March 03, 2004

BUSH'S PROBLEM WITH THE "WAR BASE:" Here in the blogosphere it's been interesting to see a lot of people who have supported Bush on the war suddenly souring on him on a lot of other fronts, and in many cases even saying they won't vote for him in the Fall. This seemed to start when Saddam was captured -- just scroll through Andrew Sullivan's archives around that time and you'll notice a change, though it wasn't just Andrew -- and has steadily grown and spread.

This may mean nothing -- if GOP strategist Larry Purpuro is right, the blogosphere doesn't matter anyway. On the other hand, this may be an early-warning signal that the Bush folks ought to pay attention to. Which makes these comments from reader Glenn Boice relevant:

Your reader Karl Bade suggested in response to Phil Bowermaster that President Bush is pandering to an evangelical base on this issue in order to maintain the political support there required to win a second term, during which he could continue the vital work of fighting the war.

We have seen this idea suggested more than once over the months as the President's war-time supporters of various stripes become upset by some of his policies, ranging from the now-lifted steel tariffs, the education bill, perceived lack of support for judicial nominations, the growth of federal spending, the marriage amendment to the Constitution, now this bioethics committee, etc etc. There is no shortage of issues upon which to disagree, even just among conservatives. But relying upon the war as the issue to cement together a pro-Bush coalition in the face of objections to these other policies may not work without greater effort by the President to articulate the direction of this war in a second term.

As a libertarian-leaning small-government Republican I have acknowledged and yielded to this strategy myself. I have held my nose over many of the things the President says and does, because I believe his approach to the most important issue at hand - the war against our fundamentalist enemies - has been correct. I also have tried to maintain perspective on the other issues - for example, I am not a hysteric on the marriage amendment despite my opposition to federal involvement in marriage because I recognize that a president's support for it does not come close to making it the law. Thus my concerns and criticisms about the President have been tempered.

People like me make up a bloc of sorts for this president, too: call it the "war base," perhaps. But I have found that the President's clarity of vision following 9/11 has not been maintained as the news cycle bogs down over the many months with Iraq and its reconstruction. I believe there is still much to do - involving Iran, North Korea, Syria, Algeria, Pakistan's ISI, and others - and the president has not articulated a clear vision of what's next now that the Taliban and Hussein have been dispatched.

To my mind, continued support of a president who has many objectionable policies in other areas of interest to me is dependent upon confidence in his future leadership on the war. I for one need to hear much more from him about the war objectives for his second term.

This "pandering" political strategy works only when voters such as myself sacrifice less-important principles in favor of the most important, the war. However, if I come to believe that a Democratic candidate can be as effective on the war as President Bush, or - worse - that President Bush in a second term will be as ineffective on the war as the likely Democratic candidates, then my heretofore solid support for the President will be far less certain this fall.

I hope that you will consider using your influential blog to state this point. I wonder if it is widely held among the President's wartime supporters who are not being pandered to in other areas of policy.

I don't know how influential my blog is, but I think that this is an excellent point. The war effort is, in fact, going well -- but to some degree that's actually hurting Bush by taking it off the front burner. And if Osama turns up captured or killed, that will actually exacerbate the problem by making it easier for people to pretend that we don't need to worry about the war any more. And a lot of people want to do that either for self-interested reasons -- to get their own special interests on the agenda, or to distract people from their own war-related failures -- to which you can add the general war-weariness that even a lot of war supporters are feeling now. War is stressful, and the temptation to pretend it's over and put it out of your mind is strong. I suspect that even some people in the White House -- where the exhaustion level has got to be high after nearly thirty months of war -- feel that way, at least subconsciously.

If the war were, in fact, nearly over that would be okay. But it's not. (This cartoon, showing people squabbling over gay marriage while standing atop an Iranian A-bomb, captures the current political scene nicely.)

Bush needs to make that clear, and to spell out -- as best he can, given that in wartime not everything can be discussed publicly -- what's going on and why. Given Kerry's continued miserable failure at stating a position on the war, that shouldn't be too hard. But the job won't do itself. And the Administration can't rely on Steven Den Beste to do all the heavy lifting.

