Stricken With "Race Memory"


Just as there was something satisfying in seeing Gerry Adams' career destroyed by the one murder in Northern Ireland he wasn't responsible for in the last 20 years, it would be a laff riot to see President Bush done in by something as demonstrably beyond his control as a hurricane. But count me as a skeptic of Robert A. George's interesting argument that Katrina has waterlogged Bush's chances for a successful second term. First, because I think "successful second term" is pretty much a redundant phrase. The history of successful and unsuccessful presidents is simple: The unsuccessful ones had one term. The successful ones had two (or more). There are a couple outliers (James K. Polk and Richard Nixon come to mind), but once you're past that second election, I'm not really sure what people mean about success or failure.

Alexander Cockburn has another (pre-Katrina) angle on this question:

If you accept the judgement of the polls this summer, George Bush is a stricken president. Leave aside his now permanent sub-50 per cent status in popular approval. Take his favored calling cards, the war and Iraq and conduct of the "war on terror". His status on the approval charts now shows him wallowing without mast or rudder in latitudes as low as the mid-30s. Honesty? Since Americans, with a race memory of fast talking snake-oil salesmen, often confuse honesty with inarticulateness and all round stupidity, Bush used to register well in this category. But even here he is bidding to join Nixon in the sub-basement of popular esteem, lodged at around the 40 per cent mark.

But hold! The measure of a stricken president is surely an inability to push through the legislation he desires. Remember Bill Clinton. By midsummer in his maiden year of White House occupancy, 1993, he was truly stricken and had to send a Mayday call for lifeboats, which duly arrived under the captaincy of Republican Dave Gergen, with Dickie Morris soon to follow. By July, 1993, as the receptacle of liberal hopes, the Clinton presidency was over.

Look now at Bush. Stricken he may be in the popular polls, but his political agenda flourishes.

Some pretty shaky claims make their way into this article. Bush's signing of the pork-larded Highway Bill—a piece of legislation the president initially threatened to veto—may prove that Bush, like Manly Pointer, has been believin' in nothin' all his life, but it's not evidence of a relentless "agenda." But the overall point is valid. I'll believe Bush is toast when I put my finger into the print of the nails and thrust my hand into his side.