For most of this year, Bush has been mired in the low 60s, unable to sustain any negative momentum. His team tried everything – mounting a hopeless surge in Iraq, botching the immigration bill, standing behind an Attorney General any other administration would have left for dead. But each week, the American people kept handing him the same verdict they gave Richard Nixon – in the words of King Lear, " The worst is not, so long as we can say, 'This is the worst.'"
Can Bush reach the goal that eluded Nixon? Or is Truman's record enduring proof that Dick Cheney is wrong: You can offend some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't offend all of the people all of the time?
Bush's challenge won't be easy. Twice as many Americans had no opinion about Truman and Nixon. With only 5% undecided, Bush has to convince supporters to jump ship.
But when all that's left on your ship is rats, all you can make is ratatouille. Clearly, the Bush White House has learned one lesson from Nixon's failed bid: There will be no Operation Candor. And the Libby pardon is the best proof yet that Bush plans to swing for the fences, even if he has to do it all himself.
In the coming weeks, from Congress to the campaign trail, Republicans will try to pull a Selig – hoping that Bush's breaking the unpopularity record won't count if they pretend not to watch.
Even so, give the man his due. Sure, Bush may have cheated and gotten lots of help in pursuing this record. But becoming more hated than Nixon is still an historic achievement. Mr. President, your own party may desert you in your time of need – but plenty of us will be rooting for you from the bleachers. ... 5:17 P.M. (link)
Thursday, July 5, 2007
The Dog That Didn't Bark: In the half-century since Teddy White invented the genre with Making of the President 1960, campaign books have become more plentiful and less revealing. As presidential campaigns grew into a massive, multimillion-dollar enterprise, they began to generate two types of books: the campaign autobiography (such as the air-brushed tract Karen Hughes wrote for George W. Bush in 2000) and the campaign post-mortem (epitomized by the newsmagazines' post-election special reports). Both types are painful to read, and neither can really be considered nonfiction.
The campaign autobiography is an inside job, the campaign post-mortem a legitimate journalistic endeavor with insider access. But both types of books—one written by handlers, the other as told to by handlers—suffer from the same conceptual flaw: the notion that the making of the president is a story about handlers. For the most part, these books gloss over or leave out the essential element that made Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes a modern campaign classic—namely, the candidates.
The Boston Globe's impressive seven-part series, " The Making of Mitt Romney," is a refreshing reminder that the most interesting handler is always the candidate. Forget the middleman. To understand the making of would-be presidents, look at how they invented themselves.
The Globe series caused a minor flap by recounting how the family dog Seamus came down with diarrhea when Romney made him ride for 12 hours in a kennel on top of the station wagon. Romney had warned the boys he would only stop for gas, but family truth-teller Tagg made his father pull over when he saw a brown ooze coming down the window.