Stricken With "Race Memory"

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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.

NEXT: I Didn't Realize One Cancelled out the Other

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  1. I'm votin' for James "Kool" Polk... WHO LOVES YA BABY?!?!

  2. I can't help but wonder how this story would have evolved if Al-Qaeda had blown the dikes.

  3. Ed--

    According to some apologists I've read, things would have gone quite spiffily if Al-Qaeda had blown the levees; the reason everything was such a clusterfuck is that the government is prepared to handle terrorist attacks, but not natural disasters.

  4. > when I put my finger into the print of the
    > nails and thrust my hand into his side.

    NO ONE thinks Bush deserves that allusion.

  5. "the government is prepared to handle terrorist attacks, but not natural disasters."

    Well, contrary to public opinion, you really can't create a foolproof response for either. I guess you could warn people not to live in New Orleans, or jack up everyone's taxes to try and make the nation's cities disaster-proof. Who will support the massive tax hikes necessary to do all that? Can I see some hands? Anyone?

  6. I for one see the political capital Prez Bush may have had last November was kept in the First Bank of New Orleans. He won't be getting to it until the flood waters recede, and then he might find it water logged and covered in E. Coli!

    Look out Iran!

  7. I suspect that his "success" will be measured by his party's success in the 2006 mid-term elections and his ability to get his SCOTUS nominees confirmed.

    I saw an article the other day that showed that Gerald Ford vetoed more bills in his 2 1/2 years as President than Bush has (or will) in his two terms. Nothing says the party of smaller government like the non-stop real, per-capita growth of the Federal government.

  8. Gerry Adams' party became the largest "Catholic" party in the Northern Ireland Assembly in the last elections, which took place after the murder in question. His opponents, the SDLP, are down to one seat.

  9. I don't think "disaster proof" is attainable or realistic, but the response here was so inept that it shows we could make our responses MUCH better 9be it locally, statewide, or nationally - in fact, all three with overlapping responsibilities would be a better approach). The terrorist versus "natural disaster" discussion is meaningless in that, after the disaster is wrought, our immediate response to the victims of that disaster is not dependent upon how it was wrought.

  10. our immediate response to the victims of that disaster is not dependent upon how it was wrought.

    How do you know this?

  11. I saw an article the other day that showed that Gerald Ford vetoed more bills in his 2 1/2 years as President than Bush has (or will) in his two terms. Nothing says the party of smaller government like the non-stop real, per-capita growth of the Federal government.

    Comment by: Swill at September 6, 2005 02:39 PM

    Since Bush II hasn't vetoed a single bill, it's not surprising Ford vetoed more.

  12. Stricken he may be in the popular polls, but his political agenda flourishes.

    we'll have to see about the state of his agenda -- the republican party all but owns k street after making years of payments. i don't think that evaporates without a noise. the republican party is too well ensconced.

  13. I would say that most post-WW2 second terms have been unsuccessful, at least in political terms.

    (1) Truman from 1945-8, though frustrated by a Republican Congress after 1946, did at least manage to get the Marshall Plan and the program of containing communism going--and to get himself re-elected. His second term witnessed an almost total failure to get his Fair Deal programs through Congress (despite the Democratric victory in 1948), the Communist victory in China, war and stalemate in Korea, the rise of Joe McCarthy, etc. He ended his second term *very* unpopular.

    (2) Ike in his first term could claim to have ended the Korean War (though it could be argued that Stalin's death had more to do with that) and to have helped make America more prosperous. In his second term, we had Sputnik, two recessions (in 1957-8 and 1960), the Democrats won an overwhelming victory in the 1958 elections, and in 1960 took over the White House.

    (3) Nixon--nuff said.

    (4) Reagan--the only really successful second term in modern history. Not only was there peace and (despite the 1987 market crash) propserity, but in spite of Iran-Contra and the Democratic takeover of the Senate in 1986, Reagan recovered his popularity and was able to hand over office to his preferred successor.

    (5) Clinton--Monicagate didn't lead to his ouster, it's true, and his popularity ratings actually went up because many people thought the Republicans were overreaching with impeachment. Still, having to defend himself took up a huge amount of time and energy, and really destroyed any chance he could get anything constructive done in his second term. And it probably cost the Democrats the 2000 election: with peace, prosperity *and* no-Monicagate, even as inept a campaigner as Gore would probably have won.

    (6) As for Bush, even before Katrina his biggest domestic intitiative--Social Security individual accounts--was foundering and there seemed (and seems) no exit from Iraq. Yes, he'll be able to fill a couple of Supreme Court vacancies, but even that probably won't re-make the Court as much as conservatives hope or liberals fear, since there willl still be Kennedy and the four justices to Kennedy's left. He got CAFTA through, but that will have minimal economic effects, and in 2006 will probably hurt the Republicans who voted for it.

    So it may be true that to be considered successful a president usually needs more than one term--but that only menas that the *first* term was so successful that he *got* re-elected, not that the second term itself was successful.

  14. Bush II hasn't vetoed a single bill

    because he doesn't ever see a bill the gop didn't implicitly allow to get to his desk. when you own the lobbyists, you control the congressman's money; when you control the congressman's money, you control the legislative branch.

  15. Actually, David T, Reagan's popularity at the end of his term was lower than Clinton's. Name a controversial initiative he was able to get through in his second term? I'm thinking of Bork.

    For some reason, the reality of Reagan's second term collapse has gone down the memory hole.

