In a different news environment, last week would have been all sunshine for Bush. First, presumptive nominee John Kerry pander-flopped on the question of whether he might appoint pro-life Justices (who even knew it was a question?). Then, he suggested that he would mock our highly regarded campaign finance laws and our even more highly regarded John McCain by adopting a hyper-legalistic, no controlling legal authority approach to the Democratic nominating convention. And he brought us through the weekend with a reminder that he is not well described as a person of warmth and grace. None of his deficiences as a candidate will come as a surprise to his supporters, by the way - as this WaPo article makes clear, a nicely dressed department store mannequin clearly labelled "Not George Bush" could probably attract as much support as John Kerry, with no appreciable dimunition in credibility or campaigning skills. Our favorite quote comes from Baghdad Jim McDermott (D-Wash), who brushes off Kerry's puzzling posturings as "campaign rhetoric".
Oh, well. The news environment was what is was, and serious problems in Iraq overshadowed Kerry's minor problems at home. However, in our unrelenting quest for the silver lining, we are reminded of the famous Winston Churchill quip - the current news is bad for Bush, and Kerry is a deeply flawed candidate, but the news can change.
And we will see just how Bully a Pulpit the Presidency is when Bush tries to change it. We are encouraged by the news that he will be addressing substantive issues - Iraq and the Middle East peace "process" - rather than attempting to change the subject to something like gay marriage.
Can the President convince us that he has a coherent plan for Iraq and the team to implement it? Good question, and my reassurance on this point takes on a certain Zen quality. There are lots of ways to lose an election. If, for example, the economic recovery was still tepid, or if a right-wing third party candidate took away his support, or if the Democrats were nominating a charismatic spell-binder - i.e., if it were 1992 - then Bush might be poised for defeat even if he were delivering encouraging successes in the War on Terror. Those scenarios lead to unpleasant episodes of 'bitter-pill-swallowing'.
However (Sports Metaphor Alert!), the President's current situation takes me back to the seventh game of the 2001 World Series, which I know you remember as vividly as I do. Seventh game, ninth inning, the incomparable Mariano on the mound protecting a one-run lead for the Yankees... the Yankees lost, and I was over it in less than five minutes. When your best guy gets beaten, waddya gonna do?
Obviously, a Presidential election is a bit closer to reality than a baseball game. But the central focus of the election seems to be Iraq. If Bush loses because he cannot convince this country that he can see his historic gamble in Iraq through to victory, even though the Dems have an unappealing candidate and a third-party problem, well, maybe, just maybe, I have to trust the wisdom of the electorate.
But it's only May! ("Yes", said a discouraged Rep friend of mine in response to that bit of cheer, "except for changing the month I have been saying that since December"). Five months for Bush to show us he can make this work and deserves re-election. Bring 'em on!