UPDATE: Hmm. Maybe Kerry will solve Bush's problem for him. Reader Catherine Johnson emails:

Responding to today's reader email from a "libertarian leaning small government Republican:" I'm a lifelong Democrat, 51 years old, who makes up part of President Bush's "war base."

I've never voted for a Republican candidate in my life (didn't vote for Gore, either; I abstained, a move I now consider prescient) and I will be voting for Bush in 2004. Period. There is nothing John Kerry could say to "tempt" me to vote for him; nor is there anything on the domestic front that causes me palpitations. Frankly, the current moaning and sighing over the many sins of George Bush calls to mind an expression Rob Lowe once used in a PLAYGIRL MAGAZINE interview with a friend of mine: Donıt get your panties in a wad.

Iım sorry to be crude, but at this point I am a Bush stalwart. My message to LLSGR and his friends is: Suck it up, guys. There's a war on.

Michael Totten seems to feel the same way.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Leonard Evans thinks that I'm advocating that Bush prolong the war for political advantage, and emails:

If war fatigue is the problem then the way to steel resolve (politically) is not to minimize success. It is to have success and articulate with clarity the next steps.

That's what I thought I was saying. Bush said early on that the war would be long, and on many fronts. I'm afraid that too many people will want to end it before it's over, if we have both Saddam and Osama accounted for. That's not the same as prolonging a war.

I got a lot of other email along another line. Pamela Shipman emails:

To the libertarian leaning, small government Republican (which describes me), I can only say.... and you would vote for JOHN KERRY for what reason? More effective on the war on terror?'ve got to be kidding me! And what about those domestic issues--- you think you'd be happier with KERRY? Again, you've got to be kidding me. Now, I've seen those commentaries that opine that perhaps we would be better off with a Democrat in the White House and a Republican Congress, but that's an awfully dangerous strategy it seems to me. The margins are just too close and a Kerry victory might just put the Democrats back in control, which is the last thing someone of our political persuasion would want to see. Bush is the best we've got folks.

Holly Watson says something similar:

I second Catherine's sentiments, and I've been meaning to email Sullivan about it. I understand his distress at Bush's spending sprees and Constitution pimping, but everything - gay marriage, fiscal prudence, whatever - will be fairly freaking moot if we lose the WOT, and I think that would be a distinct possibility under a Kerry presidency. I'm normally sanguine about presidential elections, and I normally don't think there's that much substantial, as opposed to stylistic, difference between the two parties, but this year is different. I voted for Clinton twice, but this is not the same Democratic party; as long as they refuse to give national security the serious and sober attention it deserves, I'm sticking with the spendthrift. I'd rather be broke than dead. Besides, the FMA has no chance, and Bush knows that.

Sounds like Kerry's doing a good job of mobilizing Bush's base. . . . Actually, that's too bad. I'd like it better if the Democrats had a nominee whose stance on the war was so clearly good that I had the luxury of deciding my vote on other issues. That turns out not to be the case.

Jeff Jarvis has further thoughts.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Marybeth Hayes writes: "Like your other reader Catherine Johnson, I have never voted for a Republican for president in my life (age 46), but I will this November." And reader Elizabeth Chang (I don't know why so many women are emailing on this topic) sends:

I agree with Catherine, Pamela and Holly. I've lived long enough through several presidents and several makeups of congress. One thing I've noticed is that it doesn't matter who holds the White House, most domestic issues are solved in Congress (if they are solved at all). So I feel that when it comes to domestic issues, the voters' focus should be on their Representatives and Senators. But when it comes to foreign policy and national security - you bet I'm looking at the White House. John Kerry does not inspire confidence, in fact, for me, he inspires horror! I think he would undo whatever advances we have made in making this country a little more secure and trying to do something to improve the lives of people in other parts of the world.

