I rode home from the airport in a taxi a few minutes ago. My driver, as is almost always the case in Minnesota, was an African immigrant. No sooner had I gotten into the cab than he began talking about the speech and railing against Bush on the theory that the President is anti-immigrant. I patiently tried to explain that President Bush is in trouble because he is not just pro-immigrant, but pro-illegal immigrant. I explained that he has argued for a guest worker program and a path to citizenship, and has said repeatedly that it would be impossible to deport all the illegals.
My cab driver was completely disoriented by this. I could tell he didn't believe it. Like nearly all African cab drivers, he listens to public radio all day long. Twenty minutes with me wasn't enough to overcome years of liberal indoctrination. He simply wasn't able to absorb the idea that President Bush might not be a racist who hates immigrants. I'm sure he'd forgotten everything I said by the time he left my driveway.
Informal, Unscientific Poll. Is this:
A) Complete horseshit?
B) Utter bullshit?
C) Evidence that this was the driver's first day on the job, as no one working for tips would ever pick up John Hinderocket and imagine a good anti-Bush rant would snag 20%?
D) Evidence that the driver was extremely savvy, recognized immediately that nothing whatsoever would pry a decent tip loose from Mr. Powerline, and proceeded to make his trip as uncomfortable as possible?
So Hiney was damn near inconsolable after Bush's speech, until he read the "most grown-up of American political commentators":
When you look back at all these leaders' job ratings in office, you find an interesting thing. The transformational Thatcher and Reagan had negative to neutral job ratings during most of their longer years in power. Thatcher's peaked upward after the Falklands victory; Reagan peaked from his re-election until the Iran-Contra scandal broke two years later. Their divisiveness, the stark alternative they presented with the policies and conventional wisdom of the past -- all these held down their job ratings.
In contrast, Blair and Clinton for most of their years in office had quite high job ratings. Blair's ratings for his first eight years were probably the highest in British history. Clinton, after he got over his lurch to the left in 1993-94, also enjoyed high job ratings, especially when he was threatened with impeachment. The center-left alternative, by accepting most of the Thatcher and Reagan programs, was relatively uncontroversial, determinedly consensus-minded, widely acceptable to the left, center-left and much of the center-right segments of the electorate.
Thus, the crunchy, confrontational right was in its years in power not so widely popular as the soggy, consensus-minded center-left. Yet surely history will regard Thatcher and Reagan as more consequential leaders than Blair and Clinton.
Warmer than the bartender's smile at the airport Hilton when a grown man orders a Daquiri, Banana, frozen, (and then explains that he ordered it that way because that's how the cash register is set up) isn't it? So is this:
A) Total horseshit?
B) Near-total horseshit?
C) Remarkably horseshit-esque?
Did anyone else notice that the second paragraph seemed to declare war on itself about halfway through?
I'd like to be able to share the whole story with you, perhaps including some impressive four-color graph work, but that would require paying real currency to George Gallup when my religious convictions tell me I should be able to glean his field for free. So let's just point this out: Clinton and Reagan had roughly equal approval numbers over all. Clinton's tanked a year quicker than Reagan's (with Clinton's "lurch left"); they both remained fairly neutral until their second terms. Reagan dropped 20 points with Iran/Contra; Clinton zoomed when the Lewinsky scandal broke. So, sorry, no, America's most grown-up political commentator is doing what grown-ups frequently do: he's lying through his teeth. Just the sort of bedtime tale they prefer on the Line of Power:
Barone applies these lessons to today's political landscape:
It is in this context that we should consider George W. Bush's current poor job ratings. For all the high ratings for center-left leaders, it remains true in America and Britain that the policies of the right are more acceptable than the policies of the left -- and are capable of beating the center-left, too.
It is in the nature of things that the right, while sharply defining the issues and winning most serious arguments, should also stir more bitter opposition than the soothing, consensus-minded center-left. All the more so because Old Media in this country, more than in Britain, is dominated by a left that incessantly peppers the right with ridicule and criticism, while it lavishes the center-left with celebration and praise.
Even so, we continue to live in the world of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, as we once lived in the world of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As I say, a needed dose of far-sighted optimism on a dark day.
And that, my friends, is how you win most serious arguments. Hold 'em with yourself.
In parting, here's today's retro-Barone poll reading moment. My wife tells me all her kids are crazy for these:
It looks like Bush is headed toward the bright sunlit upland of public approval that Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan enjoyed in the first two years of their second terms.
(Townhall, December 6, 2004)