Tuesday, May 16, 2006

George Bush haunted by the ghost of Ronald Reagan

Karl Rove says the people like his boss.

They don't like the way he's doing his job at the moment, Rove says, but there's a big difference between how they feel about that and how they feel about him. He says that the people "are just sour right now on the war" and they're feeling kind of miffed at the President because of that. Once Iraq's fixed they'll get over their anger and start liking the guy again.

Rove went on to say that "some polls" show that up to 60 per cent of the people like the President.

The version of the AP story that ran in our local paper and the one I looked at at Yahoo this morning didn't report which polls Rove was referring to.

The story quoted "polls" showing Bush's job approval numbers are approaching the Nixon/Carter line.

But it doesn't appear that the reporter bothered to find out if Rove was right, if there is a big gap between his job approval and his personal approval numbers.

Of course there isn't.

No More Mister Nice Blog and Think Progress have the numbers.

Turns out that people like or don't like a President because of what he's doing on the job.

If he's doing a lousy job they don't much like him.

Another thing the AP reporter doesn't seem to have thought worth looking into is whether or not it's true that it's just that people are sour on the war. As if that problem's going away any time soon, anyway.

The war has clearly taken a toll on Bush's Presidency. But it was Katrina that did him in.

Once people saw him let an American city drown it dawned on them that he wasn't fit to be President.

And it occured to them that what they saw happening right here live was probably a good clue as to what was going on in Iraq.

If the Bush Leaguers were so careless about New Orleans, how much more careless were they being about Bagdad?

Now, I'm not a poll triumphalist.

Bush's numbers have plunged because a lot of former supporters have given up on him because they've decided he's not been a big enough bastard.

Right Wing Christians think he's not doing enough to put women and the fags in their place.

Right Wing War Hawks think he's not killing enough ragheads.

Racists think his heart isn't really in keeping the wetbacks out of the country.

They're all furious at him for squandering his opportunities to stick it to their favorite bogey-men.

Now they're scared that a Democratic majority in either house of Congress will mean another few years of swallowing their hate.

They're blaming Bush for potentially denying them the rewards of their rage.

But I bet they all still like him.

Likeable, schmikeable.

Beltway Insiders have been sold on the idea of Bush's likeability since the day they decided that because they didn't like Al Gore he didn't deserve to be President.

They've pushed and pushed the notion that likeablity is a job requirement. The job requirement. The one that excuses a candidate from having to have any other qualifications for the job.

Karl Rove knows this, he's played upon it, he's playing on it again.

But I think Rove also believes in Bush's likeability.

Rove hitched his wagon to Bush's star the moment they met, when Rove came under the spell of Bush's "likeability."

I've heard that day described as the day Karl fell in love.


But you've also got to remember that Rove began his political career working for Richard Nixon. He was one of Donald Segretti's ratfuckers. Nixon was his hero. And while decent young men and women were learning that the lesson of Nixon's downfall was that it didn't pay to be dishonest, that abuse of power was not only destructive to the Nation it was self-destructive as well, young Karl Rove was learning the lessons that it's bad to get caught, it's worse to admit it when you're caught, if you do get caught fight, fight as hard as you can even if that means you have to blow up the Constitution.

One more thing I think he learned, though, is that Nixon's biggest problem was that he wasn't likeable. Eisenhower hadn't liked him, for crying out loud.

Nobody liked him.

The Press hated him.

His fellow Republicans in Congress were cool to him.

Even the Silent Majority didn't really like the guy.

When he got into trouble nobody liked him enough to stand up for him.

A few years later, after Carter had become President by, apparently---remember that smile!---being likeable, Reagan came along to prove that a likeable President could get away with anything.

People liked Reagan.

All the people.

Including Democrats.

Tip O'Neill liked him!

Reagan governed any old which way. He could be as conservative as Barry Goldwater one day. He could be as liberal as George McGovern the next. He betrayed the conservatives in his own Party more often than he screwed with the Democrats. And the Right idolized him!

It'd be no wonder if Karl Rove concluded that likeability in a political leader was all, and no wonder yet again that when he discovered that young George Bush was "likeable" he decided that here was the man to take Karl Rove to the White House.

What Rove forgot to take into account was that he himself was warped.

What he found likeable was probably not going to be the same things that most normal people liked.

They don't like bullies. They don't like sarcastic twerps who can't be bothered to remember their names and cut them off short whenever they try to say something. They don't like angry drunks. They really don't like angry dry drunks. They don't like snotty rich kids who screw up again and again, blame everybody but themselves for their screw-ups, and let their daddies and their daddies' friends clean up after them while they go on to make another mess somewhere else.

