Letter from America |
Why the Democrats hate President Bush
Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed writes from Princeton
First and foremost, the Democrats have not forgiven President Bush for "stealing" the 2000 Presidential election. The Dems were ready to ignore the fact that their candidate Al Gore received over 600,000 more votes nationwide than Mr. Bush and was still not elected; what they cannot forgive is Mr. Bush's appeal to the rightwing US Supreme Court to stop the Florida recount, and the US Supreme Court's decision to hear a case that should have been decided by the Florida Supreme Court, which had ordered the recount. As is common knowledge now, in a shameful display of partisan judicial activism, five Republican Presidents-appointed judges of the US Supreme Court stopped the recount and handed Mr. Bush the Presidency. In the eyes of many Democrats Mr. Bush is an illegitimate President.
For the sake of the country Mr. Gore and the Democrats bit the bullet and were willing to put up with Mr. Bush as long as he demonstrated humility and acknowledged the dubious nature of his election. To his credit, Mr. Bush did remain humble and modest for the first nine months of his Presidency. He busied himself with enacting tax cuts and the ethics of stem cell research. September 11 changed everything. The nation, including the Democrats, rallied around the President. In the months following 9/11, with the country solidly behind him, Mr. Bush provided much needed effective leadership. Everyone, including the Democrats, refrained from criticising the President.
As the November 2002 midterm congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial elections approached, Mr. Bush abused his immense popularity by painting the Democrats as soft on national security. Here were the Democrats supporting the President because he was leading the nation against its fight against terrorism, and there was Mr. Bush questioning the patriotism of those Democrats! The Democrats were furious! Specifically, it was the Democrats who had come up with the idea of the Department of Homeland Security; the Republicans initially opposed it because of the cost. During the congressional debate on the bill, the Democrats fought to give the employees of the new department the right to unionise. Mr. Bush seized upon the opportunity to accuse the Democrats of being against the Department of Homeland Security, although it was the Democrats who had come up with the idea in the first place! During the 2002 Senatorial election campaign in the state of Georgia, the Republicans ran ads with pictures of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden next to the incumbent Democratic Senator Max Cleland, purporting to allude that Senator Cleland had things in common with the two criminals. Democrats were incensed because Senator Max Cleland is a genuine war hero who lost both his legs fighting for his country in Vietnam, whereas Mr. Bush pulled all the strings to avoid service in Vietnam, opting instead for the safety of Texas National Guard, that too by leapfrogging over 500 candidates who were ahead of him! Thanks to the Republican smear tactics, Senator Cleland lost.
With so many people out of work and the economy tanking before the November 2002 elections, the writer asked his Congressman why the Democrats were not making the economy the main election issue. "The President defines the national agenda," he answered.
It was only partially true, even then. In truth, the Democrats were afraid to attack the popular President -- except in Louisiana. Since none of the Senatorial candidates in the state of Louisiana received 50 percent of the popular votes in the November 2002 election, there was a run off election between the Republican and the Democratic candidates a month later. The Republicans pulled out all the stops to unseat the Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu, who also happens to be the prettiest US Senator. President Bush, his father, his Vice President, his political brain Karl Rove, and everyone of any consequence in the Republican Party visited Louisiana multiple times in an effort to defeat Senator Landrieu. Senator Landrieu counterattacked the highflying President, saying that Mr. Bush and the other outsiders had no business lecturing the Louisiana voters how they should vote. Senator Landrieu retained her seat! The Landrieu experience -- that it is possible to counterattack Mr. Bush and win -- was lost on all Democratic presidential candidates except an obscure Governor of the state of Vermont, Howard Dean.
All the leading Democratic Senators, including John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, voted for the Senate resolution authorising war, if necessary, against Iraq. However, the Democratic Senators added caveats such as the absolute necessity to seek UN approval and to court allies, and not to start a war unilaterally. The Democrats also stipulated that the war should be the last resort. With the war resolution under his belt, the President completely ignored the caveats for the Democratic support. He bypassed and insulted the United Nations, ridiculed the traditional allies such as France and Germany for raising legitimate doubts about Iraq's WMDs which everyone now knows did not exist, and went to the neocon-triggered war as the first resort, with only the UK by its side. The Democrats fumed.
With the apparent quick victory over the toothless Iraqi army, President Bush could not suppress his glee. On May 1 of last year, the President donned a pilot's uniform and stage-managed his controversial landing on an aircraft carrier off the coast of California to declare major hostilities over in Iraq. Although the aircraft carrier was very close to the coast, the President landed from the opposite side so that the camera gave the impression the episode had taken place somewhere in the middle of the ocean! It later transpired that the White House had supplied the sign "Mission Accomplished" that formed the backdrop for the President's speech! The Democrats were furious. When the nation called, Senators like 2000 Democratic Presidential candidate Al Gore and the 2004 Democratic frontrunner John Kerry put their lives on the line for their country, and both fought heroically in Vietnam. Mr. Bush on the other hand joined the National Guard, which is where rich kids with political clout escaped to, to avoid being physically harmed in Vietnam. And here was Mr. Bush purporting to be an out and out patriot and landing on an aircraft career to proclaim victory in Iraq. That is why the rallying cry for the Democratic Presidential front-runner John Kerry is, "some of us really know something about aircraft carrier landings!" Stage management of the President continued through his surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Baghdad last November when it was revealed that the huge turkey with which he entered the mess hall and which he supposedly was going to serve the soldiers was fake and was supplied by his cronies at Halliburton! Democrats realised that Mr. Bush is not the real package; he is really packaged!
By a long shot the mission was not accomplished in Iraq; it was only beginning. The President had remained heedless to the warning of the well-wishers that winning the war would be easy, but winning the peace would not. With the dribs and drabs of mounting casualties in Iraq, Americans began taking a closer look at how America got into this mess. What they found was presidential deceit, if not outright lies. The nation was alarmed when weapons inspector Dr. David Kay declared last month that there are no WMDs in Iraq, and that none existed before the American attack. Governor Howard Dean was the first politician to exploit the Democrats' anger at the President. While the other Democratic Presidential candidates hesitated, Dean began a frontal attack on the President and his policies, which catapulted him to the top. Dean's support was soft. He too had not served in Vietnam, and the Democrats realised that he would not be able to defeat Bush one on one. Dean's fortunes fizzled out after January's Iowa caucus forcing him to quit last week. When General Wesley Clark entered the race too late, he instantly, albeit temporarily, became the front-runner because of his military credentials. But Clark was no politician, made blunders and eventually ran out of money and dropped out. Senator John Kerry adopted Dean's anti-Bush platform, and because he is a war hero, immediately became the front-runner, apparently for keeps.
In his February 7 interview with Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" President Bush asserted that he would not lose the presidential election in November 2004. Of course Karl Rove and the Republican juggernaut will do everything in their power to make that prediction come to fruition. What one worries about is where America's interest ends and George Bush's personal interest begins. What happens when the two interests collide? For example, this is what Thomas Friedman, The New York Times' pro-Israeli op-ed columnist wrote on February 4 in his column: "Sharon has the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under house arrest in his office in Ramallah, and he's had George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office. Sharon has Arafat surrounded by tanks, and Bush surrounded by Jewish and Christian pro-Israeli lobbyists, by a Vice President, Dick Cheney, who is ready to do whatever Sharon dictates, and by political handlers telling the president not to put any pressure on Israel in an election year -- all conspiring to make sure Bush does nothing." The Bush team clearly believes that this "give Sharon anything" strategy is good for Mr. Bush's reelection chances. The question is: is it good for America's long-term interests?