The president's new feel-good ads.

Political ads dissected and explained.
March 5 2004 5:00 PM

Morning in Bush's Head

The president's new feel-good ads.

(Continued from Page 1)

This is the only demonstrably untrue statement to be found in these three ads. Tellingly, it is also nearly the only statement of fact in any of them.

From: William Saletan
To: Jacob Weisberg

That's a great catch about misstating the start of the recession. I missed that. I was too mesmerized by the ad's massive sleight-of-hand, recasting everything that's gone wrong under Bush as a "test" or a "challenge" presented to him at the outset. Bush won the presidency in 2000 by reframing everything that had gone right under Clinton as a given, to which Clinton had failed to add more. The "prosperity" had been handed to Clinton, who in turn had failed to put it to a larger "purpose." Now Bush plays the same game with his own administration. The recession that began two months into Bush's term? The terrorist strike that happened eight months in? Well, as Bush likes to say, if you've got a problem, blame somebody else.

What really kills me is when Bush includes in his list of challenges the "march to war" in Iraq. As he put it yesterday, "Laura reminded me one time about, on the TV screens, you started to see the banner, 'March to War,' in the summer of 2002. That's not very conducive for investing capital. If you're an employer, if you're a small business owner and all of a sudden you're thinking about marching to war, it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the economy. We overcame that." Overcame that? And whose idea was it to march to war? Clinton's?

The same language of "tests" and "challenges" graces the fuzziest of the ads. Don't you just love that Bush's team named this ad "Tested"? Was that Clinton's failure—that he neglected to preside over a recession, a terrorist strike, corporate scandals, and a "march to war," which would have made him a more "tested" president?

Like you, I watched these ads searching in vain for references to Bush's policies. I did spot some code words related to them. The last line of "Tested" is "Freedom, faith, families, and sacrifice." As best I can tell, "faith" and "families" represent the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and the faith-based social program funding Bush had to push through by executive order. I guess it wouldn't do to describe these policies when the themes sound so much nicer. "Sacrifice" appears to be an allusion to all the Americans who died on 9/11 and in Iraq. "Thousands of deaths" wouldn't sound too good in an ad. But when you look at as "sacrifice," you realize that it's noble and makes us all better people.

"Lead" expresses pretty neatly what Bush is all about. He keeps saying "I know" how to achieve this or that—how to make the world "more peaceful," how to "make sure every person has a chance at realizing the American dream," how to help people "find work." It's as though Bush is running for president for the first time, and we're supposed to take his word for it. But he's now got a record. The world is not more peaceful, fewer people have jobs, and fewer are achieving the American dream. Bush is asking us to believe, essentially, that he knows how to make things better than he has made them. "As the economy grows, the job base grows," he tells us, as though we can't see that the economy is growing but the job base isn't.

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"One of the things that must never change is the entrepreneurial spirit of America," Bush says at the outset of the ad. "This country needs a president who clearly sees that." That's Bush in a nutshell: He sees our "spirit" but not the lives, jobs, and health insurance we've lost. I'm sure he'd make a fine theologian.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Jacob Weisberg is chairman and editor-in-chief of The Slate Group and author of The Bush Tragedy. Follow him on Twitter.

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