Sunday, October 03, 2004

What is Bush's Game?

What follows is a potential take on what Bush is up to. It could be dead wrong. As many have said, this is a man who is easy to understand as a person, frighteningly difficult to understand in terms of how he plays the political game. It may or may not be the case that the subtle “game of go” or “poker” strategies he uses are actually conscious on his part. It might be a deeper part of his intuition. From the perspective of my own worldview it’s even possible that he is getting help from the Great Poker Strategist Upstairs. He is after all a genuinely repentant, prayerful, humble man. That doesn’t count for nothing.

Let’s start by looking at the big themes of his presidency. I believe that the number one big theme for his running for the office in the first place was to restore dignity and honor to the presidency. In his point of view (and mine), 8 years of Clintonism had done tremendous damage to the moral fabric of the country. Not just damage in terms of this issue or that issue, but to basic things like the idea of what constitutes integrity, the importance of honesty, not bearing false witness against others to save your own hide, the sanctity of vows, etc.

A big component of what was going wrong was the media. A theme I saw from the beginning (the Florida fiasco), is that Bush wants to reign in the media, to cut them back down to size. He did not prevail in Florida via a propaganda campaign in the press, but via duly constituted authority (remember it was Gore who wanted to have a man-to-man meeting to hash out who the winner was, and also tried to prevail via a tsunami of disinformation, red herrings, sound bites “every vote should count”, emotional appeals “these people survived the holocaust, and now this?”). He probably had a low opinion of the press to begin with, but after the way he’s been treated for doing the right thing over the last few years…let’s just say that he is not willing to play their game, dance to their tune, or try to impress them. As far as Bush is concerned, screw style over substance. He wants a victory for substance, and is willing to risk losing due to style points.

Think about it. Bush does not run a 24/7 media war machine or “permanent campaign” like Clinton did (and the Dems and MSM still do). A victory for him via such methods is not a victory at all, for himself, or the country. During his presidency he has held back. The result? It’s staring us all in the face right now. Look at the Blogosphere. Look at the renaissance of discussion, analysis, and just plain thinking that is taking place. This is politics at the “grass roots”. This is engagement, this is involvement, this is a revolution!

Another big theme is the ascendancy of the Republican Party. A very interesting thesis I’ve read somewhere is that American politics runs in 36 year eras. In light of your knowledge of history, reflect on the following time periods: 1968-2004. 1932-1968. 1896-1932. 1860-1896. To me the pattern is pretty clear. Moving forward through time: Republican ascendancy. Republican “coasting” into defeat and not being right for the times. Democratic ascendancy. Democratic decline. Republican ascendancy has been in the air for a long time. Bush aims to make it happen. To give the country a new era comparable to 1932-1968, but under a Republican philosophy. I feel that if you really understand fiscal reality, this is just as crucial as the War on Terror. If we keep running under Democratic philosophical principles, we’re headed for the Third World. Look at Old Europe to see where the future lies unless there are some big changes.

So where does this leave us in terms of the current campaign? It’s evident to me that if the Dems had run on a credible national security platform, wherein they could be trusted to do the right thing (i.e. in some parallel universe), they could win based on the perception (erroneous in my view) that they are better on “domestic policy”. The conventional wisdom is that Bush would clean Kerry’s clock in the foreign policy debate. Well la-di-da. Isn’t that the ultimate “dog bites man” story? What could Bush say that he hasn’t already said ad nauseum for 38 months? If you don’t understand “preemption was necessary, the Arab world must be reconstituted, you do not cut and run, imply you might, or trash our allies” by now, you’re hopeless!

Similarly, in terms of the domestic debate, what can the Democrats say that they haven’t said ad nauseum for 38 years? Health care, tax cuts for the rich, grandma being thrown into the snow. Crypto Euro-socialism. Yawn.

The man bites dog story would be the Republicans kicking ass in the domestic policy debate. This is the place to make the case for a revolution. This is the place to concentrate on debate prep. This is the place to concentrate on knocking it out of the park. Massive tort reform. Abolishing the income tax. Making the cost of government easy for all to see via a simple consumption tax (with deduction to cover the basic cost of living). If not now, when? If not Bush, who?

Introducing these ideas this late in the election cycle could be a masterstroke. All attention will turn to Bush’s ideas, not Kerry’s. And there is not sufficient time for the entrenched forces opposing these ideas to put out any kind of effective countervailing message.

For these reasons, Bush did not have much stake in “winning” the foreign policy debate. He was content for a draw here, and frankly is probably not much interested in having to say the same thing over, and over, and over again. That would get boring for anybody. Moreover, after Kerry’s disastrous August and September, I’m sure Bush doesn’t mind putting back a little of the “Fear of God” into his supporters. Complacency kills, even if it is not consciously felt. Look at the discussion and analysis his “draw” has inspired among us! Look at the latest trap the MSM is walking into (transparently trying to spin up a Kerry surge, probably via multiple cycles of positive feedback: spin leads to movement in the polls lead to spin about the movement leads to movement, etc). There is also a meta-message that will hopefully be illustrated if Bush prevails in the domestic debate. Namely “Here is a president who can recognize his mistake and then fix it!” We’ve seen that Kerry can’t do this, so it is a powerful meta-message for Bush.

We may be looking at some dynamite political jiu-jitsu here. I certainly hope so.

Note: This was originally written as a comment to this fabulous discussion.

Update: I wrote a further assesment of Bush's strategy just after he came back swinging in the second debate.

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