Friday, February 24, 2006

(Team) George Bush is a Genius

The whole George W. Bush presidency has been a series of increasingly awful things that he continues to get away with. It's so disturbing that you really have no choice but to laugh at it, and unfortunately, that's what most liberals do. As liberals laughed at the idiot president, the conservative right gradually reshaped this nation, and even though people may say he's stupid, George W. Bush was the perfect choice to be president.

Now, it's impossible for an outsider to really know what goes on behind the scenes, if Bush himself is a clueless patsy being manipulated, or someone who's so smart that he created that image precisely to create that perception.

Back in 2000, Bush was a joke, his misspoken phrases the stuff of a thousand forwarded e-mails, let right from the beginning, the ideas that would eventually cause this country so much harm were there. When the 2000 campaign was starting, Bush was seen as the frontrunner in the Republican party, at least until New Hampshire, when John McCain won the crucial first primary. Of course, in 1996, Pat Buchanan had won that primary and gone on to subsequent defeat, but McCain was a much more likely candidate than Buchanan.

McCain was campaigning as a reformer, comparing himself to the Rebel Alliance, and even using the theme from Star Wars as his theme song. At the same time, Bush was using his tagline "compassionate conservatism." After being beaten by McCain, it was pretty clear that team Bush was not happy, and thus they went to work utterly destroying him. In one of the moves that's so ridiculous it's funny, Bush decided to paint himself as an outsider, and used the tagline "A Reformer with Results," copying McCain and then attacking McCain for being part of the political establishment. Bush claimed that he was stronger on issues like the environment than McCain. This recalls stuff like his "Clear Skies" initiative, which lifted the restrictions on industry. Bush was the son of a president, he was more establishment than anyone, but he still painted himself as an outsider bringing the hammer of reform on a corrupt government, and people bought it.

In some respects, the idea of McCain winning was a bit unlikely, because of the soon to be pronounced blue state/red state divide. New Hampshire was more likely to support a reform candidate than the South, and Bush played to what would soon be firmly entrenched as his base. Bush won the primary by utterly destroying McCain in a very negative advertising campaign, by just taking what people liked about McCain and claiming it for himself.

At the time of the general election, there was still the strong perception that Bush was an idiot, not someone to be taken seriously. Rather than being a negative, this became the Republicans' greatest asset, being underestimated. What Bush combines is populism and elitism. He is simultaneously seen as one of the boys, an ordinary guy, while in actuality he is from one of the wealthiest, most powerful families in the country, and was being used as basically a frontman for conservative business interests.

So, when it came to the debates, the Republican machine created the impression that Al Gore was one of the greatest debaters in the world and Bush was an idiot who could barely string a sentence together. They put their people around saying things like "We're going to concede this one, no one can beat Gore." Then when Bush is able to coherently string a sentence together, it's seen as a moral victory for him, and the debate is ruled a draw.

One of the big things to come out of this debate was Gore's visible disgust with what Bush was saying. People said this was arrogant, ignoring the fact that the Bush campaign completely savaged McCain, and would later do much worse to Kerry. The other thing that was joked about was Gore's lockbox for the budget surplus. He called Bush's plan to give massive tax cuts to the top 1% of the country a "risky scheme," and instead proposed to put the money in a lockbox to use for social security down the line. Considering how things turned out, Bush's tax cuts were clearly more than a risky scheme, they were one of the dumbest budget decisions ever made. If the democrats weren't absoultely incompetent, they would have been able to show people that Bush is taking their money and giving it to rich people who could never spend all the money they have. People are literally buying tax cuts from him, and by today, the idea of a budget surplus is a distant memory, and with massive deficits, it's unclear how we'll support all the people going onto social security in a few years. Wouldn't it be nice to have that money in a lockbox?

And by the time we got to the general election, things got even more ridiculous. The 2000 election was one of the low points in this nation's history. Bush quite literally stole the election. Because his brother was in charge of voting in the state, could anyone honestly expect a fair assessment of things down there? The most ridiculous thing was when people said that Gore was being whiny by requesting additional vote counts. The Bush team presented the idea that just settling on him as president was what the nation needed, as if going another few weeks without the election decided would throw the nation into anarchy.

So, Republicans created the idea that they had won the election, and Gore was just being a sore loser by seeking a recount. This is classic policy, deciding the truth in advance and then just using whatever's needed to make it fit. The Supreme Court decided that election and it's sad that the vote of 9 people counted for more than the rest of the people in this country.

9/11 became the iconic moment of the Bush presidency, and a lot of people who didn't initially support him, got behind him then. At the time, that pretty much nullified ill feeling about the 2000 election and put the country together. However, I don't see how Bush's response to 9/11 was particularly good. He went to the wreckage with a firehat on, there's noting courageous about that, it's not like the terrorists were going to come back and attack him there. The way the media sold it, it was like he scurried into the towers before they collapsed and rescued some people.

