Jewish World Review April 12, 2002 / Rosh Chodesh Iyar, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | When President Bush barnstorms the country on behalf of Republican candidates in the 2002 elections, he must take care that he doesn't hurt himself, the war effort, and his party by morphing from a wartime leader into a partisan politician.
Even as Bush stumps for candidates he endangers his high job approval numbers by stepping out of his role as wartime leader.
In some ways, his dilemma is similar to the one President Clinton faced in 1994 as he returned from his successful tour of the Middle East during which he brokered an accord between Jordan and Israel. Hailed as a peacemaker, the president, who had been battered by the defeat of his healthcare proposals and the passage of his tax increases, found his ratings moving back up. He called me on his return to ask in which states he should campaign. "You should go back to the Middle East," I told him.
"No," he explained, "my ratings are up now as a result of the Middle East. Before, I would have hurt anyone I campaigned for, but now I can help them."
"Your ratings are high," I replied, "because you're seen as presidential after the Middle East. Campaigning for candidates will make you seem like a politician again. It will drag down your ratings and hurt the candidates you are trying to help."
But Clinton was determined to campaign anyway and, as he did, his ratings slipped daily, opening the door for the Gingrich Revolution of 1994. Bush can campaign for his party, but he must tread gently.
History offers another lesson Bush should heed.
In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson campaigned actively for a Democratic Congress, saying that he needed his partisan allies in control of the legislative branch to help him win World War I. The president's tactics infuriated the Republican party, particularly former President Theodore Roosevelt. The public didn't buy Wilson's pitch and voted for Republican majorities in both houses. The bitterness kindled by Wilson's tactics in invoking the war in a partisan contest led directly to the rejection of the League of Nations by the Republican-controlled Senate.
As President Bush campaigns for Republicans in the elections of 2002, he needs to tread carefully in order not to make the same mistake Wilson made. He needs to keep his appeals for support on domestic turf and must take care not to be seen as using the war on terror for partisan advantage.
Indeed, the war is going to be the elephant in the middle of the living room that nobody in the family will dare discuss in the election of 2002. Democrats can't criticize it and Bush can't use it to decide the fate of the swing seats on which partisan control depends.
If Democrats attack or question the war effort, they will marginalize themselves very quickly and make the war admissible in their election campaigns. If Bush links the war effort to the congressional elections, he'll be seen as exploiting our national tragedy and will lose public good will rapidly.
So Bush needs to keep the cork in the bottle and not go overboard in his partisan appeals. He must take care not to let political campaigning seem to be his priority and loom as a distraction from fighting the war on terror. Nothing will turn Americans off faster than to see Bush AWOL in the battle to protect our nation as he stumps for his party in the elections.
Bush has ascended far above the mortals who dominate American politics. The national consensus he has built around his policies compels the support of 80 percent of the voters. But his date with Mt. Rushmore limits his ability to swing for the fences in his partisan campaigning. Bush must take care not to squander on the campaign trail the unanimity and good will that underpins his solid national support.
Is Bush the helpless, pitiful giant when it comes to political and partisan
combat? Not quite, but he's got to watch himself and keep a tight rein on his
04/10/02: In defense of polling