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When facts go out the window
Bush's failed presidency

November 2, 2004

If there has been one striking feature of the election of 2004, it's that the usual rules for presidents don't seem to apply to George W. Bush. A few weeks ago, Salon magazine published a highly interesting article. The article detailed a report from PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, at the University of Maryland at College Park.

According to the study's findings, a majority of Americans who support Bush believe things about the world that are objectively false, while most Kerry supporters believe things about the world that are true.

A majority of Bush supporters, the report says, actually believe that the president and his policies are popular internationally! In reality, polls have shown that Bush would be defeated in a landslide in almost every country in the world, if non-Americans could vote in today's election.

To an unprecedented extent, Bush's support seems to be divorced from hard facts. Other presidents--Jimmy Carter, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman -- were judged on their records. Although these men often ignited emotional feelings, those feelings generally had a basis in hard facts.

Many wealthy Americans hated FDR, but from their point of view, Roosevelt's New Deal policies were a good reason to hate him. With Bush supporters, it seems, facts go out the window. Instead, he is simply seen to be "moral," and--against all evidence--to be defending American against terrorism.

The strange thing is that Bush has been a failure by the very standards of success he has set for himself, and that his supporters have set for him. He has not been an effective leader of the war on terrorism. Although the Taliban in Afghanistan was -- at least temporarily --defeated, Osama bin Laden remains as elusive as ever, as he recently demonstrated. There is no clear evidence al-Queda has been weakened. The al-Queda leaders that have been killed have almost certainly been replaced.

Even more important, Bush has dramatically increased the danger to America's security by starting a war in Iraq which had no justification whatsoever. The president has repeatedly made misleading statements implying that Saddam Hussein was connected to 9/11. There is no evidence this is true. To invade Iraq in response to September 11th would be like the U.S. declaring war on India in response to Pearl Harbor. The chaos which prevails in Iraq has increased, rather than decreased, the chances of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of al-Queda.

The idea that Bush is particularly "moral" stands up to scrutiny no better than his claim to be an effective fighter of terrorism. As a recent episode of Frontline, the PBS television show, recently detailed, Bush has a history of dirty tactics against his opponents. He typically uses groups which are not "officially" connected to the Bush campaign, but which do have a connection in practice to do the mudslinging. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which has spread provably false accusations about John Kerry's war record, is only the latest example of this.

During the South Carolina primaries in 2000, groups linked to Bush made vicious attacks on Senator John McCain. Among other things, it was said that McCain gave his wife, Cindy, venereal disease. Bush could have condemned these accusations and had them stopped. Instead, he did nothing.

No less disturbing than Bush's policy failures, and his moral hypocrisy, is his systematic failure to think, and his refusal to admit mistakes. This are disastrous traits for a wartime leader. Bush believes that "consistency" is automatically a good thing. By this logic, George Wallace and Strom Thurmond, two arch-segregationists, should have remained racist all their lives, since by accepting civil rights for African-Americans, they "flip-flopped."

The Nazis were remarkably consistent in what they espoused. And Bush has done his share of flip-flopping. First, the war against Iraq was because Saddam had WMDs. Then, when this was proven false, it was because Saddam was a "bad guy" and because Iraqis will be "better off" without him. Why did we go to war, Mr. President?

Bush believes that to admit mistakes, and to acknowledge problems, is a sign of weakness. It is not. It is a sign of strength and courage. Bush's failure to admit he and his administration have done anything wrong amounts to cowardice.

The war in Iraq cannot be won. Whoever is president for the next four years will have to accept this. Yes, it is painful to admit this. But it is better than wasting even more lives than the Bush administration has already done. The U.S. should not repeat the mistakes of Vietnam, where America stayed for years partly because it could not admit that Americans killed in the Vietnam War had "died in vain."

President Bush clearly does not deserve a second term. His leadership has damaged America's security and wasted American lives, and he has utterly failed to be the "moral" and "compassionate conservative" he pledged to be in 2000. It is time for a change.

Lee Howard Hodges, B.A. M.A. Historical Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore.

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