Blogs > Cliopatria > Buyer's Remorse?

Dec 21, 2004 5:22 pm

Buyer's Remorse?

I can't resist.

It's Christmas and Americans are shopping like crazy -- though apparently not with as much abandon as retailers want, according to an NBC report last night, which noted that sales were down 3% this weekend compared with the same time last year -- so I am going to employ a shopping metaphor.

Is it possible that Americans are going to wake up in January--perhaps in time for Bush's inauguration--with a severe case of buyer's remorse?

As Eric Boehlert notes in a piece in Salon this morning (disclosure: I am quoted in the piece),"Unless there's a dramatic turnaround in public sentiment between now and Jan. 20, Bush will be sworn in to office with the lowest job-approval rating -- barely 50 percent -- of any president in the last 80 years, or since modern-day presidential polling began."

Bush's low numbers are astonishing. Re-elected presidents normally win with overwhelming majorities (yes: mandates). You have to go back to Woodrow Wilson's 1916 squeaker to find another president who won re-election by as small a margin as Bush. (Bush had better hope Wilson's not the model he's following. Wilson's second term was a disaster.)

It is not in America's interest to have a weak president. (For that matter, it is not in the world's interest, either.) As John Kennedy said, weakness invites aggression. Our enemies abroad will see Bush's weakness at home as an invitation to mischief.

But Bush himself is not likely to take measures to strengthen his government, measures such as reaching out to Democrats for support. As he indicated in the press conference he held right after the election, he will reach out to those who share his goals, as if that is likely to endear him to the opposition leaders with whom he must work.

Unfortunately he shows every sign of coming down with a case of Potomac Hubris (PH for short). And like other similarly afflicted presidents (especially second-term presidents) he won't see fit to change his approach to governing from his first term even though circumstances have changed. (The big change is Iraq: the news is likely to get worse and worse and worse.) Successful leaders draw lessons from their success, as I have noted before on this blog. Bush no doubt thinks the approach of the first term succeeded so therefore it should be followed in the second term. But this is a false lesson of success. Success occurs under prescribed conditions. And when the conditions change behavior should change as well. But few leaders are willing to acknowledge this. (Wilson, for instance, used to bullying Congress in his first term, kept bullying Congress in his second term, even though he had lost the overwhelming majorities of the first term. The bullying resulted in the disaffection of Senate leaders like Henry Cabot Lodge and the end of Wilson's presidency, in effect.)

If Iraq indeed keeps getting worse and worse and worse the American people will finally cease giving Bush the benefit of the doubt. (Already a majority think the war was a mistake.) At that point they will have buyer's remorse. But when will that point be reached? I would have thought the point was long passed. But then I opposed the war and so wasn't blinded by rose-colored glasses into seeing progress when little progress was actually visible. When the American people will reach that point is a guess. By January 20th? Probably not. But by March 2005 the war will be 2 years old. If by then it looks like it does today--Bush will be in terrible trouble.

And so will we, unfortunately.

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