October 9, 2002
A TOWERING SHRUB:Why He Drives Them Crazy: Being underestimated is George W. Bush's secret political weapon. (Noemie Emery, 10/14/2002, Weekly Standard)
Whether by design or instinct, Bush has a history of driving people who are sure they're much smarter than he is to incredibly silly and self-immolating acts. In the Texas governor's race in 1994, he was the lightweight against the incumbent, Ann Richards, who felt herself demeaned by having to run against him. Making her disdain clear, she addressed him as "shrub" and as "Junior." He addressed her as "Governor Richards." She called him "clueless." He called her "Governor Richards." She called him "the anemic link at the tail end of the gilded Bush dynasty." He said he found her "interesting" as a study in character. At last, she blew up, and called him "some jerk" at a rally. He won by 6 points.
Al Gore thought he was smarter than Bush, and in the debates planned to take out this pretender. He would show off his mental and physical dominance. Condescendingly, Gore sighed, smirked, interrupted, and unleashed tidal waves of details and assertions. Then Bush, as the Washington Post's David von Drehle astutely observed, "read Gore's effort to overshadow him, and, in an odd way, opted to make himself a little bit smaller," becoming relentlessly civil and courteous. It worked. At one point, wrote Jeff Greenfield, "Al Gore left his stool and walked slowly, stiffly, toward his opponent, arms at his sides, palms pointed behind him, looking oddly like [a] robot. . . . Bush glanced over his shoulder, took a beat--and nodded once, as if to say: Hi there--be with you in a moment. The audience laughed, and Al Gore was finished for the night." Something of the same sort seemed to happen to Daschle last week. After his outburst, the White House suggested he might have misread the story that caused it, giving him the chance to back down from his tantrum. He didn't take it, but went back on the floor of the Senate. His purpose was to help his own party's chances. At the end of the week, surveys showed the Republicans for the first time making small gains in congressional polls.
What happens to a dream deferred? Nothing pretty. The liberals' dream of "exposing" the president has now suffered blow upon blow. Simply speaking, their view of Bush--expressed on any given day by Terry McAuliffe, Paul Begala, James Carville, the Nation, Michael Kinsley, or the New York Times, is still this: George W. Bush is a moron who stole the election, had the great good luck to be president when terrorists struck at our two major cities, benefited unfairly from an irrational wave of hysterical jingoism, and now, when the glow from that burst has been fading, has cooked up a phony war to distract attention from corporate fraud and the stock market crash, which of course he caused. Their failure to sell this analysis to the three-fourths of the country not in the grip of terminal Bushophobia has driven them quite out of their senses. Every day, they get shriller and more desperate. Surely, if Maureen Dowd turns the smirk up one notch, if Frank Rich reviews Bush like another bad movie, the unwashed will awake and see reason? But no.
If you had told a liberal in mid-2001 that in the fall of 2002 the Dow would be somewhere below 8,000 and a cluster of scandals would beset corporate boardrooms, he would scarcely have believed his good fortune. That time has now come, these factors are present, and that liberal can scarcely believe his bad luck. There are two possible explanations: Either he has overestimated the extent to which his worldview is shared by the public, or he has underestimated George Bush. Neither idea is appealing. What kind of a populist are you if the people aren't with you? What kind of an intellectual are you if you aren't smarter than Bush? How can people so smart, and whose views are so popular, be beaten so often by someone so clueless? The idea that George Bush is a gifted politician whose views are quite mainstream would make their world crumble. On the other hand, if
they are so often trounced by an out-of-touch moron, then what does it say about them?
Never mind Tom Daschle, what's really startling in all this is to see folks and institutions who had previously aspired to some level of at least public objectivity turn into harshly partisan loci of Bush-hatred. The most obvious case is the news section of the NY Times, the saddest David Broder. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 9, 2002 3:51 PM