And in the post 9/11 period, Bush did everything he could to assist his corporate friends, and as recent memos point out, on 9/11 itself, they were already planning the invasion of Iraq, using this national tragedy as a justification for enacting their policies, and at the same time, constructing a new political paradigm for the nation.

The critical thing after 9/11 was the construction of the idea that to not support American aggression was to be anti-American, to oppose Bush's policies was to be a traitor. This was evident in the Dixie Chicks controversy, how could having a difference of opinion mean being anti-American? Isn't the whole point of freedom having the option of doing and saying whatever you want? But as constructed by Bush, it's an us vs. them, the "free world" vs. the axis of evil.

While this was happening, he put through the absurd tax cuts that led to today's major budget deficits and started the war in Iraq, a conflict based completely on lies. I can understand the desire to go to Iraq and defeat Hussein, if they had sold the war as that, then people would at least have been able to make a legitimate decision. However, they presented Iraq as an urgent threat that needed to be dealt with before they attacked our nation with their WMDs.

Now, I don't understand how a country with the largest collection of weapons in the world can honestly say that the fact that a country has chemcial weapons is justification for attacking them. If two planes flown into a building is justification for attacking multiple countries, what would having your country invaded and bombed repeatedly be justification for? Honestly, if Iraq dropped a nuclear bomb on us now, could you honestly say that they weren't justified in doing so? I wouldn't be happy about it, but considering the way we've acted in the past few years, it's impossible to play the innocent victim act.

In 2004, Bush had started a war that was fast becoming a second Vietnam, thrown the budget to hell and stripped the nation of its rights, and yet he was still elected. Why? It's because the Republicans played such a good game.

The first mistake the Democrats made was choosing the utterly lifeless John Kerry as their nominee. I didn't want to vote for him, and in choosing such a non-person, they made the election about George Bush. The Republicans ran with this, completely controlling the playing field. They put Kerry on the defensive and by controlling the terms of the debate, ensured that he couldn't define his own identity.

This election is where I have to really respect the Republican campaign team, they play the game so well, you can only wish they were working for good. From the moment they invented the "flip flop" charge, they completely handicapped Kerry because any deviation from old positions was treated as a flip flop. This ties in with the completely flawed Bush idea that changing your mind, based on new assessment of the facts, is a weakness, and that you have to charge forth, never changing course. You can never admit a mistake for to do so is weak. That's how Bush thinks, and when he said that his greatest mistake was trading Sammy Sosa, he made this crystal clear. The man either saw no mistakes or was carefully tailoring his public persona to create this idea of a decisive, sure leader, while Kerry was a flip flopping, liberal who would rather talk with the terrorists than bomb them.

The fact that they used the idea that Kerry's idea of a more sensitive war on terror as a negative says so much about their mindset. Wouldn't understanding people be more likely to win the "war on terror" than bombing people, and creating more people who hate us. First, the idea of a war on terror is ridiculous, it's like a war on death. You're not going to win, terror isn't like the Nazis, there's no central place, all it takes is one guy, and you can never be truly safe. That's a fact of life. But, the best way to stop terrorism is to get to the core of the issues that create an anti-American mentality.

Of course, Kerry didn't really help his cause with his "I voted for it before I voted it against it" comments. His greatest problem was that he didn't present a clear alternative to Bush. His view on the war was basically, we're in it already, so there's nothing we can do. The democrats needed someone who would really say "This war was a crime" and perhaps Howard Dean could have done that, but he was criticized for being too angry. When Bush is doing the stuff he's doing, people should be angry.

Anyway, Kerry allowed himself to get played. The whole Swift Boat Veterans for Truth business was ridiculous, Bush was discrediting a veteran, the very people he's supposed to be supporting, and people were attacking Kerry for being anti-Vietnam. Honestly, people who didn't oppose the Vietnam War are the ones who should have been under fire. Kerry saw what the war was doing and opposed it, that makes sense, and it took a lot of guts for people who did everything they could to avoid going to war to criticize John Kerry's military service.

The problem with Kerry was he never really stuck it to Bush. The man was assaulting him, calling a coward, a bastard, and Kerry just took it. Why couldn't he just go at Bush with the same furor that Bush attacked him with. Call the lead up to war a lie, say the WMDs were made up, hell, make something up, it doesn't really matter, just attack the guy with fury. Instead at the convention, Kerry drops "Saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq doesn't make it so. Saying we can fight a war on the cheap doesn't make it so. And proclaiming "Mission accomplished" certainly doesn't make it so." This sums up the Democrat point of view, dropping these allusions to events. You need to say "George Bush made up weapons of mass destruction to send our country to war and thousands of people have died as a result. Every coffin that comes back from Iraq is there because of George Bush's fiction." And this would be a perfect opportunity to show the images of the coffins from Iraq, confront people with the reality of war.

