After two years of over-the-top ratings, the public standing of the Bush administration has taken a sudden nosedive, according to any number of recent polls.
Bush’s handlers are saying this was expected; that some downward correction was inevitable, the only issue being when.
But not in their worst nightmares did they anticipate a plunge so sudden and steep. Back in May, when Bush landed on the aircraft carrier off the California coast and triumphantly declared the war over, his advisors were at the White House already planning not just the re-election campaign, but also the victory celebration.
Little did they know that, in fact, Bush was on the verge of a precipitous slide in his popularity. Blinded by arrogance and hubris, Bush and his advisors were unable to see that the political winds that had been at their back since Sept. 11, 2001 were turning into battering headwinds.
Has a turning point been reached in the struggle against the Bush administration? Probably not yet, but by the same token, it is undeniable that the political momentum and initiative Bush enjoyed for two years has nearly exhausted itself.
The signs of a changing national mood are everywhere. Democratic Party presidential candidate Howard Dean’s hard-hitting, anti-Bush message has gotten an enthusiastic reception. There is a new eagerness on the part of many Democrats to challenge Bush’s policies. Important victories in the current Congressional session are being won. Moderate Republicans are more ready to distance themselves from Bush’s extreme positions. Even among Bush’s closest supporters, we see the appearance of fissures. And a growing feeling that Bush is beatable is in the air, which only a few months ago seemed a near impossibility.
Most of the factors that account for this shift are not fleeting or transitory. The most important are the sluggish and one-sided economic recovery, the bloody, coercive, and costly occupation of Iraq, and the growing credibility problems of the Bush administration.
The recovery – a non-event
The economic woes of tens of millions continue with no relief in sight. Everyone, including mainstream economists, admit that the recovery has not only been weak, but a non-event for working class and nationally and racially oppressed people. For these tens of millions, the recovery didn’t stall – it never started.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, this is the first recovery since World War II during which the number of jobs has continued to fall 20 months into a cyclical upturn. Altogether, 2.7 million jobs have disappeared since the recession was declared officially over in March 2001, nearly 2 million of which were in manufacturing. Once again the Midwest is sunk in an economic crisis from which there is little escape as long as the present policies continue.
To make matters worse, wage and salary gains of the previous decade have evaporated. All this makes the bubble-driven expansion of the 1990s look like it was only a brief interlude in the longer-term trend of declining living standards and shrinking job opportunities for both wage and salaried workers.
Of course, Bush would like us to believe that his tax cuts – not to mention record military spending – will recharge the economy, leading to economic revival and jobs creation.
But this is a very dubious proposition. The tax cuts are so heavily weighted to the wealthiest families and corporations that their effect on economic activity will be very limited, even in the short run. In fact, they will more than likely hamper an economic rebound over the longer term.
In any event, the real aim of the administration’s tax policy is not to boost the economy, but rather to use the state apparatus as a mechanism to massively redistribute wealth to the wealthiest families and corporations and, in so doing, create deficits that leave no alternative but to eliminate the traditional role of government in providing for the general welfare.
This state of affairs is not only cutting into Bush’s support, but is also making the economic arena a site of confrontation and is turning the Midwest into a winnable battleground for labor and the people in the 2004 elections.
Then there is Iraq. By any measure, things are not going well there. The fighting continues and people, including U.S. soldiers, are dying. The opposition to the occupation goes way beyond the remnants of the Baath Party. The country’s infrastructure remains in ruin. And the cost of the occupation is swelling.
Meanwhile, domestic support for the occupation is plummeting. Many are having second thoughts, including those who supported the invasion, and even some who still believe there is a link between Hussein and al Quaeda.
It is increasingly apparent to millions of American people that empire building is bloody and expensive. Sometimes hegemonic powers are able to foist the costs and casualities of combat onto subordinate states, as the earlier Bush administration did in the first Gulf War. But this time the war is essentially a one-man show (no insult intended to Tony Blair) and U.S. taxpayers – and their children and grand children – will pay the bills, including the latest $87 billion installment.
It is true that the administration is now making overtures to Europe and Russia, but so far they’ve reached an impasse. The tensions in the United Nations, which surfaced in the spring over the invasion, resurfaced last week over the occupation. Whether the Security Council reaches a resolution is anybody’s guess, but even if it does, the chances that the other major powers will commit troops and money are slim.
Obviously, the Bush team grossly miscalculated the ease with which it could establish a permanent political and military foothold in Iraq. Just as the U.S. invasion demonstrated U.S. imperialism’s unparalleled military superiority, the ensuing occupation has revealed the limits of such power and the thin support of the American people for such adventures. It also underscores the importance of fully empowering the United Nations to assist the Iraqi people in their country’s reconstruction and of bringing U.S. troops home immediately.
A final factor chipping away at Bush’s public standing are the mounting doubts about his administration’s credibility. This is a big blow to the extreme right. After their success in exploiting the tragedy and trauma of Sept. 11 to transform a lightweight president into a figure of stature, authority, and moral integrity, that image is now showing cracks. Under the weight of the lies communicated to millions by Bush and his foreign policy team to justify an unnecessary war in Iraq, millions of people are now wondering – does this guy play loose with the truth? Can he be trusted?
Given all these developments, Bush’s political advisor, Karl Rove, must be scrambling to figure out how to regain the initiative – on Iraq, on the economy, on national security. He must be wondering how he can repair Bush’s tarnished image. He must be desperately searching for a way to reclaim the right-wing momentum on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, on civil and immigrant rights, and on energy and environmental policy.
Let him sweat!
In the meantime, labor, racially oppressed people, women, immigrants, seniors, youth, peace and environmental activists, gays and lesbians, farmers, disabled people and other social forces in our country have an opportunity to step up the struggle with an eye to winning the immediate battles for people’s needs, as well as, emerging victorious in November 2004.
While the political terrain has shifted in a favorable direction, only a united, labor-led, all people’s movement will be able to defeat the extreme right and secure a world in which economic security, peace, and equality are the birthright of every person.
Sam Webb is the National Chair of the Communist Party USA and can be reached at email@example.com.