Long-term Vision, Short-term Blindness

Conventional wisdom says that the Republicans are in real danger of losing one, if not both Houses of Congress this November. There has been a never—ending stream of bad political news for the President and his party since last year—the Libby—Plame affair (with the real target being President Bush's advisor and strategist Karl Rove), the supposed Federal 'failures' in response to the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, the President's misstep in the Harriet Miers nomination, the Tom Delay—Jack Abramoff episode, the United Arab Emirates port—control debacle, the NSA wiretapping/phone record collection, and of course, the War in Iraq. In each of these situations, the Antique Media have played their customary role in fanning the flames of public opinion for maximum anti—Republican impact.

Liberal bias in the media is old news. It exists, and it's not going away anytime soon. The drive—by media even seem willing to acknowledge the accusation from time to time, often citing polls and studies that purport to show they're not that biased after all.

The far more interesting take—away from all this is President Bush's almost total blindness to current political events. His predecessor, President Clinton, was absolutely unexcelled at managing the day—to—day political landscape. With the Svengali—like guidance of operative James Carville, Clinton perfected the art of pre—releasing potentially damaging information and putting his Administration's twist on it at the beginning of the news cycle, before the mainstream media even ran the story. Clinton was very rarely, if ever, blindsided into a reactive damage control mode. Even during the Lewinski affair, Clinton's 'war room' made sure that the most salacious findings of Ken Starr's investigation saw the light of day before they were officially released, reducing the impact of the news from 'Unbelievable!' to 'Yeah, I've heard that already.' Masterful.

President Bush is clearly not playing in the same league. His stunning inability to shape the daily news flow in a manner favorable to his administration and his party is inexcusable. The U.S. economy has created over 2 million jobs in the last two years, unemployment is at near—historic lows, consumer spending remains extremely strong, and the markets are an incredible 40—something percent higher than their post—9/11 lows. Yet the majority of the public seems to think we're in a recession and the President's team seems powerless to do anything about it.

Why is President Bush so completely incapable of controlling his own public perception? Interestingly, it's probably no accident. President Bush is one of the least poll—driven, least opinion—driven presidents in memory. He seems, instead, motivated almost entirely by his desire to put forth what he sees as the correct solution to a given situation.

This approach has netted him significant positive returns when it comes to long—term objectives. Rejecting the present—day pressures of 'diversity,' President Bush appointed two very significant Supreme Court members—Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, both white males—who will have a lasting impact on the Court's rulings for decades to come. His tax—reduction economic strategy, recently extended to at least 2010, will likely keep the country's economic forward momentum in place, even as the liberal sector continues to whine about 'tax cuts for the rich.' And in foreign policy, the President's recent initiative to India has the potential of cementing a relationship—both militarily and economically—with a country poised to become one of America's most significant partners in the coming decade.

President Bush took all of these actions because he undoubtedly thought them to be the right thing to do, not because they were short—term poll winners. It's especially frustrating to the President's supporters that he expends such little effort managing his public approval. His sporadic, verbally—challenged press conferences, his too—infrequent Oval office speeches to the nation—especially in a time of war or in the aftermath of a national disaster—his seeming reluctance to engage in the daily give—and—take of political hardball, all lead to the impression that the President is detached from the public, somehow disengaged and uncaring.

President Clinton may likely be judged by history as merely a 'caretaker' chief executive, presiding over an administration bereft of truly major domestic or foreign policy initiatives. He rode the wave—not of his making, certainly—of a terrific economy driven by a once—in—a—lifetime confluence of events: the lull between the ending of the Cold War and the time before the heating up of the War on Terror, coupled with the Internet explosion and the Y2K IT expenditure frenzy.  He did, however, 'feel our pain.' For that, we judged him a great communicator and awarded him with commensurately high approval ratings.

By comparison, President Bush's accomplishments—massive, fundamental tax reduction, the re—shaping of the High Court, the bridge to India, and the active attempt to defeat Terror and re—define Middle East politics forever—are not the stuff of which instant poll winners are made. Even his recent proposed resolution of the illegal immigration problem does not intentionally bend to any current whims, instead leaving large blocs unsatisfied on all sides of the issue.

History will undoubtedly be kinder to President Bush than the voters will be to his Party in the 2006 mid—term elections. Yet with some skillful events management, high instantaneous approval ratings and long—term accomplishments are not mutually exclusive. It's a shame the President and his team don't understand that.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.

