It certainly doesn’t hurt.
Listen, I certainly have my issues with George W. Bush, but stop and think about this for a second: Maybe the Bush family gets elected because they are the only Republican candidates capable of capturing some moderates and conservative Democrats in a national election because, to a lot of reasonable people, the GOP is frighteningly extremist and out-of-touch. Is that possible? This country hasn’t elected a Republican President not named “Bush” in THIRTY YEARS.
First of all, thanks a lot for making me feel old.
Your question isn’t dumb at all. During his Presidency (and throughout his earlier career), Bush 41 was simply “George Bush”. His middle initials were not widely used until 1999 when it was clear that George W. Bush was a serious contender for the Presidency.
It’s kind of funny how strange it felt to refer to him as “George H.W. Bush” before getting used to it. Now, referring to him as just “George Bush” would seem weird despite the fact that we called him by that name for 12 years throughout his Presidency and Vice Presidency (and, for folks older than me, during his time in Congress, running the Republican National Committee, and serving as CIA Director).
Diplomacy in the [George W.] Bush Administration is, ‘Alright, you fuckers, do what we say.’”
Richard Armitage, George W. Bush’s Deputy Secretary of State
It is always better to lowball these things. If you perform, people are surprised. I really enjoy it when somebody says, ‘That son-of-a-bitch just got out a coherent sentence’.”
George W. Bush, on lowering expectations, to an Army General during a conference call on the Iraq War
I don’t know if “difficult to understand” would be the right term because most re-elections of incumbents can be explained pretty easily.
Let’s just look at your three examples — Nixon, Clinton, and Bush 43. As you mentioned, all three had it pretty easy when it came to their opponents. I have a ton of respect for George McGovern and Bob Dole, but they were no match for Nixon in 1972 and Clinton in 1996, respectively. And, of course, John Kerry was just a terrible candidate for President, so Bush got really lucky in 2004.
It’s important to note, however, that the scandals that tainted Nixon and Clinton didn’t start causing them major problems until after they were re-elected. The Watergate break-in happened during the ‘72 campaign, but the extent of Nixon’s in-depth involvement wasn’t revealed until after Nixon laid an ungodly Electoral College beatdown on McGovern that year — 520-17 was the score, 49 states for Nixon while McGovern took home just Massachusetts and the District of Columbia.
The Monica Lewinsky story didn’t break until January 1998, well after Clinton had coasted to re-election against Bob Dole in November 1996. And, even if Clinton had faced re-election at the same time he was being impeached by the House of Representatives, would it have mattered? Remember, Clinton’s approval ratings went UP while he was being impeached and put on trial by the U.S. Senate!
So, I guess we settle on George W. Bush by default. In retrospect, the 2004 election is definitely one that raises eyebrows. Bush was tremendously unpopular and the only reason he was re-elected was basically due to the fact that in John Kerry and John Edwards the Democrats nominated their worst Presidential ticket since the nightmarish duo of John W. Davis and Charles W. Bryan in 1924.
That 1924 Democrats ticket required 103 ballots before the Democratic Convention finally settled on a candidate. At that Convention, the Democrats nominated SIXTY different candidates for the Presidency! And if they had spent just a quarter of that time on coming up with alternate candidates 80 years later in 2004, George W. Bush probably would have lost that election.
The nation did not want to re-elect Bush in 2004, but the Democrats blew it by nominating John Kerry. You can’t really blame Kerry — you have to take that opportunity when you get it. It’s other leading Democrats who could have and should have stepped forward in 2004 who deserve the blame. Most of them recognize that they made a huge mistake by not running in 2004 because (a.) they could have won, and (b.) they may have lost their window for being President. Hillary Clinton is fortunate to be a resilient enough political figure that her window is still open. If Hillary had run in 2004, she would have beat Bush and would have been seeking re-election to the White House in 2008 instead of losing the Democratic nomination to the junior Senator from Illinois that year.
I really don’t know if I’ve answered your question. I guess my point is that none of those re-election victories are difficult to understand, but it is certainly frustrating that an incumbent as vulnerable as George W. Bush in 2004 was able to win another term. I guess the difficult thing to understand is how the Democratic Party, with its vehement opposition to Bush and increasing anti-Iraq War sentiment in 2004, nominated such an underwhelming ticket in such an eminently winnable campaign. I don’t know if I will ever fully understand that.
Do you know what is most frustrating about the 2004 election? Despite the terrible Democratic ticket, despite John Kerry, despite John Edwards, despite the lack of passion from Democratic voters nationwide, and despite everything that happened from the DNC in Boston until Kerry’s concession speech at Boston’s Faneuil Hall, one thing will always haunt Democrats: Kerry still almost won! The Electoral College count: Bush 286, Kerry 252. If more people had voted for Kerry than Bush in just one state — Ohio — on November 2, 2004, Bush would have been a one-term President.
Like I said, it’s not that I find anything I mentioned to be difficult to understand; it’s just a bitter pill to swallow — still, nearly a decade later.
