Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, May 19, 2006

"People are unsettled," Bush pronounces...

... and David Gregory tried to inject a little reality into an interview Bush gave him while touring the border. The transcript went like this:

GREGORY: Let me ask you about your leadership. In the most recent survey, your disapproval rating is now one point lower than Richard Nixon’s before he resigned the presidency. You are laughing.

BUSH: I’m not laughing--

GREGORY: Why? Why do you think that is?

BUSH: Because we are at war, and war unsettles people. Listen, we got a great economy. We’ve added 5.2 million jobs in the last two and a half years. People are unsettled.

GREGORY: But they’re not just unsettled sir. They disapprove of the job you’re doing.

BUSH: That’s unsettled.

No, George, unsettled is Grandma's state of being when needing a little extra Metamucil.

Unsettled is how you feel watching your thirteen-year-old perfectly lip-sync Jessica Simpson songs.

Unsettled is your mood when getting onions on your burger after saying, "no onions," twice.

Here's how the Random House Unabridged defines "unsettled":

1. not settled; not fixed or stable; without established order; unorganized; disorganized: an unsettled social order; still unsettled in their new home.
2. continuously moving or changing; not situated in one place: an unsettled life.
3. wavering or uncertain, as in opinions or behavior; unstable; erratic: an unsettled state of mind.
4. not populated or settled, as a region: an unsettled wilderness.
5. undetermined, as a point at issue; undecided; doubtful: After many years the matter was still unsettled.
6. not adjusted, closed, or disposed of, as an account, estate, or law case.
7. liable to change; inconstant; variable: unsettled weather.

I'd presume that def. 3 is the one Dubya had in mind, although def. 7 might more accurately describe the American public on many issues. Nevertheless, none of them apply to the actual matter at hand. A majority of the public are now decidedly not unsettled in their opinions of the Wanker-in-Chief. About 70% of the public no longer like this man for one reason or another. They don't trust him. They don't like the direction he's taking the country. They think he's doing a lousy job. Some of them think he stinks to high heaven. Some of them think he's a raving lunatic. Some even fuckin' hate him. No small number want him impeached. Some of those want him impeached and thrown in the clink for war crimes.

Bush gives the Iraq war as the reason for that "unsettled" public mind, and yet, it is precisely the war and Bush's duplicity about that war--about its conception, its gestation and its aftermath--that has gelled and hardened people's attitudes toward Bush. Some of those Bush critics are certainly upset because there was no clear-cut win for the home team. Most, however, have come to the certain and unshakeable conclusion that they were manipulated and misled by Bush and Co. into supporting an unnecessary war which has resulted in the loss of much blood and treasure, with no end to those losses in sight.

What's behind this "unsettled" business? More of Bush's intractable tendency to inflexibility of thought? More unwillingness to acknowledge the obvious? Bush's increasingly obnoxious inability to admit a mistake? After all, Gregory asked the question precisely because of those known tendencies of Bush to embrace the bubble-boy syndrome.

All those Bush attributes figure into it, but the root cause may well be that Bush doesn't really care what the public thinks of him. The Bush White House has stated from the start that it doesn't pay attention to polls, and this may actually be true, in one sense. Rove and the political arm of the White House do, in fact, pay very close attention to polls, but mainly for testing which words work, and which do not. The message constantly changes according to those results, but the underlying politics are exactly the same--we do what we want, when we want, and the public be damned. Polling serves only to adjust the message, to disingenuously maximize positive public opinion for what are, in fact, highly elitist and exclusionary policies.

The current problem for Bush--according to conventional wisdom--is that the public is no longer buying any of the messages. The news from Iraq is bad, and nothing Bush can say can change that--even his repeated assertion that the media is concentrating on the bad and not accentuating the good. The reason for that is simple--Americans like short, quick wars in which the U.S. wins, decisively, and every day that does not happen reinforces negative public opinion. Vietnam is a model for that circumstance. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. has now been at war, occupying those two hostile countries, for almost fifty-six months, nearly a year longer than U.S. involvement in WWII.

Two things have mitigated against any real improvement in the way the public thinks of Bush--his pronouncements that the "war on terror" will go on indefinitely, and his statement that withdrawal from Iraq will be a problem future presidents will have to solve. Bush, himself, has told a public wanting a short war that this will not be a short war. The public reaction to such pronouncements is predictable.

Bush has a marked tendency to reduce all argument to contradiction, thus using the power of his position to "win" the argument--to be the last person to say, "is so." The public will have to live with that for a while longer, but they won't be liking it. Bush knows, though, that in his world, what they think doesn't matter. As long as he's in office, his friends are getting very, very rich, and he knows that their appreciation will accrue to him after he leaves office, as was the case with his father before him. It should be the Bush family motto: "Public Service for Private Gain."

Remember what Bush said to Bill Hangley, Jr., on the 4th of July, 2001: "Who cares what you think?"

The wars go on because they're very profitable for some in this country. That may even be one of the strongest reasons to expect an attack on Iran. The public may know that, by now, but it doesn't matter what they think. They won't be putting easy money in Bush's pockets after he leaves office in 2009. Every decision Bush has made has money in mind, whether that be campaign money, or profits for his base. The benefits will eventually accrue to him. Even so-called immigration reform will mean billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded receipts for the government contractors and stockholders who are the intended beneficiaries of any Bush program.

Bush has needed the public for one thing, and one thing only--its votes. That's the only opinion of the public he's ever cared about. If they no longer think so well of him, that their opinions are "unsettled" to him, still and all, those opinions are of no further interest to him. They thought well of him in November, 2004, and that is all that has mattered. The voters have already made their contribution to his retirement fund.

Occam's Razor, simplified, says that the most direct and simplest solution to a problem is most likely to be the right one. The psychology of Bush's indifference to public opinion is likely complex, impinging on many different pathologies, and some of those analyses may provide some insight into his character. But, the simplest answer is that the public is no longer of any use to Bush. After a life spent in service to one's self and one's cronies, public opinion is something to be used, not respected, and to be dismissed when it is no longer of any use. There's now no logical reason to expect from Bush anything other than indifference. Bush was laughing and smirking. Who cares what you think?


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