Tag Archives: George H.W. Bush

SYNDICATED COLUMN: No One Should Be Sad When George H.W. Bush Dies (Probably Soon)

            The curtain is about to fall on George Herbert Walker Bush, known colloquially as Bush 41, or simply 41. The patriarch is, if not exactly dying, no longer doing well enough to want to be seen much in public. The final taxi, as Wreckless Eric sang memorably though not famously, awaits.

Do not believe the soon-to-be-everywhere hype.

Dubya’s dad is and was a very bad man.

No one should forget that.

The old Skull and Bones man has skillfully set the stage for — not his rehabilitation exactly, for he was never shamed (though he much deserved it) — his rescue from the presidential footnotery familiar to schoolchildren, that of the Adamsian “oh yeah, there was also that Quincy” variety. The centerpiece of this so-far-going-splendidly historical legacy offensive is his authorized biography by Jon Meacham, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush,” a demi-hagiographic positioning of HW as a moderate last half of the 20th century Zelig.

This has been done before, compellingly and brilliantly, in Robert Caro’s soon-to-be five-volume (!) biography of LBJ. Caro uses LBJ as a window into his times; that’s what Meacham is up to too. But there’s a big whopping difference between the subjects. LBJ was a man of principle who was also a cynical SOB; Vietnam tarnished his amazing civil-rights legacy. He knew that and regretted it until he died. Dude was complicated.

There is, sadly, little evidence that Bush ever had a big ol’ destiny in mind, good or bad. He may be the first of that crop of presidents who followed them (excepting, perhaps, ironically, his son after 9/11) whose main goal in life was accomplished when he won a presidential election. Clinton and Obama and perhaps Hillary next, they all figured they’d figure out how and why to change America after they took office and some stuff to react to happened (OK, that includes W).

“Mr. Bush may never have achieved greatness. But he’s led a long and remarkable life, which has spanned the better part of the 20th century. He fought in World War II. He started a successful oil business. He spent two terms in the House of Representatives; he served as ambassador to the United Nations and as American liaison to China; he ran the Republican National Committee and, far more important, the C.I.A. He was vice president for eight years and president for four. At 90, he jumped out of an airplane,” Jennifer Senior writes in the New York Times Book Review.

Pardon my shrug. Dude’s a boy Hillary. Great résumé. What did you accomplish at all those gigs? Even at the CIA, he’s remembered for…

Yeah.

Where there’s a record starts with his 1988 run for president. Neither the advantages of incumbency as Reagan’s vice president nor his Democratic rival Michael Dukakis’ awkwardness on the campaign trail were enough for him; he felt it necessary to deploy scorched-earth tactics to obliterate a good man, albeit a politician not prepared for the national stage against a GOP that had turned rabidly right under Reagan. Lee Atwater’s “Willie Horton” ad remains a colossus of scurrilous race-baiting, a dismal precedent that paved the way for Bush 43’s racist whispering campaign targeting John McCain’s adopted daughter in the South Carolina primary and Donald Trump’s glib desire to subject the nation’s Muslims to an Americanized Nuremberg Law.

We won’t hear about Willie Horton during “ain’t it sad HW died” week.

“His campaign tactics may have been ruthless, but in person he was unfailingly decent and courteous, commanding remarkable levels of loyalty. Character was his calling card, not ideas. To the extent that he had one at all, his governing philosophy was solid stewardship: leading calmly and prudently, making sure the ship was in good form, with the chairs properly arranged on the decks,” Senior writes.

Of course he was polite. He’s a WASP. But does it matter? A public figure isn’t notable for what he does behind closed doors.

And Hitler liked dogs and kids.

Bush deserves, as do we all, to be judged for what he set out to do.

It is by his own standards — his wish to leave the ship of state ship-shape when he left for Kennebunkport in 1993 — that he falls terribly short.