Bush's genius in fighting the war in Iraq is to completely disconnect the country from the fighting. I have no clue what it's like over there because we never see it. It goes on, but we don't hear about people dying. The government learned from Vietnam, and as a result, a war is being waged in secret, with no end. Besides the lives, the cost in dollars is absurd, I don't want my tax dollars being spent to kill people.

George Bush's speech at the Republican convention tells you a lot about how he plays the game. Here's a telling excerpt:

THE PRESIDENT: "Wait a minute, wait a minute: To be fair, there are some things my opponent is for. (Laughter.) He's proposed more than two trillion dollars in new federal spending so far, and that's a lot, even for a senator from Massachusetts. (Applause.) And to pay for that spending, he's running on a platform of increasing taxes -- and that's the kind of promise a politician usually keeps. (Laughter.)

His tax -- his policies of tax and spend -- of expanding government rather than expanding opportunity -- are the policies of the past. We are on the path to the future -- and we're not turning back. "

George Bush criticizing someone for expanding government spending is where the laughter should have been. It's true that Bush isn't a tax and spend president, he's a spend and spend president, like a person maxing out his credit cards, he just doesn't care how much money's available, he's going to spend what he can and leave others to sort it out. The brilliance of this plan is that his democratic successor will get criticized for budget mismanagement, allowing the Republicans to take back the White House in the future and criticize Democratic excess.

The other telling thing is the way Bush and Conservatives completely control the word "liberal." They turned liberal into a dirty word, meaning wanton spending and government expansion, the exact thing that Bush is doing, except instead of spending on weapons, liberals spend on social programs. So, both parties spend, conservatives spend to kill people, liberals spend to help people. Right there's a soundbite Kerry should have been dropping, rather than skittering away from the liberal label, he should have reclaimed it, and redefined conservatism.

What Bush 9/11 Iraq linking tells us is that if you repeat something enough, people will believe it's true, and that's what Kerry needed to do about Bush and his crew. That's what they did with the flip flopper message, reinforce this one image of Kerry to the point that when you thought Kerry,, you thought flip flopper.

This is all aided by the "liberal media bias." By creating this perception that the media is against them, team Bush makes it difficult for any big news outlet to criticize them, because to speak out against Bush would be biased journalism. Considering how little journalistic investigation was put in to the buildup to Iraq, it's pretty clear that, if anything, there's a conservative bias in the media.

The culmination of this was the whole 60 Minutes incident, brilliantly played by the Republicans. The story here is that Bush was very negligent in his national guard service, yet the story became about how Rather didn't fully verify his evidence. So, a very valid point was nullified and turned into a positive for Bush. And then Bush gets defensive about people criticizing his military service, something that's completely ridiculous when you consider the way he attacked Kerry, someone who actually went to Vietnam, a place where you don't really have a choice whether you show up or not. And the same guy that shirked his own military service is sending thousands of people over to Iraq to die.

I wasn't really that surprised that Bush won, his team has reinvented politics and taken manipulation of the facts to another level. This is not a good level, but the Democrats were just embaressing out there, it was like watching Michael Jordan walk onto a neighborhood basketball court and take on whoever was around. That's how incompetent Kerry was, a guy who stood for nothing and couldn't even beat a president who'd made a ton of impeachable mistakes.

And Bush only got worse in his second term. The most notable mistake was in dealing with Katrina. He basically let a whole bunch of people die through inaction, it's really pathetic. And now, Bush is saying "Let's not play the blame game," this is one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. It's like you discover a person's been murdered and say "Eh, he's already dead, so let's not try to find the murderer or anything, it won't bring him back." Yeah, it won't bring him back, but that's no reason to let a murderer go free. Holding someone accountable for their mistakes is not playing the blame game. This is the same tactic they pulled back with the recounts, making it sound like anyone who criticizes what they've done in the past is petty, backwards looking and missing the point. But, you've got to criticize what they've done in the past, because when it comes to future policies, they're going to make up whatever lie is needed to get things done.

It's been an awful presidency, one that's completely changed the way American politics are conducted. This is something the Democrats have to recognize when it comes time for the next election, they can't just sit back and get defined, they have to go out and control the terms of the debate.

Right now, it's looking like McCain will be running for the Republican nomination, and there'd be the temptation to say he won't be that bad, but this is a guy who was utterly destroyed by Bush in 2000, given one of the worst deconstructions I've seen, and then turned around and supported him. Most people say he was doing that to keep his status in the party, but if he's a guy who will compromise his values to do that, he's not someone who should be president. McCain is the opposite of Bush, he presents a really liberal, friendly facade, but ends up sticking with most of the conservative policies.

So, well played Bush. You've really been able to do whatever you want and get away with it. It's only going to be for history to judge the real extent of their crimes, but of course to do that would just be playing the blame game.

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