The Collapse of the Bush Presidency Poses Risks

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From
Rasmussen
Reports
, the favorite polling firm of Bush followers:

For
the second straight day, 35% of Americans approve of the way that
George W. Bush is performing his role as President. That's the
lowest level of Approval ever measured by Rasmussen Reports.

That polling
was conducted after the President’s “surge” speech. What is particularly
notable is this observation:

It is
interesting to note that the last time the President's Approval
Ratings hit a new low followed the President's speech on immigration.
Typically, President's (sic) expect to get a positive bounce
following a national address.

It really
is striking that whenever one is convinced that Bush’s unpopularity
ratings have reached their nadir, the one thing that can always
drive them even further downward is Bush’s appearance on national
television to explain himself to the country (or, to use Jules
Crittenden’s classic formulation:
for the President to “address us . . . and show us the way forward”).
Even after six years, the more Americans see and hear from George
Bush, the more they dislike him.

The collapse
of the Bush presidency is truly historic. It is always worth remembering
that when Richard Nixon was forced to resign the Presidency, his
Gallup approval
rating
was 25%. The 35% Rasmussen figure for Bush is above
the low points measured by most other polls (which is why it is
the favorite metric for Bush followers), but it is still abominably
low. AP-Ipsos reported several days ago that Bush had just reached
an all-time
low
in its poll – 32%.

If George
Bush continues to appear in public and makes speeches, he’s going
to soon be within the margin of error of Nixon’s resignation-compelling
unpopularity. While a weakened Bush presidency may appear intuitively
to be a cause for celebration, it poses a serious danger.

In a characteristically
perceptive Op-Ed
in this morning’s Washington
Post, Dahlia Lithwick makes the point that Bush’s extremist
actions – such as Jose Padilla’s detention, the Guantanamo
abuses, and omnipotence-declaring signing statements – have
no real objective except one: “The object is a larger one: expanding
executive power, for its own sake.”

When I began
writing about the Bush administration’s violations of FISA, what
confounded me at first was the sheer pointlessness
of the lawbreaking. It was not merely that the FISA court
has always allowed the President – all presidents –
to do whatever eavesdropping they wanted, and that bypassing it
was therefore unnecessary.

That is
true. But more significantly, if the President wanted FISA changed,
even radically, to vest him with still greater powers, the unprecedentedly
compliant post-9/11 Congress was as eager as could be to grant
all of his wishes and to give him whatever new powers he wanted.
It did so repeatedly, at exactly the time (October, 2001) when
he ordered eavesdropping in violation of the law.

In fact,
Congress did amend FISA
to grant expanded eavesdropping powers – in complete accordance
with the President’s request – at the very same time Bush
ordered illegal eavesdropping. As I wrote in my book:

The picture
that emerged [from the Times
story on NSA eavesdropping] presented a sharply contradictory
set of circumstances. A president who commanded the support
and loyalty of national politicians in both parties. A president
who sought, and was given, expanded powers by Congress to combat
terrorism. A Congress that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks,
repeatedly and with virtual unanimity agreed to every request
the president made. And yet a president who chose to secretly
order eavesdropping on American citizens, on U.S. soil, in violation
of the very law he had just requested.

The reason Bush
violated the law when eavesdropping is the same reason Lithwick
cites to explain his other lawless and extremist measures –
because he wanted purposely not
to comply with the law in order to establish the general
“principle” that he was not bound by the law, to show that he has
the power to break the law, that he is more powerful than the law.
This is a President and an administration that are obsessed first
and foremost with their own power and with constant demonstrations
of their own strength. Conversely, what they fear and hate the most
is their own weakness and submission to limitations.

For that
reason, the weaker and more besieged the administration feels,
the more compelled they will feel to make a showing of their power.
Lashing out in response to feelings of weakness is a temptation
most human beings have, but it is more than a mere temptation
for George Bush. It is one of the predominant dynamics that drives
his behavior.

His party
suffered historic losses in the 2006 midterm elections as a result
of profound dissatisfaction with his presidency and with his war,
and his reaction was to escalate
the war, despite (really, because of) the extreme unpopularity
of that option. And as Iraq rapidly unraveled, he issued
orders
that pose a high risk of the conflict engulfing Iran.
When he feels weak and restrained, that is when he acts most extremely.

Bush officials
and their followers talk incessantly about things like power,
weakness, domination, humiliation. Their objectives – both
foreign and domestic – are always to show their enemies that
they are stronger and more powerful and the enemies are weaker
and thus must submit (“shock and awe”). It is a twisted world
view but it dominates their thinking (and that is how our country
has been governed for the last six years, which is what accounts
for our current predicament). As John Dean demonstrated,
a perception of one’s weakness and the resulting fears it inspires
are almost always what drive people to seek out empowering authoritarian
movements and the group-based comforts of moral certitude.

The
most dangerous George Bush is one who feels weak, powerless and
under attack. Those perceptions are intolerable for him and I
doubt there are many limits, if there are any, on what he would
be willing to do in order to restore a feeling of power and to
rid himself of the sensations of his own weakness and defeat.

This great
Digby post
(including the update) concerns Iran and relates
to all of the issues in this post.

January
15, 2007

Glenn
Greenwald [send him mail]
is the author of How
Would a Patriot Act?
See his blog Unclaimed
Territory
, where this first appeared.

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