The numbers for George W. Bush continue sliding into their long-awaited home and natural habitat -- the sewer. According to the latest AP-Ipsos poll, “Just 36 percent of the public approves of his job performance…. Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction…. Only 40 percent of the public approves of Bush’s performance on foreign policy and the war on terror [and] just 35 percent of the public approves of Bush’s handling of Iraq.”
Richard Nixon didn’t fare much better than that as he was ducking subpoenas, the press and impeachment. Still, although Nixon was crooked, at least he was competent in his own criminal way. With Bush you get criminal incompetence -- or is it incompetent criminality? Either way, even his increasingly tenuous allies are increasingly inclined to use “incompetent” to describe the reign of George II these days.
But is it merely demonstrated incompetence that has pushed Bush’s numbers into the toilet? I think not. I think it goes much deeper than that, and I think none other than Winston Churchill put his finger on the actual reason long ago with respect to his own martial circumstances.
The opening years of the Second World War were not hopeful ones for England. The Brits faced a long, hard road to victory and no one knew its lethal potholes better than Churchill. Rather than artificially sugarcoat the road for an anxious populace, however, in public pronouncements the prime minister always balanced his determined optimism with the stated potential of defeat.
“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away,” Churchill later wrote in looking back on his wartime conduct. “The British people can face peril or misfortune with fortitude and buoyancy, but they bitterly resent being deceived or finding that those responsible for their affairs are themselves dwelling in a fool’s paradise.”
A fool’s paradise -- otherwise known in contemporary parlance as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Yet it’s not so much that the Bush administration has been foolish -- mere foolishness the public often forgives; witness Bill Clinton’s reprieve -- or even that it hasn’t apologized for its monumental foolishness. It is, rather, the drip, drip, drip of this administration’s deceptions that the public now, finally, at long last, “bitterly resent[s].” They have been taken for a ride, they know it, and there’s no longer any denying it.
The faith-based neocon Bushies are famous for believing that they alone are capable of ignoring with success the lessons of history. Their shot at reinventing those lessons, however, first required deception. Recent events have shown just how wrong they’ve been, and how right honest realists such as Winston Churchill will always be.