No way — if George W. Bush had lost the 2004 election, he would have been a one-term President who started two wars, one of which was almost certainly a mistake, in just four years. It would have meant that Americans passed judgment on him less than two years into the Iraq War and decided that he failed. It would have meant no expansion of PEPFAR (in my opinion, President Bush’s greatest achievement and something he should be honored for), no change of strategy and Surge in Iraq to finally make some progress, and he would be ranked as one of the five worst Presidents in history. A second-term was necessary to try even build a positive legacy.
Yes, and it’s one of the few books that I’ve ever decided to take the time to write a negative review about. After reading Yoo’s book, I was so bothered by it that I absolutely decimated it in my review. This is how I summed it up:
What John Yoo does in Crisis and Command is examine the usage of Executive Power by legendary, widely beloved Presidents — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt — and attempt to, somehow, connect their actions and interpretation of the President’s power to George W. Bush’s actions following September 11, 2001. This is nothing more than a 500-page-long justification for trampling the Constitution, discarding American ideals, and circumventing the Geneva Convention by engaging in the torture and questionable detention of foreign nationals. And, it’s not just foreign nationals whose rights aren’t important to Yoo. As one of President Bush’s top lawyers, he also approved of Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program.
In Yoo’s opinion, Executive Power and Presidential prerogatives are more important than individual rights in times of war. Yoo makes a case that the expansion of Presidential power in wartime is a necessity and that all Presidents should make their decisions on national security with the understanding that what is most important is that the power of the Presidency is strong and the people are closely monitored (not merely safe, but “secure”) instead of the fact that the rights of ordinary American citizens are maintained and protected. The problem with this argument is that the President’s oath compels him to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States — not just his office or his power. No interpretation of the Constitution should allow torture, “enhanced interrogation” techniques, unlawful detention or rendition, and warrantless wiretapping, among other things. Justice is supposedly blind, but anyone who can’t see the injustice in this interpretation is truly the one without sight.
Crisis and Command is not a legalistic, scholarly look at the usage of Executive Power throughout American History. It is a blatant attempt to defend reprehensible policies by inexplicably trying to link them to completely unrelated applications of Presidential power from the time of Washington. John Yoo is not qualified to write this book. He knows the law, but he knows the law because he needed to understand it so that he could bend it, perhaps even break it. Here’s a good hint: never read a book focusing on the legality of certain powers by someone who has been investigated for war crimes.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday:
Now managing simultaneous operations against Sunni and Shiite extremists, Bush, Cheney, and the National Security Council heard from [Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul “Jerry”] Bremer and [Lieutenant General Ricardo] Sanchez over a secure videoconference on April 7. Bush was in a feisty mood. He declared that [Muqtada] al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army was a “hostile force” and that they could not let a single radical cleric change the course of Iraq. ”At the end of this campaign, al-Sadr must be gone,” Bush declared. ”At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out.”
[Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld asked whether the effort should be low intensity or high intensity, and the high-intensity President interrupted. As Sanchez remembered it, Bush delivered a sharp tirade. "Kick ass!" Sanchez recalled Bush saying. "If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them. We must be tougher than hell." He went on: "Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out. We are not blinking." If it stood out in Sanchez’s memory as perhaps more cartoonish than it really was, it reflected the President’s state of mind.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday:
In the midst of everything else, Bush was busy with reconciliation on another front. After years of estrangement from his alma mater, the President took another step toward peace with Yale University by hosting a reunion for his class of 1968 at the White House. Some of his classmates opted to stay away in protest of the war, an echo of the antiwar passions also roiling campus during Bush’s day. But for the President, it was a chance for closure of sorts, to come to terms with the elite side of his multifaceted heritage and put to rest some of the demons that had haunted him since his youth.
It was also a night when the compassionate side of his conservatism was on display. Among those in the receiving line that evening was Petra Leilani Akwai, who had been known in college as Peter Clarance Akwai before undergoing a sex-change operation in 2002. Dressed in an evening gown, Akwai nervously waited her turn.
"Hello, George," she said when presented to the President. "I guess the last time we spoke, I was still living as a man."
Bush did not flinch. ”But now you’re you,” he replied, leaning forward with a warm smile.
Tidbits from Peter Baker’s "Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House", available on Tuesday from Doubleday:
On the electoral front, John Kerry had locked up the Democratic nomination, and the Bush team was feeling on the defensive. Bush tried to settle down his jittery staff during a meeting in the White House residence.
"Listen, I’ve been involved in a lot of campaigns," he started, implicitly reminding his team that he had already seen five Presidential campaigns up close. "The accidental genius of the process in its length is it strips you bare. You’re totally revealed to the American people. You can’t hide who you are. It’s one of the reasons why people made fun of me with my pillow in 2000 and I wanted to get home. But you need your sleep. It’s exhausting." The bottom line this year, he added pointedly, was this: "We’re going to win because John Kerry is an asshole."
I got an advanced copy of Peter Baker’s new book, Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House (On-Sale: October 22nd), and I am speeding through it. Baker is a damn good journalist who wrote a great book about President Clinton’s impeachment (The Breach), and Days of Fire really takes you inside the Bush-Cheney Administration and shoots down all of those myths about Cheney controlling Bush. Especially interesting is how strained the relationship between Bush and Cheney was towards the end of their Administration. I highly recommend checking out Days of Fire when it is released on October 22nd.