Rough Riders

"Unquestionably, he was the greatest preacher ever to occupy the White House. Yet his egotism was strident, he was often self-righteous, and he sometimes acted ruthlessly…He was animated both by strategic considerations….and by the conviction that “superior” nations had the right and duty to dominate “inferior” ones in the interest of civilization. He was also moved by his idealization of war. Thus he declared in an address: u2018No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumph of war.’"

He was governor of a great state immediately before moving to the national capital. He loved the outdoors and manly pursuits. He was in excellent physical condition.

Teddy Roosevelt was our rough riding president from late 1901 through 1908. Seems like a hundred years ago, and then again, seems like only yesterday. A man who had overcome a difficult and challenging childhood, but who retained a weak child’s unseemly passion for war and affection for the powerful state. A man who loved being President and a certain kind of populism so much he later switched parties and ran once more, this time as a "Bull Moose" Progressive for the election in 1912.

He didn’t win as a Bull Moose, but he succeeded in breaking apart the Republican vote between letter of the law conservatives and social reform empire-oriented conservatives. All long before the age of the neocons, but perhaps foreshadowing it.

But back to the future. George W. Bush has been doing some rough riding, and Republican electoral vote counters are looking spooked and skittish. The speech Bush practiced in New Hampshire this past week was delivered with confidence, but was still full of the kind of lies that have worked before but are beginning to wear thin. One wonders, as the husbands and wives and sons and daughters rotate home from Iraq and Afghanistan, if it will be as easy next year to spin these lies to Americans.

The Bush administration’s fabrications, outright propaganda and strange secretiveness since the summer before 9-11, whether on the planned toppling of the Taliban, national security, energy policy, business dealings and paybacks, or just ideology, came with a political cost. Bush is now paying the immediate price, seen in his widespread lack of international and domestic popularity, and a reduced sense of security among Americans. But the more salient cost, one not so fleeting and ephemeral, is the gut-wrenching conclusion already made by a wide swath of young, middle-aged and older conservatives, many of them registered Republicans. These conservatives have decided that Bush is not one of them, and that Bush is at best a none-too-bright, big-spending Demopub-Republicrat. At worst, he is seen as a political changeling. To many it is as if some wicked fairy, on finding conservative values of small government, fiscal responsibility, and individual liberty unguarded, has stolen them away "leaving in their place … a block of wood animated by their enchantments."

The problem of political changelings is beyond the scope of this article. But a strategy that would allow Bush to increase his popularity as a bold populist leader, Teddy Roosevelt-style, does exist. We have witnessed the strategy in recent weeks with both Arnold and Rush. Passive-aggressive truth telling is the botox for the sagging political visage. Arnold says yes, I made mistakes, I behaved badly and groped women in the gym [so what, I am a tough guy in a man’s world]. Rush says, yes, I abused drugs, I lied about it, I take responsibility, pray for me [and I’ll be back even stronger against my political enemies who set me up]. Arnold is a landslide winner, with significant support among women, and Rush is as popular as ever.

On the other hand, exaggerated militaristic fightin’ words, like the 700 Club’s Pat Robertson’s Christian neo-con friendly national security booster shot — namely, sneaking a nuke into the State Department and setting it off — are increasingly reported and filed under Seriously Weird, and are not likely to bring in new or old electoral votes for Bush.

Ohio is going to be tough, but it is still possible. The governator will be courted and probably paid to deliver California’s votes, and it will still be dicey. But it is in Florida, where even with the family ties, George needs a real hook. And Rough Rider that he is, with Afghanistan and Iraq disasters already swallowed whole like live goldfish at a 1950’s frat party, Georgie is ready for another live one.

Fidel, my man, you’re going down. The man on the horse is back, baby, and he’s going to ride up San Juan Hill, and then he’s going to……well, you get the picture

Pulls in the Cuban-American and anti-communist vote, while leaving the rest of the Florida voting mob untouched, so long as prescription drugs can be free and no one admits that unending occupation in Iraq is one more pig on the social security insolvency pile. And with the new automated computerized voting machines in Florida, this should be all wrapped up a year from now.

The anti-Castro tack is like butter. Anti-communism and anti-terrorism blend nicely into one smooth and comforting God Bless America sound bite for Campaign 2004. But in tone, it is just a tad too Pat Robertson. (I mean, wouldn’t lighting up a nuke at Foggy Bottom take out Bush, Cheney and most of Congress too? Perhaps Robertson has been hiding his true genius all these years). Instead, Mr. Bush, why not learn from the recent strategies of Rush and Arnold? Repent your sins publicly, and with as much grace as you can muster. Say you made a mistake. In your case, Mr. Bush, exactly six of them.

Retire the terribly confused Mr. Cheney, and with him the grumpy grampy at the Pentagon and the neoconservative dancing triplets Perle, Feith and Wolfowitz. One of them probably leached Plage’s billet on the NOC list anyway. Like you say, we’ll never know who did it. This is your big opportunity to cut yourself loose and take a deep breath of fresh campaign air. And after this, if you say good-bye to the dreadful Mr. Ashcroft, you’ve not only defeated every Democratic opponent out there, you’ve eliminated the battlefield.

Getting rid of these six merry men won’t be as easy as taking down Fidel, but it would be the one thing that would guarantee the Republican Party votes as one with other conservatives and independents in 2004, making you a second termer. But then again, George, whoever inherits the domestic financial and national security maelstrom you have created is going to wish he was riding horses up on San Juan Hill, or at least on a ranch in Texas.

Forgive me. Perhaps that is your real strategy.