In our new poll, every president since Carter defeats Bush. But Kerry still loses to Bush by one point. What am I missing here?
It says a lot about what a weak candidate Kerry was, doesn't it? It also underscores Bush's weakness. I said from the beginning that he was a weak candidate, and vulnerable in 2004, but the Democrats managed to put up a guy that he could beat. (I was prophetic in 2003: "I'm always hesitant to disagree with Barone -- but I think that Bush is far more vulnerable than most commentators suggest. The real question, I guess, is whether he'll be vulnerable to whoever the Democrats nominate." Survey says -- nope!)
Bush is, in my estimation, adequate as President, but not much more. I've thought that all along -- which is why you've never seen the kind of lyrical praise of Bush here that once appeared at Andrew Sullivan's place, or the kind of disappointment with Bush you see at Sullivan's place now. But in a world of goofy-looking yet pompous empty suits, the adequate man is . . . President. And the Democrats made sure that this was the choice we had in 2004.
UPDATE: More thoughts here -- different from, but not inconsistent with, the above.
ANOTHER UPDATE: From the comments to item linked just above: "Zogby had better start asking questions like 'Why did I fail to predict President Bush’s margin of victory last election?'."
MORE: Various readers disagree with my position on Bush. Tim Dougherty emails:
I respectfully disagree with your assessment of the Bush presidency. In fact, he's accomplished a great deal in a remarkably short period of time. With the conspicuous exceptions of tort reform and an overhaul of Social Security, he's seen nearly his entire domestic legislative agenda enacted. Internationally, he's overthrown two of the most hideous regimes of the past five centuries -- one, in the case of Iraq, despite vocal worldwide opposition -- and will likely preside over the formal declaration of a Palestinian state. Plus, it must be remembered that he took a huge political risk to personally campaign on behalf of Republicans running for Congress in 2002. As we now know, the gambit paid off handsomely in the form of strengthened GOP majorities in the House and Senate -- a historical anomaly. Clearly, he's coming to rival Reagan in terms of both political courage and long-term significance, and he's not yet a year into his second term. In light of the foregoing, I would submit his vulnerability as a candidate owes more to the current political landscape than individual shortcomings, though he certainly has his share of the latter. In any case, appeal as a candidate is separate from performance while in office. It might interest you to know that I didn't even vote for Bush in 2000. I've since grown to like him, his goofy public speaking style notwithstanding.
Reader John Terry is unhappier with me:
Your comments about GWB were disappointing in the extreme. First, can you imagine a politician of either party to have the focus to do the right thing despite the consequences. He has the highest risk tolerance since Lincoln. He also has the least fear of a prejudiced media since Lincoln. You should be ashamed of yourself. Please refer to this commentary from Ben Stein in the American Spectator.
I'm not ashamed. I call 'em as I see 'em. I agree that Bush hasn't had an easy time of it. John Scott emails:
Re Zogby's poll, you say: "It says a lot about what a weak candidate Kerry was, doesn't it? It also underscores Bush's weakness." Maybe, but after two weeks of over the top Bush bashing Clinton only beats W by 2 pips, well within the margin of error. What are you and Zogby missing here?
Clinton was no prize, either, even though I voted for him in 1992. Reader Brian Howson emails:
I don’t think Bush is as much a weak candidate/president as his PR department is weak. He doesn’t get his message out well, at all. Everytime he gives a speech, it all seems forced and un-natural.
The big mistake is to judge a president while he is STILL president. We never realized how good Ronald Reagan was, until after he was out of office and the Soviet Union came crumbling down. Dubya could yield these sorts of results in the middle east, but only time will tell.
We'll see. Meanwhile, Christopher Grayce thinks I'm too critical:
So, you're unexcited about both Bush and Clinton. And, I suppose I can assume, the widely-acknowledged weaker recent one-termers, Bush Sr., Carter and Ford. Presumably you're not so unusual as to be a great big Nixon or LBJ fan...
So that leaves maybe Reagan or Kennedy as the only candidates for a good President in the last 45 years? That's some high standards you've got, man.
I only make the comment 'cause what you said is, I think, symptomatic of a modern American disease: we don't know when we have it good. Unemployment has been at 5% for 23 years, and inflation 5% or less -- and we bitch about the terrible economy. We freak at a war that claims 3 lives a day and maybe 6-8% of the Federal budget -- our grandfathers who fought in Okinawa would be ashamed of us. A huge hurricane roars ashore in the Gulf Coast and -- mirabile dictu -- not more than probably a few hundred people are killed, and generally speaking most everyone is being helped and is OK within a week or so, despite the enormous destructive force. But, oh dear, that's some monstrous failure at which fingers must be pointed.
Eh, I tell you, any of our ancestors would be ashamed of our squeaky weeniedom. They hacked out a country from wilderness, natural and human, and wrestled with awful terrible questions, from freeing ourselves from slavery and struggling to erase its lingering consequences, to beating back the poison of fascism of the left and the right across half the civilized world. *And* they went to the Moon, discovered penicillin and heart transplants, invented transistors and sliced bread. Well, I lied about that last one...
What are we leaving our children? What are we daring? Why would anyone a hundred years hence consider calling us a Great Generation? As opposed to one of the most spoiled and whiny generations of Americans ever? I'm hard pressed to say.
Well, maybe that will need historical perspective, too. After all, the Greatest Generation was, in its time, known as a Generation of Vipers.