The Mechanical President
Posted by Michael Signer
Jarring contradictions in today's WaPo. On the one hand, a front-page, above-the-fold story titled, "Major Change Expected in Strategy for Iraq War." The lede?
The growing doubts among GOP lawmakers about the administration's Iraq strategy, coupled with the prospect of Democratic wins in next month's midterm elections, will soon force the Bush administration to abandon its open-ended commitment to the war, according to lawmakers in both parties, foreign policy experts and others involved in policymaking.
On the other hand, just inside, on the Metro section, we find another front-page, above-the-fold story about President Bush's recent fundraising trip for Senator George Allen, where the President came up with this creative gem about Democrats:
"They would have our country quit in Iraq before the job is done," Bush said. "That's why they are the party of cut and run. We will fight. We will stay. We will win in Iraq."
More consistent with the first story, Allen himself was discomfited by the President's weirdly inflexible rhetoric (and the policy it implies):
Asked whether he agreed with Bush's "cut and run" statement, Allen said, "I'm not going to get in an argument here about the president's words versus my words."
He added: "The president has his ideas on Iraq, John Warner has his and I have mine."
What's going on?
The obvious and easy hit is to say conservatives are confused and chaotic, which they are. But the deeper and more interesting problem is why the President would adhere to what really is almost comically obstinate rhetoric.
It's almost robotic. Imagine this in a metallic, sci-fi tone: "That's why they are the party of cut and run," the mechanical President says, waving his arm up and down mechanically. "We will fight. We will stay," he repeats, the voice growing louder and more grating. "We will win in Iraq."
Press button, repeat cycle.
But this is what he actually said.
I can see two options: (1) the President believes this is right, or (2) he believes it is politically smart to act as if he believes this is right. There is a lot of talk in my circles right now about a hypothesis apparently advanced in Appleby's America (which I haven't yet read) that conviction in and of itself is a quality voters really do appreciate. They want to know that you care, deeply, even if the cause is lost or misbegotten.
That will obviously be put to the test shortly. But the fact that even the President's own Senators are delicately (or indelicately) parting ways from him -- on the same podium! -- suggests it might not be the right way for conviction for conviction's sake. At least not when it comes to Iraq.