Jewish World Review Feb. 27, 2004 / 5 Adar, 5764
Prez's ratings are tanking because he has succeeded too well
It is not that President Bush has failed. His ratings are tanking because he has succeeded too well. Like Churchill, he has won his wars and voters now feel it's time for him to go.
Homeland security and terrorism rank fourth in most national polls behind the economy, healthcare and education as the leading issue facing the country. Taxes don't even make the list. Bush has triumphed over the evils that impelled his popularity and extinguished them as issues.
In a sense, his administration's record is the mirror image of Clinton's. The Democrat solved the issues that animated his opponents welfare, crime, the deficit and left unsolved and nagging those upon which his own party was supposed to focus education, environment, healthcare and Social Security. But Bush has triangulated himself. He has lain to rest the concerns that energize his own party while leaving unresolved those that impel his opponents.
Recently, Bush has tried to triangulate in the truer sense of the word through is splendid immigration initiative and his passage of drug benefits for the elderly. These two bold measures, he hopes, can serve his re-election bid as surely as his promises on education reform did his initial campaign.
But Bush has forgotten to keep the issues at which he is best in play. No matter what he does, he will never get more than a tie on the Democratic issues of healthcare, elderly and education. He needs to increase the relevance and saliency of the issues that are his own taxes and security.
By attacking John Kerry on taxes, he will likely be able to put the issue into play.
But Bush's tax positions have never achieved broad popularity. His cuts did, I believe, bring the recession to a quick end, but they do not have the wide appeal of his homeland-security and anti-terror positions.
The decreased urgency of those issues undermine his campaign. When America was on orange alert in December and early January, Bush was in the high 50s. Now that we are back to normal, he's in the high 40s.
The answer, of course, is not to invent a dog to wag where none exists. But it is to call increased attention to the very real dangers that still surround us. Bush may be afraid to do so since it would seem to ratify Kerry's contention that we are no safer than we were on Sept. 11. He may have a traditional incumbent's desire to highlight his achievements and declare success across the board.
But in doing so, he will entitle himself to a gold watch for his retirement, not to a re-election mandate. He must underscore the limits of his own success and focus upon the huge tasks and enormous dangers that lie before us. It is only by summoning the sense of national urgency that we should, in fact, be feeling that he can win.
Americans want Bush for one thing and one thing only: to lead us out of danger from terror. We don't really think he is much good at anything else. The sycophants who too often monopolize a president's attention may try to convince him otherwise, but it is a fact that Bush is a one-issue president. And a one-issue president is all he needs to be. He just needs to explain to us why we still need him and why going with Kerry would endanger us all.
Kerry's avowed intention to return the war on terror to a DEA-like effort to track down gangs and bring criminals to justice would be a disaster. Bush recognizes the war on terror for what it is a war with nation-states on the other side. He must emphasize those differences and their relevance to our safety and security to win this election.
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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.
© 2003, Dick Morris