Jewish World Review August 13, 2004 /26 Menachem-Av, 5764
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
But Bush went to war in Iraq, which has become the signature event of his
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
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
Regardless, Kerry is not making the argument that the war in Iraq was a
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
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
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.
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