The Great Divider
As President Bush throws himself into the final days of a particularly
nasty campaign season, he’s settled into a familiar pattern of ugly
behavior. Since he can’t defend the real world created by his policies
and his decisions, Mr. Bush is inventing a fantasy world in which to
campaign on phony issues against fake enemies.
real world, as Michael Gordon reported in yesterday’s Times, the index
that generals use to track developments shows an inexorable slide toward
chaos. In Mr. Bush’s world, his administration is marching arm in arm
with Iraqi officials committed to democracy and to staving off civil
war. In the real world, the prime minister of Iraq orders the removal of
American checkpoints in Baghdad and abets the sectarian militias that
are slicing and dicing their country.
In Mr. Bush’s world, there are only two kinds of Americans: those who
are against terrorism, and those who somehow are all right with it. Some
Americans want to win in Iraq and some don’t. There are Americans who
support the troops and Americans who don’t support the troops. And at
the root of it all is the hideously damaging fantasy that there is a
gulf between Americans who love their country and those who question his
Mr. Bush has been pushing these divisive themes all over the nation,
offering up the ludicrous notion the other day that if Democrats manage
to control even one house of Congress, America will lose and the
terrorists will win. But he hit a particularly creepy low when he
decided to distort a lame joke lamely delivered by Senator John Kerry of
Massachusetts. Mr. Kerry warned college students that the punishment for
not learning your lessons was to “get stuck in Iraq.” In context, it was
obviously an attempt to disparage Mr. Bush’s intelligence. That’s
impolitic and impolite, but it’s not as bad as Mr. Bush’s response.
Knowing full well what Mr. Kerry meant, the president and his team cried
out that the senator was disparaging the troops. It was a depressing
replay of the way the Bush campaign Swift-boated Americans in 2004 into
believing that Mr. Kerry, who went to war, was a coward and Mr. Bush,
who stayed home, was a hero.
It’s not the least bit surprising or objectionable that Mr. Bush would
hit the trail hard at this point, trying to salvage his party’s control
of Congress and, by extension, his last two years in office. And we’re
not naïve enough to believe that either party has been running a
positive campaign that focuses on the issues.
But when candidates for lower office make their opponents out to be
friends of Osama bin Laden, or try to turn a minor gaffe into a near
felony, that’s just depressing. When the president of the United States
gleefully bathes in the muck to divide Americans into those who love
their country and those who don’t, it is destructive to the fabric of
the nation he is supposed to be leading.
This is hardly the first time that Mr. Bush has played the politics of
fear, anger and division; if he’s ever missed a chance to wave the
bloody flag of 9/11, we can’t think of when. But Mr. Bush’s latest
outbursts go way beyond that. They leave us wondering whether this
president will ever be willing or able to make room for bipartisanship,
compromise and statesmanship in the two years he has left in office.