The 'wartime' President

The Presidential election of 1992 was a watershed event in the history of American politics. It was uniquely significant not because of Ross Perot's 19% third—party vote having fatally diluted President Bush's support, not because of Clinton's 43% popular vote total being the smallest percentage by a winner in any Presidential election in 80 years, and not because of any stunningly new and revolutionary policy having been espoused by the winner.

It was a groundbreaking election because Clinton's campaign was masterminded and run by two political operatives of the highest order—James Carville and Paul Begala. Together, they created the 'war room,' a nerve center for collecting the day's most politically—relevant events, communications, press releases, wire reports, and articles from around the world, doing instantaneous analysis, and crafting campaign messages designed to take maximum advantage of good news while simultaneously framing their candidate's bad news in the most flattering and inconsequential light possible.

It worked brilliantly. The campaign's mantra of 'It's the economy, stupid,' has become political lore, and deservedly so. By concentrating on their main theme that 'President Bush will not improve the economy—and therefore not improve your lives—but Clinton will,' Carville and Begala fabricated a winning strategy. He won despite the fact that while still under President Bush's watch, the American economy had come out of its recession and was several quarters into positive growth.

Yet Bush's handlers couldn't match Carville's and Begala's mastery of the spin. In fact, 'spin' was not even thought of as a political term until that campaign. The generals in Clinton's War Room had won a precedent—setting victory on the American political battlefield: Reasonableness, decorum, and truth—already in short enough supply in previous election campaigns—would now be immediately sacrificed for even the slightest political gain. The win—at—all—costs, concede—nothing, scorched—earth mentality had taken over for good.

Unfortunately, only the Democrats seem to be waging this war. President Bush 43's Inaugural Address contained such far—reaching statements as these:

'The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.'

and

'In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.'

These are optimistic, forward—looking general expressions of hope for the future in which no sane, reasonable person could legitimately find fault or reason to disagree.

Yet the Democrats, displaying their well—orchestrated, disciplined, relentless strategy to unmercifully attack any Republican at any time for any reason, thus presenting any Republican gesture or idea in the worst possible context, unleashed a fusillade of criticism against President Bush after he made his remarks that completely negated any positive or propitiative effects he might have hoped would result from his speech.

The Democrats' Carville/Begala—inspired War Room attack has now opened on a new front: The Senate confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice's appointment as Secretary of State. In the past, the Secretary of State position has generally been approved in a bi—partisan manner, with relatively little controversy or serious dissent. However, this time the Democrats, giving into their haven't—gotten—over—the—reelection—of—George—Bush frustrations, unleashed a gratuitous, transparently partisan, histrionic attack on Dr. Rice designed to embarrass her and discredit the Administration in the public's eyes, strictly for the purpose of weakening the Republican party's credibility in future elections.

The attack has been further carried on by yet another of Senator Kennedy's increasingly shrill, caustic outbursts, behavior which in the past would have been considered unseemly for a senior U.S. senator, but which is now accepted as perfectly normal by the mainstream media, and therefore by the majority of the casually observant public. The other day, it was Kennedy. Tomorrow, it will be someone else.

These media—encouraged anti—Republican accusations and criticisms have a cumulative negative effect on the ability of any Republican President to credibly make his case to the electorate. There is a 'war' going on, and it's a war whose goal is to instantly shape and mold public opinion, using the events of the moment to deliver the rhetorical warheads. Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy are simply the latest proponents of the philosophy originated in the Carville/Begala War College of Instant Spin: Winning elections for Democrats is more important than national unity, more important than loyalty to our men and women in uniform, more important than that quaint old notion about 'Politics stopping at the water's edge,' and certainly more important than personal dignity or professional decorum.

President Bush is indeed a wartime president—fighting two wars—but neither he nor his staff seems fully aware of how badly outgunned they are in the War of Spin. Unfortunately, the country can't afford for him to lose either one.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.

