Nobody uses pop culture as a springboard for political analysis quite like the New York Times’ Frank Rich. In today’s column, Rich compares President Bush’s Fort Bragg speech unfavorably to Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds.” Both were intended to whip up fear in their audience… but only Spielberg succeeds.
Both Mr. Bush’s critics and loyalists at times misunderstand where his failure leaves America now. The left frets too much that the public just doesn’t get it – that it is bamboozled by the administration and won’t see the light until it digests the Downing Street memo. But even if they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for John Kerry, most Americans do get it. A majority of the country view the Iraq war as “not worth it” and going badly. They intuitively sense that as USA Today calculated on Friday, there have been more U.S. military deaths (roughly a third more) in the year since Iraq got its sovereignty than in the year before. Last week an ABC News/Washington Post survey also found that a majority now believe that the administration “intentionally misled” us into a war – or, in the words of the Downing Street memo, that the Bush administration “fixed” the intelligence to gin up the mission.
Meanwhile, the war’s die-hard supporters, now in the minority, keep clinging to the hope that some speech or Rovian stunt or happy political development in the furtherance of democratic Iraqi self-government can turn public opinion around. Dream on. The most illuminating of all the recent poll numbers was released by the Pew Research Center on June 13: the number of Americans who say that “people they know are becoming less involved emotionally” with news of the war has risen from 26 percent in May 2004 to 44 percent now. Like the war or not, Americans who do not have a relative or neighbor in the fight are simply tuning Iraq out.
The president has no one to blame but himself. The color-coded terror alerts, the repeated John Ashcroft press conferences announcing imminent Armageddon during election season, the endless exploitation of 9/11 have all taken their numbing toll. Fear itself is the emotional card Mr. Bush chose to overplay, and when he plays it now, he is the boy who cried wolf. That’s why a film director engaging in utter fantasy can arouse more anxiety about a possible attack on America than our actual commander in chief hitting us with the supposed truth.
Rich outline’s Bush’s failures — both in rhetoric and in policy — and concludes that the Republicans could be facing a tough mid-term election.
Iraq may not be Vietnam, but The Wall Street Journal reports that the current war’s unpopularity now matches the Gallup findings during the Vietnam tipping point, the summer of 1968. As the prospect of midterm elections pumps more and more genuine fear into the hearts of Republicans up for re-election, it’s the Bush presidency, not the insurgency, that will be in its last throes. Is the commander in chief so isolated in his bubble that he does not realize this? G.W.B., phone home.