Conventional wisdom says that the Republicans are in real danger of losing one, if not both Houses of Congress this November. There has been a never—ending stream of bad political news for the President and his party since last year—the Libby—Plame affair (with the real target being President Bush's advisor and strategist Karl Rove), the supposed Federal 'failures' in response to the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, the President's misstep in the Harriet Miers nomination, the Tom Delay—Jack Abramoff episode, the United Arab Emirates port—control debacle, the NSA wiretapping/phone record collection, and of course, the War in Iraq. In each of these situations, the Antique Media have played their customary role in fanning the flames of public opinion for maximum anti—Republican impact.

Liberal bias in the media is old news. It exists, and it's not going away anytime soon. The drive—by media even seem willing to acknowledge the accusation from time to time, often citing polls and studies that purport to show they're not that biased after all.

The far more interesting take—away from all this is President Bush's almost total blindness to current political events. His predecessor, President Clinton, was absolutely unexcelled at managing the day—to—day political landscape. With the Svengali—like guidance of operative James Carville, Clinton perfected the art of pre—releasing potentially damaging information and putting his Administration's twist on it at the beginning of the news cycle, before the mainstream media even ran the story. Clinton was very rarely, if ever, blindsided into a reactive damage control mode. Even during the Lewinski affair, Clinton's 'war room' made sure that the most salacious findings of Ken Starr's investigation saw the light of day before they were officially released, reducing the impact of the news from 'Unbelievable!' to 'Yeah, I've heard that already.' Masterful.

President Bush is clearly not playing in the same league. His stunning inability to shape the daily news flow in a manner favorable to his administration and his party is inexcusable. The U.S. economy has created over 2 million jobs in the last two years, unemployment is at near—historic lows, consumer spending remains extremely strong, and the markets are an incredible 40—something percent higher than their post—9/11 lows. Yet the majority of the public seems to think we're in a recession and the President's team seems powerless to do anything about it.

Why is President Bush so completely incapable of controlling his own public perception? Interestingly, it's probably no accident. President Bush is one of the least poll—driven, least opinion—driven presidents in memory. He seems, instead, motivated almost entirely by his desire to put forth what he sees as the correct solution to a given situation.

This approach has netted him significant positive returns when it comes to long—term objectives. Rejecting the present—day pressures of 'diversity,' President Bush appointed two very significant Supreme Court members—Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, both white males—who will have a lasting impact on the Court's rulings for decades to come. His tax—reduction economic strategy, recently extended to at least 2010, will likely keep the country's economic forward momentum in place, even as the liberal sector continues to whine about 'tax cuts for the rich.' And in foreign policy, the President's recent initiative to India has the potential of cementing a relationship—both militarily and economically—with a country poised to become one of America's most significant partners in the coming decade.

President Bush took all of these actions because he undoubtedly thought them to be the right thing to do, not because they were short—term poll winners. It's especially frustrating to the President's supporters that he expends such little effort managing his public approval. His sporadic, verbally—challenged press conferences, his too—infrequent Oval office speeches to the nation—especially in a time of war or in the aftermath of a national disaster—his seeming reluctance to engage in the daily give—and—take of political hardball, all lead to the impression that the President is detached from the public, somehow disengaged and uncaring.

President Clinton may likely be judged by history as merely a 'caretaker' chief executive, presiding over an administration bereft of truly major domestic or foreign policy initiatives. He rode the wave—not of his making, certainly—of a terrific economy driven by a once—in—a—lifetime confluence of events: the lull between the ending of the Cold War and the time before the heating up of the War on Terror, coupled with the Internet explosion and the Y2K IT expenditure frenzy.  He did, however, 'feel our pain.' For that, we judged him a great communicator and awarded him with commensurately high approval ratings.

By comparison, President Bush's accomplishments—massive, fundamental tax reduction, the re—shaping of the High Court, the bridge to India, and the active attempt to defeat Terror and re—define Middle East politics forever—are not the stuff of which instant poll winners are made. Even his recent proposed resolution of the illegal immigration problem does not intentionally bend to any current whims, instead leaving large blocs unsatisfied on all sides of the issue.

History will undoubtedly be kinder to President Bush than the voters will be to his Party in the 2006 mid—term elections. Yet with some skillful events management, high instantaneous approval ratings and long—term accomplishments are not mutually exclusive. It's a shame the President and his team don't understand that.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.