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Jewish World Review May 3, 2002 / 21 Iyar, 5762

Dick Morris

Dick Morris
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Consumer Reports

Give Bush back his focus | Like an observer of the nautical tides or a solar eclipse, one of Bush's top aides greeted the news that his boss had slipped below 70 percent job approval in the Zogby Poll with the pseudo-sage observation that "the natural descent has begun." He should be fired. There is nothing normal about dropping poll numbers. They happen when staffs screw up and mislead their president.

For a wartime president to lose 12 points of approval in a few weeks has potentially disastrous implications for the war effort and the ability of the president to lead the nation through the difficult times ahead.

The reason Bush is slipping is clear and simple - he has stopped talking about the war on terror. The words "Iraq" and "Saddam Hussein" have been reduced to afterthoughts in his speeches. His crystal clear, one at a time, focus on conquering terrorist gangs and toppling the regimes that support them has become blurred in the miasma of the Middle East and its diplomatic labyrinth.

But more recently, some genius in the Bush White House decided to emulate the Clinton strategy of small-bore, one-a-day issues. Doubtless the incongruity did not occur to him. Here the president warns us that a hostile regime, led by a madman, is developing nuclear weapons to use against us or Israel and then spends his days speaking about tiny topics and seems almost to forget his own prophetic warning.

Americans do not what to hear Bush speak about training Head Start teachers or increasing volunteerism in our society. They want to hear about stopping Iraq from getting the bomb.

They don't want to hear him opine about the need for charitable deductions for short-form tax filers or for increased work-study credits for community service. They would like to know how we are going to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

They are not interested in hearing their president warn about cloning research or favor us with his views on clear skies. They wonder what is being done to protect them and their cities from destruction.

Bush's advisors probably warned him that his popularity was not translating into coattails for his congressional and senatorial candidates because it was focused exclusively on the war on terror. Unless he developed greater traction on domestic issues, they must have argued, he would be unable to elect a Republican Congress. As a result, the White House developed a communications strategy to speak about domestic issues as a war of developing transferable popularity.

But in an atmosphere where the gravest issues to face our nation since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 occupy our attention, such a strategy does not transfer popularity. It eradicates it. To talk about small-bore issues at a time of big concerns will not give the president coattails. It will strip him naked.

George Bush should settle for leading this nation at a time of crisis. He should not be deterred from offering that leadership or squandering the popularity that enables it by the three centrifugal forces that act to distract his focus - the diplomats, his political advisors and his worried economists.

To the diplomats he must say that progress in resolving the Arab-Israeli impasse is no prerequisite for an attack on Iraq. He must abandon the never-ending search for credibility among so-called moderate Arab regimes and simply proceed to do what has to be done in Iraq. Nor can he be hostage to the European insistence that he show his globalist loyalties by assuaging the problems of the West Bank before they will agree to show theirs by backing us in Iraq.

To his political advisors, he must indicate his determination to keep his eye on the ball and to focus - as Clinton once said - "like a laser beam" on eradicating terror-sponsoring nations.

To his economic advisors, Bush should realize that there is no practical way that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could punish an American attack on Iraq with an oil embargo. Since the early '70s, when the last embargo ruined our economy, the population of states like Saudi Arabia have more than doubled while the oil price and consumption levels have remained about the same. Saudi Arabia could no more afford to do without oil revenues than we could afford to do without oil.

Further, the Saudis realize that anything that raises the price of oil creates incentives for increased domestic U.S. production, alternate source development, high gas mileage and greater efforts at conservation. They have no desire to encourage us to break the oil habit by raising the price of petroleum.

The Bush White House is ruining what it created - a presidency capable of mobilizing the nation. The next polls will show his popularity in the mid- and then the low-'60s. Then the '50s. George W. Bush's capacity to mobilize the nation to do what it must will be attenuated just as his father's was crippled by decreasing ratings brought about by blurred focus.

They need to change course before it is too late. Give Bush back his focus.

JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, "Power Plays: Top 20 Winning and Losing Strategies of History's Great Political Leaders" Comment by clicking here.


05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2001, Dick Morris