It was the economy, stupid…and he was the stupid one. After the stock market crashed in 1989, HW sat on his hands, waiting for the recession to magically go away. As the invisible hand of the marketplace dithered and dawdled, the housing market crashed too. Millions lost their jobs. Countless businesses went under. Lots of misery, much of it avoidable. Much of which could have been mitigated with a little action from the Fed and a Keynesian stimulus package. He did little.

By the time he left, everyone, not least Wall Street traders, breathed a sigh of relief that there was going to be someone at the wheel going forward.

There were, of course, the wars. There’s his good war against Iraq, for which he gets credit for merely slaughtering Saddam’s army as they retreated down the “highway of death” and not going on to kill everyone in Baghdad, as his stupid bloodthirsty son tried to do. Mainly, the Gulf War is a plus because few Americans died in combat (some “war” dead were killed in forklift accidents). Still, it was a war that needn’t have been fought in the first place.

In a now largely forgotten episode, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — then a U.S. buddy — asked permission to invade Kuwait, which was “slant drilling” into Iraqi oilfields and undercutting OPEC cartel prices. It being August, all the big names were away on vacation, so Saddam took the word of a low-level drone at the State Department that everything was cool.

It wasn’t.

If Bush had been a decent manager — the kind of guy who arranges the deck chairs — he would have had better people handling his pet tyrants.

Then there’s the truly sorry invasion of Panama. No one remembers now, but this was Bush’s first personnel dispute with a dictator. General Manuel Noriega was getting uppity, HW decided to put him in his place, the Marines slaughtered thousands of Panamanians. Really, for no reason.

Certainly without justification. Noriega was sent to a US prison, having spent more than two decades on trumped-up cocaine charges. Which you might care about. Noriega wasn’t a nice guy, right?

The trouble is, treating a sovereign head of state like a common criminal scumbag sets some bad precedents.

Now, when the US approaches guys like Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad to suggest that he leave office, he digs in his heels for fear of winding up in prison or worse. Back in the pre-Panama days, you could convince a guy like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos to fly to Hawaii with a duffel bag full of bullion, so everyone could move on.

There’s the goose-gander thing. Why shouldn’t Assad be able to argue that Obama ought to be imprisoned for breaking Syrian law, like those against funding terrorist groups like ISIS?

Bush’s biggest boner may have been his hands-off approach to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than help Russia and the other former Soviet republics come in for a soft post-socialist landing, as in China after Mao, Bush’s guys quietly rejoiced in the mayhem.

Clinton gave us “shock economics,” Yeltsin, mass starvation, the destruction of Grozny and the oligarchs — but Bush set the stage for a mess with which we, and more importantly the Russians, are dealing today.

Any way you look at it, George Bush Senior left the world worse off than it was.

The possibility that he may have been courteous to his minions and henchmen doesn’t change that.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for ANewDomain.net, is the author of the new book “Snowden,” the biography of the NSA whistleblower. Want to support independent journalism? You can subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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U.S. to Attack U.S. over Chemical Weapons

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The United States has repeatedly used chemical weapons, including against its own people. Will we act?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Finding Privatizer Ryan

If Romney Loses, Blame His Running Mate

      Unless something surprising and dramatic happens, Obama will win the election. Earlier this week the Associated Press released an analysis of public and private polls that put “within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term.” Obama is running ahead in many major swing states, including Ohio—a necessity for a GOP candidate to win. Yeah, yeah, this week’s presidential debates could make a difference—but they rarely do.

What went wrong with the Romney campaign? (Insert the usual fat-lady-not-over-blah-blah-anything-could-happen disclaimer here.)

All things being equal, this should have been a cakewalk for Romney—or any half-decent Republican. The economy is still awful. The official unemployment rate is over 8%, a magic number that historically kills reelection campaigns. Since Obama hasn’t promised any big jobs programs, neither Hope nor Change is on offer. And Romney has/had a sales pitch tailored for hard times: he turned around companies; his business experience will/would help him turn around the U.S. economy.