While studying Reagan---under the tutalage of the despicable Lee Atwater, who despised everybody and everything, except, maybe, the blues---Rove failed to observe that Reagan's likeability wasn't an act or just a knack. It was a talent and a habit of mind. It was a virtue.

Reagan had made being likeable a lifelong practice. Keep in mind as you read this that being likeable, like being "nice," is not the same as being good and that being good isn't a necessary requirement to being thought likeable or nice. There are times when being nice and striving to be likeable are the enemies of being and doing good. But that's besides the point right now. The point is that Reagan, the son of a drunk, worked hard at being likeable as a way of making the world around him more bearable for himself, for his family, for the people around him.

He was like Clinton that way, another likeable man for whom likeability was also often a vice instead of a virtue.

For Reagan being likeable meant disciplining himself. It meant reining in his ego. It meant going along to get along with people he disagreed with sometimes. It meant having to do things he would rather not do. It meant being ready for when other people needed him. He was a lifeguard, remember. A good one. Back in the day, it was fashionable to dismiss Reagan because he'd been an actor. What people forgot or failed to notice was that Ronald Reagan had always been a hardworking and successful man. His acting career faltered because his leading man looks faded at the same time he got caught up in politics. But he worked hard at his new vocation. Reagan was old, tired, and probably losing it when he came to the White House. Being shot and almost dying probably didn't make him any stronger or more energetic. He looked lazy. But that was a change in him. Maybe he'd never been a dynamo or a prodigy. But he hadn't been lazy. He had always worked. And he worked at being likeable.

Bush never worked at anything, let alone the disciplines and self-sacrifices necessary to being truly likeable.

Fortunately for Karl Rove, Bush entered the national stage at a moment when the Media Elite were looking for the second coming of Ronald Reagan.

The Media Elite were willing to believe Rove when he told them that Bush was the avatar they'd been seeking.

They never really covered George W. Bush. They rehashed the myth of likeable Ronald Reagan, the first President who was judged by whether or not he'd be a good drinking buddy.

The Beltway Insiders had not liked Jimmy Carter. It was during Carter's Presidency that they decided that being likeable was one of the marks of a true President.

Under the likeable Clinton they decided that the other mark was being a Republican.

Now of course Rove is spinning furiously. He desperately wants to feed the Media something good to say about Bush and as Steve at No More Mister Nice Blog notes, the pundit elite wants it to be true that Bush is still or will be again, soon, likeable.

But the whole issue of Bush's likeability has always been a sham. It's not just that Bush isn't a truly likeable person like Reagan or Clinton and the public was duped into thinking he was. He has never been liked by a majority of Americans.

His post 9/11 poll numbers were always only a measure of how Americans felt about America.

More than 50 per cent of the people have never much cared for the guy and certainly they never voted for him.

Yes, I know that Bush supposedly won 51 percent of the vote last time out. Leaving aside the possibility that a couple of those percentage points may have been stolen, 51 percent is within the margin of error. Honest mistakes in counting and vote reporting all across the country could mean that Bush won 52 or 53 percent or only 50 or 49 percent.

But taking the numbers at face value, the number of people who voted for Kerry plus the number of people who did not vote add up to more than the number of people who voted for Bush.

Reagan never had to base his claims to being popular or likeable on ignoring what a majority of the people apparently thought of him.

Rove and Cheney and their Republican puppets in Congress have tried to run the country as if everybody who does not like Bush does not matter.

They decided a long time ago that as long as they won, it didn't matter how many votes they won by.

A one vote majority meant for all intents and purposes that everybody in the minority just disappeared.

This is to say that the Bush Leaguers have never been able to afford to lose a single vote. They have been operating on the edge of the cliff for five years. That has made them desperate men.

Desperate men will do anything to survive.

This is also a warning that all they care about is winning back that one vote majority. They aren't going to do anything that will convince the majority support the President. They've never done that. Never felt a need to.

They need to get back the support of the Right Wingers. That's all they need.

And this returns us to the subject of Bush's likeability.

Likeable people don't act as if the only people that matter are the people who already like them.

It mattered to Reagan that he got along with Tip O'Neill and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Linkology: Besides No More Mister Nice Blog and Think Progress, other links above are to Susie Madrak, the Carpetbagger Report, Sadly, No!, Glenn Greenwald, Josh Marshall, the Guardian, Robert Reich, E.J. Dionne, Avedon Carol, and Ezra Klein writing at TAPPED.


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