October 28 2004
Bush has fallen victim to his own hubris
In the end, US voters will not be frightened into becoming a nation that disdains decency
Thursday October 28, 2004
The unmaking of the president 2004 began on September 11 2001. By September 10, George Bush's poll numbers had reached 50%, the lowest of any president at that early point in his tenure. Having lost the popular majority in the 2000 election and being delivered the presidency by a five-to-four Supreme Court decision, Bush operated as though he had triumphed with a full-throated mandate.
From the start, Bush ran a government based on secrecy, handed over the departments and agencies to more than 100 industry executives and lobbyists appointed to key positions, and exhibited belligerence towards anyone who raised a question about his right-wing imperatives. His bullying prompted Republican Senator James Jeffords of Vermont to cross the aisle, throwing control of the Senate to the Democrats. In only months, Bush's incompetence and arrogance had induced paralysis. He had already run his course.
After September 11, as his poll numbers soared, Bush wrapped his radical agenda in the cloak of commander-in-chief. Now he would attempt to implement Karl Rove's ambition of a one-party state and the neo-conservatives' plan for an American imperium. Bush believed he had permanent political capital to forge a factional partisan political realignment. Afghanistan, almost unanimously supported in the country, solidified his popularity and certainty.
The conservative wish-list came off the shelf. Civil liberties were curtailed in the Patriot Act, extremists were nominated as federal judges, environmental protections ravaged, and resources shifted from Afghanistan to prepare for Bush's ultimate objective - Iraq.The mid-term elections of 2002 ratified Bush's hyper-radicalism. In the face of the "war president", the congressional Democratic leadership demonstrated political ineptitude, division and confusion, and the Republicans tarred them as unpatriotic. Bush's belief in his inevitability became more intoxicating.
After the Iraq "cakewalk", Bush landed on an aircraft carrier in uniform, proclaiming: "Mission accomplished." At home, he encountered no checks and balances from Congress. The fourth estate conducted press conferences as though suffering aphasia.
The testimony of Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism chief, that the Bush administration had been indifferent to terrorism, shattered the atmosphere of silent obedience. His truth-telling encouraged the revolt of professionals throughout the national security bureaucracies - the CIA and other intelligence services, the military, and the State Department. Then the rationales for the war crumbled when no WMD were found and the "cakewalk" turned into a bloody quagmire.
Suddenly, the Democrats came to life, providing a forum and focus for outrage against Bush's policies. At first, the movement gathered around Howard Dean, but with his stumbles he was not the man for the mission. Bush had counted on the Democrats once again picking an earnest but easily defeated candidate, but they turned instead to John Kerry.
From March and through the early summer, Bush's campaign spent more than $100m in negative commercials trying to disqualify Kerry. Yet Kerry remained even, and with the Democratic convention pulled slightly ahead.
In a typical Bush operation, he outsourced the smears to a group that filled the airwaves with lies about Kerry's genuine record of war heroism in Vietnam. The media, mostly cable TV, acted as conduit for Bush's falsehoods, and Kerry was tarnished. At the Republican convention, speaker after speaker stressed the Democrats' effeminacy - "girly men" - and hailed Bush as all-wise commander-in-chief. Once again, Bush believed he was impregnable.
All he had to do was finesse the debates. But he was humiliated in all three. Kerry, however, possessed clarity, intelligence and maturity. Bush's response was a new ad, featuring wolves about to leap through the TV screen. But the projection of fear only exposed his vulnerability.
The "war president" has fallen victim to his own hubris. As Thucydides wrote: "To conceive extravagant pretensions from success in war is to forget how hollow is the confidence by which you are elated. For if many ill-conceived plans have succeeded through the still greater fatuity of an oppo nent, many more, apparently well laid, have on the contrary ended in disgrace."
Meanwhile, the people's own mobilisation has produced new voter registrations in the millions, and hundreds of thousands of activists have spread in the last week throughout the battleground states. The Republicans desperately cast out ploys to suppress these voters, many of them African-American. In the end, the American people refuse to be frightened into becoming an unrecognisable nation that disdains, as the Declaration of Independence said, "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind".
· Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is Washington bureau chief of salon.com