The Presidential election of 1992 was a watershed event in the history of American politics. It was uniquely significant not because of Ross Perot's 19% third—party vote having fatally diluted President Bush's support, not because of Clinton's 43% popular vote total being the smallest percentage by a winner in any Presidential election in 80 years, and not because of any stunningly new and revolutionary policy having been espoused by the winner.

It was a groundbreaking election because Clinton's campaign was masterminded and run by two political operatives of the highest order—James Carville and Paul Begala. Together, they created the 'war room,' a nerve center for collecting the day's most politically—relevant events, communications, press releases, wire reports, and articles from around the world, doing instantaneous analysis, and crafting campaign messages designed to take maximum advantage of good news while simultaneously framing their candidate's bad news in the most flattering and inconsequential light possible.

It worked brilliantly. The campaign's mantra of 'It's the economy, stupid,' has become political lore, and deservedly so. By concentrating on their main theme that 'President Bush will not improve the economy—and therefore not improve your lives—but Clinton will,' Carville and Begala fabricated a winning strategy. He won despite the fact that while still under President Bush's watch, the American economy had come out of its recession and was several quarters into positive growth.

Yet Bush's handlers couldn't match Carville's and Begala's mastery of the spin. In fact, 'spin' was not even thought of as a political term until that campaign. The generals in Clinton's War Room had won a precedent—setting victory on the American political battlefield: Reasonableness, decorum, and truth—already in short enough supply in previous election campaigns—would now be immediately sacrificed for even the slightest political gain. The win—at—all—costs, concede—nothing, scorched—earth mentality had taken over for good.

Unfortunately, only the Democrats seem to be waging this war. President Bush 43's Inaugural Address contained such far—reaching statements as these:

'The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.'

and

'In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty.'

These are optimistic, forward—looking general expressions of hope for the future in which no sane, reasonable person could legitimately find fault or reason to disagree.

Yet the Democrats, displaying their well—orchestrated, disciplined, relentless strategy to unmercifully attack any Republican at any time for any reason, thus presenting any Republican gesture or idea in the worst possible context, unleashed a fusillade of criticism against President Bush after he made his remarks that completely negated any positive or propitiative effects he might have hoped would result from his speech.

The Democrats' Carville/Begala—inspired War Room attack has now opened on a new front: The Senate confirmation hearings for Condoleezza Rice's appointment as Secretary of State. In the past, the Secretary of State position has generally been approved in a bi—partisan manner, with relatively little controversy or serious dissent. However, this time the Democrats, giving into their haven't—gotten—over—the—reelection—of—George—Bush frustrations, unleashed a gratuitous, transparently partisan, histrionic attack on Dr. Rice designed to embarrass her and discredit the Administration in the public's eyes, strictly for the purpose of weakening the Republican party's credibility in future elections.

The attack has been further carried on by yet another of Senator Kennedy's increasingly shrill, caustic outbursts, behavior which in the past would have been considered unseemly for a senior U.S. senator, but which is now accepted as perfectly normal by the mainstream media, and therefore by the majority of the casually observant public. The other day, it was Kennedy. Tomorrow, it will be someone else.

These media—encouraged anti—Republican accusations and criticisms have a cumulative negative effect on the ability of any Republican President to credibly make his case to the electorate. There is a 'war' going on, and it's a war whose goal is to instantly shape and mold public opinion, using the events of the moment to deliver the rhetorical warheads. Barbara Boxer and Ted Kennedy are simply the latest proponents of the philosophy originated in the Carville/Begala War College of Instant Spin: Winning elections for Democrats is more important than national unity, more important than loyalty to our men and women in uniform, more important than that quaint old notion about 'Politics stopping at the water's edge,' and certainly more important than personal dignity or professional decorum.

President Bush is indeed a wartime president—fighting two wars—but neither he nor his staff seems fully aware of how badly outgunned they are in the War of Spin. Unfortunately, the country can't afford for him to lose either one.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.