04/16/04: Learning the limits
04/14/04: Aug. 6 memo is not even a water pistol, much less a smoking gun
04/11/04: Once 9/11 Commission's political theater ends, we must debate real security issues
04/09/04: Fact checking Kerry's federal budget plans
04/08/04: Should the transfer of sovereignty in Iraq be delayed beyond the current deadline?
04/02/04: Kerry's tax epiphany makes some cents
03/31/04: What could have prevented 9/11
03/26/04: Knock off the high-stakes blame game
03/23/04: McCain a ‘straight talker’? Who is he kidding?
03/17/04: Bin Laden makes distinctions?
03/12/04: In the dangerous neighborhoods, cause for hope, if not yet optimism
03/01/04: Greenspan view scary, but Dems in denial

02/27/04: How not to achieve a mandate

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