And Don Stubbs -- see, I do have male readers! -- observes:

I'm an independent who feels pretty much like the 51 year old life-long Democrat. I don't like some aspects of the Bush administration, but it ain't a perfect world either. The Democrats have NOTHING, ZIP, NADA to offer me.

I may lament that Republicans seem wishy-washy about some things I care about, or that they don't seem to stand up and be counted when it's needed. But the Democrats are very clear about where they stand, they speak (or at least the media filters make it seem that they speak) with a unified voice. My experience says that that many people being so unified means very few are thinking and the rest are following, in step, in line, like good little soldiers. And I don't care what group you are, that's not a good situation.

There is a WAR on, and I shudder to consider the possibilities should Bush not be re-elected. Things are changing in the Middle East, maybe slowly, but changing, and seemingly for the better. We surely don't know the outcome, but we know our past methods of dealing with the Middle East got us to 9/11. I wholeheartedly approve of the approach the Bush Administration took, and the path we're on. I hope they have the heart and strength to continue.

Further, whether they intended it or not, I think Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld make an effective good cop/bad cop pairing. Same for Tony Blair and George Bush. I love'em all, and I feel blessed that these people were in these positions at this time.

I'm getting a lot of email like this today.

MORE: Reader Chuck Burrill:

I agree with Catherine, Pamela, Holly, Marybeth, Elizabeth and Don.

I'm a 34 yo traditionally lefty voter, bay area native, homo who went to college in Santa Cruz.

I'm voting for Bush all the way, no ifs ands or buts.

Maybe the "war base" is more solid than I thought.

STILL MORE: Yep, maybe so. Reader Gerald Boisvert writes:

Why is it that I actually experience almost tangible fear when I think of Kerry winning an election against Bush? It makes no sense to me. I'm a Vietnam vet, and there's an unspoken feeling of some type of brotherhood, a kinship with others who served "in country". I don't get that from Kerry. Now with McCain, I feel that connection, no question ... (is he really a Republican?). Anyway, there's some kind of bond with those other vets. Not with Kerry.

Say what you will about Bush, I have always had this feeling that we went into Iraq not because of WMD, but because they were next on the list. The list we haven't gotten to the bottom of yet. So it doesn't matter to me that WMD haven't been found.

How can citizens of this country forget the attacks, yes plural, we have endured by those who want us dead because they are incapable of facing their own inadequasies as nations, people and men? This will take years, if not decades, to change. Bush stikes me as pricipled and focused. He will see it through until he's out of office, hopefully four more! There may be domestic issues that will result in great wailing and knashing of teeth by various factions, but the main event has to remain making the world safe for ALL who inhabit it.

If Kerry is so concerned about our future then he should get with the program, because there won't be any future unless there is a decisive effort to win this War on Terror. We need to think a bit less about our own little problems and agendas, support our administration and supply those who would enslave us with a dose of reality.

This IS a war, and it's eminently losable wih the wrong people at the helm. If Kerry stands that watch I would fear for my children and grandchildren. I don't trust him.

I'm hearing a lot of that. On the other hand, some of the war base is still on the fence.

AND FINALLY: Perhaps Bush should quote these words from Omar's Iraqi blog:

Some people still wonder what would be the relation between liberation of Iraq and war on terrorism. I think that the fact that nearly all the terrorists are gathered on our land to fight so fiercely should be more than enough an explanation. It may seem that the dictators and fanatics from outside are winning by inflicting such horrible losses in our lines and that the battlefield is Iraq, where in fact (my opinion) we are doing them a much more damage by building Iraq and that the battlefield is much more larger than Iraq. We are fighting them on their lands by showing their citizens what they can achieve once they are free. It’s still far from being an appealing vision, but soon it will be. These dictators, instead of trying to change so that they can find a place in the new world or at least take a safe shelter (Aristed) and not end being dragged from a sewage hole, are actually stupid enough to try to resist it. They are (spitting in the face of the wind).

Indeed. And although the sentiments are the same, don't go to Hammorabi's blog unless you have a strong stomach.