  16. 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

    How has Gerry Adams' career been destroyed? He is still the leader of Sinn Fein which is the largest nationalist party in the north of Ireland.

  17. Race memory? I didn't know American was a race.

  18. For some reason, the reality of Reagan's second term collapse has gone down the memory hole.

    My first presidential election, voting wise was 1988. I had been happy with R. Reagan and was looking forward to voting Republican, and maybe joining the party. Then Iran Contra hit. As it is, I have never voted Republican for president (and only voted Democrat for prez once). So, one voter was lost at least.

  19. My own "race memory" is pretty much restricted to that time Speed Racer was up against The Mammoth Car. I used to think that was the coolest episode ever.

    That and the time it was Speed vs. the daredevil acrobatic racing team; I forget their exact name.

  20. I had to look it up. It was the Car Acrobatic Team. That was a Racer X episode, too. Those were always good. Besides, I always wanted to be Racer X, not the scarf-and-false-eyelashes-wearing Speed. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

  21. Has anybody been talking about the obvious symmetry between 9/11 and Katrina with relation to where they happened in Bush's two terms? I ask because I have not been following most of the Katrina discussion because I find it to be largely without value.

    Anyway, two large disasters, the consequences of which could be reasonably attributed to government at least at some level; the Presidential opportunity to come out as a hero; etc.?

    It appears (glancing over just these threads) that people have written Bush off as a lame duck already because of Katrina. One would think that this would be his big chance to show off the power and usefulness of the DHS (if it exists), and to once again capture the stage as a real leader, etc., etc.

    Just a thought.

  22. From Nagging Question Dep't:

    "our immediate response to the victims of that disaster is not dependent upon how it was wrought.

    How do you know this?"

    Clarification: It would not matter if the levees had been breached because of the hurricane or if they had been breached because a terrorist blew them up. The fact, for the victims, was the levee was breached and the disaster, from their standpoint would be the same. Granted, if the terrorists had used a more sophisticated device that also blew chemical agents or nuclear weapons, then those would be mitigating factors. But in an apples to apples of the consequences, from the victims standpoint, they are still drowning.

  23. Joe: "Actually, David T, Reagan's popularity at the end of his term was lower than Clinton's."

    Even the not-exactly Reagan-friendly http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=1192 acknowledges that "Reagan finished strong with a December 1988 Gallup poll recording a 63% approval rating." My point is not that it was the strongest in history--as you note, Clinton finished even stronger. But the 63% was nevertheless quite a recovery from the 46% he had hit during Iran-Contra. I *do* recall Reagan's "second-term collapse"--and what I find impressive is that unlike other presidents' second-term slumps, Reagan managed to overcome his 1987 unpopularity at least to the extent of enabling GHW Bush to be elected in 1988. Furthermore, though Clinton's job perfromance rating was high, people's *personal* opinion of him was low after Monicagate, and yes, that did rub off on Gore to some extent. Or at the very least Gore *thought* it rubbed off on him, so he tried frantically to disassociate himself from Clinton in a way he would not have done had there been no Monicagate. Even if you assume Monicagate cost Gore very few votes, "very few" was enough.

    But, you may say, even if Reagan recovered his popularity and helped to get Bush elected, he wasn't able to get any controversial "Reaganite" measures through Congress in his second term. This is true enough, but it is also true of the second two years of his first term. The "Reagan Revolution" could only be possible under circumstances like 1981 when the Republicans and Boll Weevils combined had a majority in the House. Once that was lost in 1982 Reagan couldn't ger much controvresial through Congress. *But he didn't have to*--the keystone of his program, the tax cuts (which remained substantial even after he had partially offset them by agreeing to "revenue enhancements" in 1982) had already passed, and all he had to do was to be in a position to veto, if necessary, any attempts to do away with it.

    Second terms in general are less successful than first ones. But between Reagan's second term troubles and Clinton's (or Nixon's or Truman's or even Ike's) I'll take Reagan's---all's well that ends well (i.e., with your party still in control of the White House). And unless he kills or captures bin Laden I doubt that W will end his term at 63 percent...

  24. Clarification: It would not matter if the levees had been breached because of the hurricane or if they had been breached because a terrorist blew them up. The fact, for the victims, was the levee was breached and the disaster, from their standpoint would be the same. Granted, if the terrorists had used a more sophisticated device that also blew chemical agents or nuclear weapons, then those would be mitigating factors. But in an apples to apples of the consequences, from the victims standpoint, they are still drowning.

    Okay. What I was trying to suggest with my question above was that the NO residents might have been treated very different by rescuers (and potential rescuers) if the levee breach had been a simple, but deadly, terrorist bomb. For example, it is possible to imagine that, if a terrorist bomb caused this, then the evac effort might have swifter, bigger and more co-ordinated. I am not sure about this, which was part of the reason I was asking you. What do you think -- do you think that greater or lesser or equal efforts would have been made had this been the work of some new-style-mcveigh-unabomber type? What if it were an Islamofascist?

  25. As a man blessed with Scottish ancestry, my racial memory consists of barroom floors and fighting in countries we had no business being in.

    My god, I have something in common with Bush.

  26. Actually, there is a difference between preparing for the terrorist destruction of a levee and preparing for the destruction of a levee by a hurricane. Terrorist attacks occur without any warning. So if your plans are focused on dealing with terrorist attacks, they probably won't cover things like activating resources and procuring funds in advance of the destruction. They'll focus exclusively on what to do *after* the levee's been destroyed and lots of people have been killed.

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