Dick Morris says that President Bush is becoming a Republican Jimmy Carter – which is about the worst insult one can give to a Commander in Chief. Morris argues:
Even when he seeks to develop an issue, his approach is half-hearted and ineffective. It seems that on any issue other than taxes and terrorism, he has attention-deficit disorder. He squandered his re-election “political capital” on a Social Security reform he spent six months pushing and a year and a half running away from…
And so, with no political immune system, he is subject to the infection du jour, be it the Dubai ports deal or the Iraq leaking scandal. In the meantime, his party is wallowing in a massive public perception of congressional corruption.
When Dick Morris is wrong, he’s wrong. When Dick Morris is right, he’s right. Sadly for the President, on this account, he does have it right. President Bush has basically allowed himself to become a human punching bag for his critics. A good politician knows how to get in front of the issues, and Bush has utterly failed to do that. Hopefully the upcoming White House shake-up will make the Administration less painfully reactive and more proactive in dealing with the constant political fire they’re taking from the relentlessly hostile media.
Morris suggests a few initiatives that might help the President, much in the Clintonian style of midnight basketball and other touchy-feely triangulations. Those may help, but what Bush needs to show now is real leadership. Bush rightly rejects the Clinton Administrations fixation with the polls, but they’ve also been completely asleep at the wheel when it comes to the political side of being President. They have the bully pulpit, but they’ve utterly failed to use it. Bush’s plummeting numbers are a direct result of the Administration’s lack of political pushback. Morris is right, on the war, on Social Security, on taxes, and on a whole host of other issues, the President has virtually surrendered to his critics. When the nation only gets one side of the story, it’s hardly surprising that the President’s poll numbers will start to sink.
A coherent energy policy would be a good start. The President should push forward with a crash program to develop safe nuclear technologies to augment and eventually replace coal. (Of course, that should be paired with economic development for key coal-producing states like West Virginia who might otherwise see such a program as putting them out of their jobs.) If the Chinese can work towards developing a network of advanced pebble-bed reactors to meet their energy needs, we can too – and we can do it better.
The President must push back on the economy. The perception of the US economy is bleak, while the reality of the economy is that unemployment is low and the jobs being created are well-paying jobs. The President has managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the economy by letting the narrative be written by his critics. Elections, especially local elections, are decided largely on pocketbook issues, and if Bush can’t sell a booming economy, how politically effective can he be?
The First Law of Politics is always be on the offensive – the Bush team needs to learn this or they could well end up spending the next two and half years as lame ducks. Given the challenges we face, from Iranian nukes to entitlement reform, the last thing we need is a malaise hanging over the White House. Bush must fight back, and he needs to fight back hard, or Morris’ warnings may yet come to pass.