Stay The Course? Only If It Wins Elections genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Flip flopping

With barely two weeks until the midterm election, the Bush administration seems to believe that they need a new message on the war in Iraq. The Washington Post has an article that discusses the GOP attempts to nuance the issue and the adjusted rhetoric. Call me a skeptic, but nuance has never been part of this President’s equation…which leads me to conclude that the house of cards is in peril.

President Bush and his aides are annoyed that people keep misinterpreting his Iraq policy as "stay the course." A complete distortion, they say. "That is not a stay-the-course policy," White House press secretary Tony Snow declared yesterday.

Where would anyone have gotten that idea? Well, maybe from Bush.

"We will stay the course. We will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed," he said in Salt Lake City in August.

"We will win in Iraq so long as we stay the course," he said in Milwaukee in July.

"I saw people wondering whether the United States would have the nerve to stay the course and help them succeed," he said after returning from Baghdad in June.

But the White House is cutting and running from "stay the course." A phrase meant to connote steely resolve instead has become a symbol for being out of touch and rigid in the face of a war that seems to grow worse by the week, Republican strategists say. Democrats have now turned "stay the course" into an attack line in campaign commercials, and the Bush team is busy explaining that "stay the course" does not actually mean stay the course.

Snow said Bush dropped the phrase "because it left the wrong impression about what was going on. And it allowed critics to say, 'Well, here's an administration that's just embarked upon a policy and not looking at what the situation is,' when, in fact, it's just the opposite."

Republican strategists were glad to see him reject the language, if not the policy. "They're acknowledging that it's not sending the message they want to send," said Steve Hinkson, political director at Luntz Research Cos., a GOP public opinion firm. The phrase suggested "burying your head in the sand," Hinkson said, adding that it was no longer useful signaling determination. "The problem is that as the number of people who agree with remaining resolute dwindles, that sort of language doesn't strike a chord as much as it once did."

My own experience tells me that people who stand on principle rarely feel the need to tell you they do so...their actions are sufficient. Conversely, it seems to me that those who routinely talk about their principles like a badge of honor are often the first to abandon those principles when it becomes expedient. The difference between these two extremes is obvious. People of integrity and sincerity have the quiet confidence that comes with both and those who lack either need to frequently assert that they possess both because deep down they know that both are absent. To express the concept another way, there are those who know they can lead and there are those who know they want to lead.

For the bulk of the time we have spent fighting the war in Iraq, the Bush administration has held fast to its original strategy...asserting that they were committed to completing the mission even in the face of criticism and growing voter dissatisfaction. Many times the President has acknowledged that the war was unpopular but went out of his way to assert that leaders cannot be concerned about polls when faced with issues of principle. Further, this administration has made a habit of characterizing those who expressed concerns that the strategy was flawed as unpatriotic and weak on issues of defense and national security.

Since the initiation of the war effort in 2003, numerous military officials, who served in the conflict and subsequently retired or were forced to retire, have voiced doubts about the military plan of action. In most instances, their remarks have also been met with criticism and there has been a concerted effort to discredit their observations. To their credit, the Bush administration was able to succeed in connecting the war in Iraq with the war on terror which allowed them to hold voter doubts at bay. This was achieved by reminding voters of the President’s resolve following 9/11 and the need for continued diligence in preventing another terrorist attack...the fear factor. The 2002 and 2004 elections provide the evidence of that success.

Fortunately, time has a way of forcing truth to the surface and it now appears that the Bush administration has reached its day of reckoning. For the bulk of this year, the GOP has waged a relentless attack on Democrats...all the while convinced that they had the votes they needed to succeed in November...a virtual rerun requiring little more than the roll out of their battle tested rhetoric. Unfortunately for the GOP, during this same time frame voter doubt grew as casualties mounted, sectarian violence became civil war, assurances that the end of conflict was in sight were wrong, and, lastly, the assertions that the opposition was in its last throes proved inaccurate. Additionally, the purple fingers of democracy served little more than symbolism as the Iraqi's almost immediately reverted to long held tribal alliances, cultural values, and religious beliefs.

With that said, it isn’t difficult to understand why the GOP is now on the precipice of defeat. While the Republican Party focused on savaging Democrats, they failed to pay attention to the all too obvious realities...realities that did not escape the awareness of the voters they took for granted. As we’ve approached the midterm election, two problems emerged for the GOP. One, voters saw the realities in Iraq and the unwillingness of this President to shift strategies…and that has led to irreconcilable doubts about the President’s judgment and growing skepticism for the sincerity underlying his professed resolve. The bottom line is that voters lost confidence in the attributes they had been willing to assign and attach to this President.

Two, now that the election is upon us, the Bush administration has apparently decided to alter their intransigent adherence to “staying the course"…because it isn’t resonating with voters…and that is giving skeptical voters the final evidence needed to doubt the President’s sincerity. When this shifting rhetoric on Iraq is coupled with revelations that suggest that the GOP may have manipulated the millions of loyal evangelical voters, I believe these moderate voters are in the process of concluding that this President is more concerned with retaining power than acting with intelligence and integrity to serve the best interests of the nation.

In my opinion, it looks to me that Rove/Bush concluded that 2006 could be won with the same strategy that succeeded in 2002 and 2004. Instead, I believe that it forced voters to view the election as a referendum on the policies and priorities of the Bush administration at a time when it could least withstand the scrutiny. It looks like voters are preparing to call a halt to this charade.

Daniel DiRito | October 24, 2006 | 10:01 AM
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1 On October 25, 2006 at 9:58 AM, gmoney wrote —

Nancy Pelosi had better get her head out of her arse. Let the impeachment proceedings begin post haste against these monsters, for they are the scum of the earth.

2 On October 25, 2006 at 11:22 AM, bogi666 wrote —

I remind you of a Stalin quote,"it's not who or how many votes are cast. What matters is who counts the votes". With the privatization of voting the liklihood of corruption increase, perhaps exponentially, as most corruption in this country is in the private sector. This is the reason for privatizing the vote, to increase corruption and fraud. 30 years ago when electronic voting was in its infancy someone said that the only effect this will have is to accelerate voting corruption.As Ben Franklin said about the constitution he replied "it will last a few hundred years and then it will succumb to corruption and despotism". HERE WE ARE FOLKS.

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