People are saying terrible things about George Bush. They say that his officials weren’t sincere about pledges to balance the budget. They say that the planning for an invasion of Iraq began seven months before 9/11, that there was never any good evidence that Iraq was a threat and that the war actually undermined the fight against terrorism.
But these irrational Bush haters are body-piercing, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freaks who should go back where they came from: the executive offices of Alcoa, and the halls of the Army War College.
The point is that the credentials of the critics just keep getting better. How can Howard Dean’s assertion that the capture of Saddam hasn’t made us safer be dismissed as bizarre, when a report published by the Army War College says that the war in Iraq was a “detour” that undermined the fight against terror? How can charges by Wesley Clark and others that the administration was looking for an excuse to invade Iraq be dismissed as paranoid in the light of Mr. O’Neill’s revelations?
So far administration officials have attacked Mr. O’Neill’s character but haven’t refuted any of his facts. They have, however, already opened an investigation into how a picture of a possibly classified document appeared during Mr. O’Neill’s TV interview. This alacrity stands in sharp contrast with their evident lack of concern when a senior administration official, still unknown, blew the cover of a C.I.A. operative because her husband had revealed some politically inconvenient facts.
Some will say that none of this matters because Saddam is in custody, and the economy is growing. Even in the short run, however, these successes may not be all they’re cracked up to be. More Americans were killed and wounded in the four weeks after Saddam’s capture than in the four weeks before. The drop in the unemployment rate since its peak last summer doesn’t reflect a greater availability of jobs, but rather a decline in the share of the population that is even looking for work.
This situation — Republican unity and Democratic fissures — means that the Democratic vote is less cohesive than the G.O.P. vote, at least on the presidential level. In a Bush-Dean matchup, 20 percent of Democrats would vote for Bush, according to a CBS poll, while only 3 percent of Republicans would vote for Dean. Over all, Bush leads Dean by 20 points. And in Iowa and New Hampshire, swing states where voters know both candidates well, Bush is up by significant margins.
In other words, at least at the moment, Bush has crashed through the 45/45 partisan divide. He is a polarizing figure, but there are many more people who support him than oppose him. And this support is not merely personal; it is built into the issue landscape. According to an ABC/Washington Post poll, 57 percent of Americans say they are more likely to support a candidate who supported going to war in Iraq, while only 35 percent say they would be less likely. According to Pew, 59 percent believe that the war in Iraq has helped in the broader war on terror.
All of this means two things. First, as we dive into this period of intense Democratic primary competition, it’s worth keeping in mind that Democratic primary voters are a misleading snapshot of the electorate as a whole. Second, while the nation remains closely divided over all, and gravitational pressures will cause the general election to tighten, it is wrong to think that the electorate is fixed. There are millions of people who may lean toward one party or another, but who can be persuaded to support either presidential candidate.
At the moment, many are supporting Bush.
Well, they both can’t be right, and if history is any guide, the American electorate has an amazing capacity to confound the pundits. However, they also know when they’re being lied to about war, lost lives and their financial fortune, and react accordingly.
Need another straw to grasp, David?