The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Tuesday, September 30, 2003  

“Victory is in Sight”

When the going gets tough, the Republican faithful can always count on a morale-boosting missive from the party’s most loyal columnist, Fred Barnes. In today’s Wall Street Journal Barnes dismisses any talk that President George W. Bush is “vulnerable” because of his recent slide in public opinion polls. (“Who’s Vulnerable?” [Subscription required.])

“A more accurate word for President Bush's political condition is ‘normal,’” Barnes writes. “Mr. Bush has slumped in his third year in office just as most recent presidents have. A slump is the rule, not the exception.” About this Barnes is correct, particularly with respect to recent history, but in his zeal to promote the Republicans’ retention of the White House, he offers leaps of faith so wide and long as to make the parting of the Red Sea look like a card trick.

“For President Bush,” Barnes explains, “the glow from enacting his major initiatives (tax cuts, education reform) has faded.” Education reform? Must have missed that one. “The economy is soft. His foreign policy, especially in postwar Iraq, has become controversial,” Barnes adds. Yes, to say nothing of criminal. “And complaints about his presidency from Capitol Hill, even from Republicans, have grown.”

Not to worry. “Still, there’s far more reason than not to expect him to recover and win re-election, perhaps easily. His slump, assuming it’s hit bottom, has been milder than the slumps other presidents faced and his prospects are brighter,” Barnes says, reassuringly. [Emphasis added.] Note the italicized clause as it’s an important one, more important than Barnes would like readers to believe at the moment, and important because it’s a debater’s friend, providing Barnes safe distance in the future should his conclusions prove incorrect.

Stating the obvious and missing the obvious, Barnes continues:

Iraq is not Vietnam. In 1967, 10,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam and victory was nowhere in sight. Johnson abandoned his re-election bid in March 1968. America’s enemy then was a powerful military of well over one million troops -- not only Viet Cong guerrillas but a North Vietnamese army backed by the Soviet Union.

Compared to [sic] that force, the enemy in Iraq is minuscule: a few thousand Baathist diehards allied with Islamic terrorists. They are capable of nothing more than hit-and-run attacks.

That’s true in a sense, but two years ago we saw the ultimate hit-and-run (in) terrorist attacks here in the U.S. and that single highly coordinated assault “changed America” in a single day, didn’t it?

As a good Republican, Barnes knows that when logic fails, it’s time to blame the “liberal” media. “And though press reports stress the negative, only 70 Americans have been killed in the past four months,” he stresses, dismissing the deaths that preceded those 70 casualties and already having forgotten about the media’s fawning “embedded” coverage of the war, its unquestioning treatment of the “rescue” of PFC Jessica Lynch, and its by-the-script coverage of the president’s ridiculous aircraft landing.

Those inclined toward skepticism will read with amazement the sunny-side-of-the-street assessment Barnes offers of Iraq today. “It’s possible Iraq could deteriorate. Administration officials are more confident about an improved economy than they are about a safe and secure Iraq,” he writes. “But given the forces at play, particularly a growing contingent of American-trained Iraqi police, soldiers and government officials, continued progress in Iraq is likely. And Mr. Bush won’t face LBJ’s plight. In Iraq, victory is in sight.”

Victory is in sight. Sleep well, America.

As if cribbing from text provided by White House political operative Karl Rove, Barnes says, “President Bush’s recession, handed to him by the outgoing Clinton administration, ended in late 2001.” But again, not to worry. “The recovery has been slow in coming and often has seemed non-existent. But now it’s arrived for sure. Economists, Wall Street, the businessmen [sic] -- there’s near-universal agreement among them that the economy will roar in the closing months of this year and continue growing swiftly in 2004.” Seeing as we are, right now, in “the closing months of the year,” Barnes’s recovery should be evident and plain to all. The problem is, it’s not, and Barnes ignores completely the long-term effects, which many voters can foresee, having been led down this road in the 1980s, of the Bush administration’s reckless fiscal policy.

According to Barnes, all Bush need do is wait it out, until mid-2004 at the latest, by which time all will be well and good. “At some point, probably late this year or early next, the economy should begin producing jobs,” Barnes argues, on September 30. (Hey, Fred, it’s already “late this year”!) “Productivity gains require faster growth than before for job creation to kick in, but 4% to 6% growth would suffice,” he adds, with an offhanded vagueness that might remind his audience of pretend economist Lawrence Kudlow (Hey, Fred, is that four to six percent growth in productivity or GDP?)

“The last step is for the public to perceive a revived economy. The public’s view is a lagging indicator,” Barnes adds, even though it isn’t always. “For the purpose of his re-election, President Bush has until mid-2004 for the public to sense the improved trajectory of the economy. That’s plenty of time.” It’s also enough time for Americans to file their taxes and realize the benefits of the Bush administration’s largesse were intended not for the middle class but for the truly suffering wealthy.

One can only hope Barnes’s misplaced confidence and displaced assessment of the state of the nation and the world reflect the current mindset of the White House and the Republican National Committee -- and if Barnes writes it, it probably does -- for then Democrats truly do have a solid shot at the presidency.

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