Wednesday, July 25

Polling The Nation: God Knows, It Deserves It

Jim Rutenberg and Mark Mazetti, "President Links Qaeda of Iraq to Qaeda of 9/11". New York Times, July 24

Peter Baker, "Disfavor for Bush Hits Rare Heights: In Modern Era, Only Nixon Scored Worse, And Only Truman Was Down for So Long". WaPo, July 25

OKAY, how's he still beating Nixon?

At some point last evening I was treated to this line, delivered by the Acting President in his inimitable, Do You Suppose He Knows What He's Saying style:
“Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat.”

and I thought about Tricky Dick, even though, I swear, I hadn't seen that WaPo story yet.

Look at that sentence again, if you've got the stomach for it. The only thing about it that isn't a complete fabrication is the period. Look at how these people have come to talk. They can't even keep track of what they're qualifying anymore. It's like the final meltdown of a pathological liar--okay, make that it is the final meltdown of a pathological liar--when every last one of the oh-so-carefully-prepared fallback positions has been overrun by undeniable fact. We are, at the end of the administration's Through the Looking Glass assault on meaning, left with this sad spectacle: absent a genuine impeachment threat, absent, that is, any chance for the real legal prescription of our system for such an occurrence, such a man, such a criminal enterprise--a chance which has been passed on preemptively by a Democratic leadership fearful of political backlash in light of the wholly fraudulent impeachment of Bush's successor--we get to sit and watch him embarrass himself for another year and a half. This must have been what it was like to be Jimmy Swaggart's bass player, except Swaggart didn't have his own nuclear arsenal.

Nixon, on the other hand, was just a liar. "I am not a crook," well, you knew he was, you were embarrassed for the country that he'd been reduced to that point, but he didn't say, "Anyone who justifies an impeachment proceeding by asserting some inherent criminality explaining activities which have been falsely described as illegal is ignoring the results of the last election for purely political motives." He just lied. In English. So did Clinton. About a blowjob. Why is the Acting President of the United States torturing the language when there's no hope left anyone could possibly be persuaded by what he said, even if it made sense? Why are we having this discussion? Wouldn't a real President still talk about the issue, even if it were hopeless, instead of calling twenty times a day, leaving any excuse he could think of on our answering machines? Isn't it within the Congressional purlieu to require network broadcasts to just ignore him? Could we pass a Resolution of Shunning, including stiff fines for anyone who operates a camera or microphone in his vicinity? Aren't we past the point where "Being Bummed Out By The Thought He Has Another Year Left" has become a matter of national security? We're so desperate to believe there's some small glimmer of hope in our politics that we reported the You Tube Debate as if it might prove interesting.

Bush was reduced to admitting that Zarqawi did not "at first" have connections to bin-Laden. This despite the fact that the first mention of his name most Americans heard was as the SMERSH lieutenant whose floppy disks were captured in mid-courierizing to Supreme H.Q. Note again: the nation had a hearty laugh when Ron Ziegler announced the inoperability of a previous statement. A hearty laugh to the point of requiring the Heimlich. This bunch just assumes nobody's keeping score anymore.

Speaking of laughing yourself into oxygen depravation, there's this howler from David Frum in the WaPo piece:
Some analysts believe that even many war supporters deserted him because of his plan to open the door to legal status for illegal immigrants. "You can do an unpopular war or you can do an unpopular immigration policy," said David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter. "Not both."

Yeah, boy, Bush's numbers really bottomed out when he pissed off the couple dozen die-hards who were still answering "Undecided" when Gallup called. I don't know if it's more amusing imagining David Frum alphabetizing the magazines in his bubble, or trying to decide if Peter Baker was able to type "analyst" without cackling maniacally.

BUT the real treat in that one is the Truman Reverse Gambit, a sad and sordid little tale we've caught whiff of before. (It might possibly be topped by the word that Bush was so thrilled by the rugged individualism of that Bill Kristol piece on Bush's "legacy"--if that one was typed with a straight face we'd like to see Kristol's pharmaceutical regimen--that he was pressing copies on everyone left in the office.)
Bush advisers clutch at Truman as if he were a political life preserver. If Bush has experienced a similar collapse in public support while in office, they hope he will enjoy the same post-presidential reassessment that has made Truman look far better today than in his time. A 2004 poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner found that 58 percent of Americans viewed Truman favorably.

Which tells us, basically, that fifty years is long enough for even a President to be forgotten. Has Syngman Rhee been quietly creeping back up the charts? Is the dim notion of a bestseller somebody else read going to revive Nixon's reputation, circa 2025?

Of course not; that's not the way such things work. There's no Nixon constituency to reconstitute; he'll remain a noxious weed in the Rose Garden of historian's Best and Worst lists, just as FDR will remain a roadside monument slightly defaced by birdshot from fortnightly right-wing drive-bys. Truman's reputation wasn't suddenly revived fifty years later; it was restored, or at least it was in the process, while he was still alive, and this was mostly the result of the same process that sent Bush's into the crapper, never to return: shamefaced reappraisal of earlier hysteria. Only in Truman's case it was the Right getting around to admitting that maybe some tiny chunk of Red and Yellow hysteria had been a teensy bit overblown, and maybe ol' Give 'Em Hell had been sufficiently anti-Commie. Which was especially touching seeing as how "Who Lost China?" had been eclipsed by "Who Lost That Island 90 Miles Offshore?" and it seemed like a good time for some hatchet burials. Truman certainly had personal charm, though not enough to explain David McCullough's twenty-five pound Valentine.

I remember as a child watching the cameras following Harry S around on his morning constitutional while he kept up a stream of Show Me State patter. Can you imagine someone doing this while Bush chops brush in Crawford in 2018? In this, like in so much else, the premature canonization efforts--Charm Offensive? Nicknames? Someone You'd Have a Beer With?--will make any resuscitation efforts look like one of Lileks' funny food ads. The image of George and Laura at their "ranch", sitting and waiting like Norma Desmond for their close-ups, may be fitting, even funny. But like regrettable food, nobody's gonna actually swallow it.

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