Friday, December 9
"Gone Fishing," How the President Got a Life
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch.com, December 2005
The "usually disengaged" President, as columnist Maureen Dowd labeled him, had just returned from a prolonged, brush-cutting Crawford vacation to much criticism and a nation in trouble. (One Republican congressman complained that "it was hard for Mr. Bush to get his message out if the White House lectern had a ‘Gone Fishing' sign on it.")
Democrats were on the attack. Journalistic coverage seemed to grow ever bolder. Bush's poll figures were dropping. A dozen prominent Republicans, fearful of a President out of touch with the national mood, gathered for a private dinner with Karl Rove to "offer an unvarnished critique of Mr. Bush's style and strategy."
Next year's congressional elections suddenly seemed up for grabs. The President's aides were desperately scrambling to reposition him as a more "commanding" figure, while, according to the polls, a majority of Americans felt the country was headed in the wrong direction. At the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld had "cratered"; in the Middle East "violence was rising."
An editorial in the New York Times caught the moment this way in its opening sentence: "A simple truth of human existence is that it is vastly easier to amplify fear than it is to assuage it."
Now, there was a post-9/11 truth -- except that the editorial was headlined "The Statistical Shark" and its next sentence wasn't about planes smashing into buildings or the way the Bush administration had since wielded the fear card, but another hot-button issue entirely. It went: "Consider the shark attacks that have occurred in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina this summer."