Moving from strength to strength while seeming to lose ground

A year and a half ago, American was said to be in the throes of a “jobless recovery.” President Bush predicted that, with his tax cuts in place, the economy would continue to grow and we would see that growth reflected in substantial net job creation.
This turned out to be the case. But by the time it occurred, we were said to be hopelessly bogged down in the “quagmire” of Iraq. Bush, it seemed, had done nothing right since the fall of Saddam. Iraq was out of control, ordinary Iraqis were disgusted with America, and we had no “exit strategy.” When Bush said that elections, in effect, were our exit strategy because they would give Iraqis the necessary stake in the future of their country, he was greeted with derision. Indeed, his refusal to postpone elections provided additional evidence, if any were needed, of his cluelessness. But the elections were a smashing success, and the tide has turned.
By then, the president had delivered his second Inaugural Address, in which he extolled the transformative power of democracy. Critics, including some conservatives, were appalled. Promoting democracy in Iraq would be tough enough. What basis existed for believing that it had a near-term future in the rest of the Middle East? Within a few months, that basis seems to have emerged, given developments in Lebanon and, to a lesser degree, elsewhere in the region. Once again Bush seems to be on the right track.
Yet his poll numbers are down. Pundits attribute this to gas prices, the Terri Schiavo dispute, the social security debate, etc. I think the answer lies in the fact that people aren’t paying much attention to politics, and thus are defaulting to the tenor of MSM spin. This hypothesis is probably impossible to test, but I rely in part on the phenomenon of the convention “bounce.”
Conventions represent one of those moments when America (a) pays some attention to politics and (b) gets a much less MSM-filtered view of the world. Thus, the extent to which a party or does or does not get a convention bounce can be instructive. Last summer, the Democrats got essentially no bounce from their convention. Like others, I suggested that this was due to the fact that their message already had been widely promoted by the MSM. A few weeks later, President Bush received, as I recall, more than a 5 percentage point bounce from the Republican convention. He did not obtain this bounce on any spectacularly good news the Republicans were able to tout. He obtained it, I think, because, with a bit of reflection, people realized that on most fronts (the economy and the overall war on terror) things were going reasonably well.
Today, the news (if it were reported) is better. Arguably, the situation is somewhat closer to 1988, when the economy was prospering and things had turned our way in the Cold War, than to last summer. In 1988, Vice President Bush went into his convention trailing by double digits after the administration had been pounded for months by the MSM over Iran-Contra, etc. By the end of that convention, if memory serves, the entire Dukakis lead had disappeared. It’s amazing what can happen when Republicans get to talk to America. And it’s even possible to talk to America in the absence of a political convention.


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