As I opined a few entries ago, Bush will lose the election in 2004. When I offer my opinion to people, most of them, particularly the politically savvy ones, think I am nuts. Even in liberal Massachusetts if the election were held today Bush would trump over his highest Democratic competitor, John Kerry.
Yet the election is not today, it is 16 months from now. All one really has to do is look at current trends and project them forward. One has to look very hard to find any trend that will favor Bush 16 months from now. One event that might change the dynamics would be another 9/11 type incident within a couple months of the election. This might cause a rally around the flag sort of event. Or it might well not. Any event like this will also expose vulnerabilities, for which Bush’s leadership can be held accountable.
It’s a fact that Bush won in 2000 because the Greens did not vote Democratic. Had Nader voters switched to Gore there would have been no Florida problem to deal with. That is unlikely to happen this time. It is possible, but unlikely, that the Democrats will nominate someone so unpalatable that Bush will look good by comparison. One can look at Nixon vs. McGovern in 1972 for such a parallel. But most likely whoever the Democratic nominee is, Democrats will line up solidly behind him (and it will be a him), which will leave, as always, the independents to choose sides.
Bush will also likely have a huge fundraising advantage. But this was true in the 2000 election too and at best it evened the playing field for him. It will translate into a few percentage points, if that. Money can buy attention but it can’t directly buy votes.
Now I challenge readers to look at all the other national issues and find one that will boomerang in Bush’s favor.
The economy is the big albatross. It is possible that a recovery is underway even now and that we don’t see it yet. That may well be the case but a recovery was underway for his father before the 1992 election and his father lost reelection. The real problem though is not the economy so much as the unemployment rate. Just yesterday the government said it went up three tenths of a percent, to 6.4 percent. If this rate were to hold Bush would be the first president since Herbert Hoover to leave office with more Americans unemployed than were employed at the start of his term. It is not unrealistic to expect unemployment numbers to gradually edge down, particularly if the economy does pick up steam. But employment always is the last thing to recover during a recovery and it won’t be anywhere near the 4-5% level that Clinton left.
Moreover the unemployment rate is artificially low and masks the reality out there that is quite different. The reality is that millions can’t find any work and have become “discouraged” workers so aren’t counted any more. The rest who are discouraged, but don’t have enough financial resources to fall back on, are underemployed. This is a lot of people and it is unlikely they will be voting for four more years of it. Tax cuts are meaningless when you don’t earn enough to get taxed. You just want to eat regularly, be able to afford to see a doctor, and not have to worry about living on the street.
Our government is a mess too, but this is rarely something the electorate focuses on. Nonetheless it will only help the Democrats. Political ads showing us going from record surpluses under Clinton to record deficits under Bush will gain prominence as the election approaches. Tax cut after tax cut weighted heavily in favor of the rich will also be impossible to ignore. Huge increases in new spending on top of all this tax cutting will seem very unwise. A prescription drug benefit for Medicare, welcome as it is for seniors, is being created with zero thought by our leadership on how to pay for it; it will seem to be the financial folly that it is. On top of this we’ve mortgaged our futures, widening the crisis for the soon to retire baby boomers. Bush’s prescription is more of the same. We learn he will propose new tax cuts every year. That will look pretty foolish next spring to be cutting taxes yet again with $500B annual deficits.
The war on terrorism is unlikely to improve. Actually it is likely to get much, much worse. In Iraq we currently have over half of our Army occupying the country. It won’t be going anywhere, for years. So there is no way we can invade Iran, for example, without abandoning Iraq. It also means that if we take action against rogue states like North Korea the Air Force is going to have to do the job because we won’t have sufficient troops to win that war and occupy countries. In reality our forces are now stretched very thin. But even worse our troops in Iraq are already getting very demoralized. It is impossible to tell friend from foe. We need more peacekeepers but let’s face facts: they’re not peacekeepers. If they were peacekeepers they wouldn’t be dressed in full battle attire and being sniped at all the time. Since Bush went out of his way to piss off our traditional allies in Europe and elsewhere we can hardly expect these countries to feel obliged to send troops to help us keep restore some semblance of order. The most likely reaction will be “you made your bed, now lie in it.”
Bush could reinstate the draft, but that would be the kiss of death politically. Why? Because Bush has sold America on a “have your cake and eat it too” philosophy. We can win the war on terrorism, but it won’t be your kids who will get killed against their will, only the volunteers. He has not asked for any unwilling sacrifice and won’t get any. People are promised they can keep driving their SUVs and their kids can keep going to Ivy League schools. Recruitment for the armed services is already down and large numbers of reserve forces will be eligible to go home in the not too distant future. It’s unlikely they will opt to reenlist and spend a few more years in the heat, sand and chaos that is Iraq. In fact, when all those military ballots from Iraq are counted we’re going to find out that our troops will be voting heavily Democratic.
In 2004 Americans are going to be in a nostalgic mood. The Clinton years were very good years in retrospect. Clinton asked in his first campaign “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” In 2004 the same question can be asked and the same answer will be apparent.
Winning back the presidency is one thing; winning back the Congress is another. That will be much more difficult and may well not happen, because redistricting by state legislatures has redrawn districts that are heavily partisan. But there is only a 12-seat difference in the House and a couple seats in the Senate. It is not beyond the realm of possibility.
So long George. Four years of you was more than enough.
Note: check out this entry for an update!