President Bush Must Be President Bush
President Bush must be President Bush.
Ok, very clever, you say; now what in the world does that mean? Simply this: the President enjoyed approval ratings in the 70s for an unprecendented amount of time. Yet now he's hovering around 50. What has the President done since to lose that much support?
Well, really, he's done nothing--in two senses. On the one hand, he has largely ceased selling his accomplishments and successes on a national stage. People have been complaining how none of the good economic news or good news from Iraq ever seems to get reported by the we-take-no-sides press. They're right in fact since it does reveal the Achilles heel of the "mainstream" press, but they miss the larger point in that it's the President' job to communicate all that if he wants the credit. (This activity, incidentally, seemed to be what Clinton thought the Presidency was. That and fringe benefits, of course.) Again, I think some of this is deliberate from the President. Be that as it may, President Bush can regain some ground simply by pointing out how good things are compared to where we could be and by doing so in a national spotlight.
The second sense, however, is the more important one and cuts to the heart of my observation. Bush is taking the hit for a lot of things that aren't his fault because the opposition has spent months and months tying bad news directly to the President. But in the course of that political activity, they've overreached and tarred Bush with one too many feathers (to use an awkward metaphor.) Bush did this for Big Oil, he did it for the Saudis, he's a sniveler out to avenge his daddy, he's Hitler, he's Big Brother, he wants to poison people with arsenic, he's a liar, he wanted a war to make himself look good, yada yada yada. The Left has built up this monstrous caricature of George W. Bush and have used it to sell their version of why everything bad that's happened in the past 18 months is Bush's Fault. And for most of the folks who aren't as keen on the President as they think they should be, this is the reason why: all this hectoring has gotten into people's heads under their cognitive radar and given them a negative impression of the President even though they can't tie it to anything in particular.
So what does it mean, then, that President Bush must be President Bush? It mostly means that he must be himself and that the subtext of his speech must scream it out: this is a hardworking, decent, honest man who's making the best decisions he possibly can for the security of this country. Bush really hasn't made himself center stage yet in this campaign; in fact, he really hasn't spoken to the nation as a unit for months, and the only snippets that get out are the usual sound bite cuts. In a peculiar way, for all the news he makes and all the print (and vitriol) he receives, President Bush himself has been out of the limelight. Now is the time for him to step back into it and let the truth of who he is burn away the scurrilous mockery that's seeped into the collective unconsciousness of so many unsuspecting voters.
He must of course lay out a new vision and new goals for a second term, which I fully expect he will. He also has to point out all the good news. He will, and he'll give the credit to the American people and the American soldier, but people will make the connection that his role in all the good news is significant. (That's why the formulation isn't "Let Bush be Bush"; he's got to remind people that he's provided the leadership, not merely rely on biography and strength of character.)
Pundits will tie his convention speech success to particular issues and rhetorical ability and all kinds of inside-the-Beltway criteria. But his major job is to get people who unconsciously believe he's responsible for all human evil to wonder why it is they don't approve of this guy after all. Once he starts them thinking about that, the ground is laid for him to win them back over to his side.
Never forget: the more the public sees President Bush being himself, the more they like him. The more the public sees John Kerry being himself, the less they like him.
For what it's worth, I think the President will do exactly what he needs to and have a 10-12 point within two-three weeks after the convention. (As I've said before, if I'm going to be wrong, I might as well be spectacularly wrong.)