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A DANGEROUS CAMPAIGN
By David Podvin
As the Congressional Democrats relax and enjoy their summer vacations, George W. Bush is on the move. He is engaged in a Karl Rove public relations campaign that is designed to convince Americans that he is not as stupid and extreme as he appears to be.
The effort began with Bush’s illusory “deep philosophical struggle” over stem cell research. Obviously, someone who is deep and philosophical cannot be shallow and clueless. The question is whether someone who pretends to be deep and philosophical can fool people into believing that he’s not shallow and clueless.
With the obedient help of the mainstream media and the total lack of an opposition party, Rove and Bush have a chance to pull this charade off. If they do, then the Bush agenda will pass.
It would be extremely helpful for Bush to be viewed as “thoughtful and contemplative” when he attempts to raid the Social Security Trust Fund in September in order to pay for his generous gift of our money to his campaign contributors. The Social Security debate will hinge on who has more credibility - the proponents of accounting gimmicks, or the proponents of mathematics. Rove’s expectation is that the public appreciation for Bush’s previously well-concealed intellectual heft will make it easier for him to shout down the fatuous “2+2=4” crowd.
Secondly, Rove and Bush must address those disappointing poll numbers on Social Security, the environment and health care. Proving that they are not as disinterested as they sometimes appear to be, Americans have been able to somehow cut through the perpetual media canonization of Bush to perceive that he is wrong on the issues. This doesn’t prevent most of them from yielding to the intense pressure to “approve” of Bush, since only disordered people could possibly disapprove of someone so likeable. However, they detach from conformity when it comes to his stances that they perceive to threaten them personally, like arsenic in the drinking water and good taxpayer funded medical care being made available only to Dick Cheney.
Bush has won almost all of his legislative victories by party line votes, so he has no foundation of bipartisanship from which to govern. He must rule from a position of perceived strong public support or every important vote is going to be in doubt. The “moderate” House Republicans always fall in Bush’s direction like dominoes whenever he applies pressure to them. However, it will be very difficult to get nihilistic Democrats like Dianne Feinstein and Robert Torricelli to vote against their party’s filibusters unless the winds of public opinion are blowing toward Bush.
This is why Bush will be seen hugging a lot of trees over the next few weeks. He must convince the public that he is pro-environment without changing any of his extraordinarily anti-environment positions relating to global warming and industrial pollution. His failure to improve his image as a Green would greatly strengthen the position of his opponents, who inexplicably believe that the ecology is more important than maximizing Texaco’s profits.
His energy plan is an absolutely critical part of his agenda, because it is the quid pro quo for him being in the White House. The oil and gas companies were his biggest supporters. They are the ones who have provided the G.O.P. with a two to one advantage in fundraising this year. There could be serious consequences if Bush fails to reward them with the key to Fort Knox. Poppy Bush was an oilman, but his signing of the Clean Air Act coincided with diminished enthusiasm for his administration from the energy industry. George W. has reportedly told friends that he has learned from his father’s failure to keep the Republican base satisfied.
Bush wants to “restructure” Medicare in order to please his pharmaceutical industry donors. This is an issue that requires the trust of elderly citizens. When Congressman Dan Rostenkowski proposed Medicare means-testing in 1989, he was attacked by an angry mob of middle class old people. It is essential for Bush to successfully deceive the already skeptical senior citizens about his intentions, or his drug company campaign contributors will be very disappointed.
What Rove and Bush know is that, if the oil and drug folks are unhappy, the uncritical tone of the press coverage that Bush gets will coincidentally disappear. If Bush wants to continue to enjoy a prostrate media, then he must deliver big time for big business. This requires him to con the average American into believing that the Bush proposals on Social Security, energy, health care, etc., are not designed to screw them over for the benefit of the elite.
His presidency hangs in the balance. The last two Republicans who failed to adequately come through for Corporate America suffered well funded primary challenges that crippled their chances for reelection. Unless Bush wants to endure the fate of Gerald Ford and Poppy, he needs to get those poll numbers up. It is the only way that he can keep within his reach the cloture votes of the twelve Quisling Democratic senators. That is the motivation for his current media offensive.
As Leonid Brezhnev knew, a campaign that is unopposed rarely fails. Thus far, the Democrats have allowed Bush to monopolize the stage. Across the country, day after day, the headlines have proclaimed “Bush Shows Environmentalist Side”, “Bush Endorses Improvements In Medicare”, and “Bush Strongly Supports Social Security”. None of this is true, but in the absence of dissent, it will be believed. Ronald Reagan would slash funding for schools, then be seen smiling with students on the network news, and the polls would show that he was viewed as being pro-education.
Such deception helped Reagan and his feckless Secretary of Education William Bennett to implement policies that resulted in dramatically lower student test scores. This was a real world consequence of the Democrats’ refusal to pull the curtain aside and reveal the Magnificent Republican Oz for what he really was.
Perception will again trump reality unless the Democrats begin confronting Bush NOW. They apparently have learned nothing from Gore’s decision to “take the high road” and allow Bush’s major lies on major issues to go largely unchallenged. Tom Daschle and company need to appear on network TV and aggressively point out that the words and the music don’t match. They have to be willing to call George W. Bush a liar for deliberately misstating the facts on Social Security, Medicare, and the environment.
After all, either he’s lying or they are. Either Social Security is bankrupt or it’s not. Either his proposals would gut Medicare or they wouldn’t. Either his energy bill will nullify existing environmental protections or it won’t.
Let’s not stand on pride. If Bush is telling the truth about these disputed facts, then the Democrats should be supporting him.
But he’s not. He’s distorting reality to con the public, which is how he kept the election close enough to steal last year. The Democrats must now find the guts to just tell the truth and then hold their ground when the Republicans and their media monkeys respond by going berserk.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Russert. I know that you would prefer to talk about Gary Condit, but the Democratic Party believes that it is more important to take an honest look at the facts about Social Security so that Bush will be prevented from destroying it. That takes priority over your obsessive lust for intern stories, and we must insist on instead talking about the issue that will effect the well being of so many older Americans.”
By the time Congress reconvenes in September, the debate will probably already be won or lost. It will be too late for eloquent speeches or anguished pleas to matter. Either the dangerous Bush campaign will have again succeeded in muddying up the water so badly that he will win by intentionally distorting the issues, or the Democrats will have clarified things by relentlessly repeating the truth.
It is time for the relentless repeating to begin.
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