This election is/was Romney’s to lose—and apparently he has. The cause can be summed up in two words: Paul Ryan.

Sure, there were plenty of other missteps. His bizarre “47%” remark turned out to be a game changer that alienated swing voters. Like the (unfair) story about how George H.W. Bush was so out of touch that he’d never seen a supermarket price scanner (no wonder that preppy pipsqueak didn’t care about Americans who’d lost jobs under the 1987-1992 recession), Romney’s 47% slag fit neatly with our overall impression that Romney is a heartless automaton of a CEO who doesn’t feel our pain. Worse, he’s a man with something to hide; his refusal to release his taxes proves it.

Though greeted by Very Serious pundits as a canny combination of intellectual heft and Tea Party cred, the selection of running mate Paul Ryan has been a bigger disaster than Sarah Palin in 2008. (To be fair to John Cain, Palin was a Hail Mary pass by a campaign that was way behind.) As Paul Krugman pointed out in the New York Times, the selection is beginning to shape up as a “referendum” on the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society, on Social Security, Medicare and, yes, Obamacare, which represents an extension of that legacy.”

Which is Ryan’s fault.

Before the veep announcement, the campaign was a referendum on Obama’s stewardship over the economy. Which was good for Romney. Since August it has been about Paul Ryan, known for his plan to trash reform entitlement programs. Misfire! The one time you don’t attack the safety net is when people are feeling squeezed and pessimistic about the future.

Sensing resistance, Republicans walked back Ryan’s extreme agenda using the classic “divide and conquer” approach, guaranteeing that people over 55 would keep their Medicare and Social Security. No sale. Romney-Ryan forgot something: senior citizens have children and grandchildren.  Older Americans want younger people to enjoy the same benefits they’re getting now. Many senior citizens no doubt see the slippery slope of austerity: taking away Social Security for people under 55 next leads to going after those over 55. Finally, with the U.S. Treasury squandering trillions of dollars on wars, it’s hard to argue that the sick and old ought to resort to Dumpster-diving.

The Romney–Ryan campaign understood that voters were pissed at Obama. But they didn’t understand why.

There were two types of anger against Obama. Mostly prompted by Obamacare, right-wingers hate the president for growing an intrusive federal government. But there is also liberal resentment—shared by many moderates—at Obama’s refusal to help the jobless and foreclosure victims. Lefties also dislike Obamacare—but because, minus a public option, it’s a sellout to the insurance conglomerates. Romney could have seduced these voters with his own plans to help the sick and poor. Instead, he went with Ryan—who would destroy programs that are already too weak—and frightened disgruntled Democrats back into Obama’s camp.

Romney ignored the time-tested tactic of moving to the center after winning your party’s nomination. Romney repackaged himself as a right-winger to win the GOP nomination. In the general election, he needed to appeal to Democrats and swing voters. Choosing Paul Ryan sent the opposite signal.

This is not to say that President Obama will have an easy second term. Unlike 2008, when the vast majority of Americans felt satisfied that they had made the right choice, Obama is only likeable enough (the words he used to describe Hillary Clinton) compared to Romney. The only reason Obama seems headed to victory this November is that he was lucky enough to run against one of the most staggeringly inept campaigns in memory, headed by an unbelievably tone-deaf plutocrat.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Rebranding of the President, 2012

Why Is Obama Running on His Record?

“It’s not clear what [President Obama] is passionate to do if he is elected for another four years,” writes David Brooks, conservative columnist for The New York Times. “The Democratic convention is his best chance to offer an elevator speech, to define America’s most pressing challenge and how he plans to address it.”

Addressing the DNC Wednesday night, Bill Clinton came as close as any Democrat has this year to answering Brooks: “In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s reelection was pretty simple: We left him a total mess, he hasn’t finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in. I like the argument for President Obama’s reelection a lot better.”

Nicely done—though this argument only works for voters stuck in the two-party trap. But the biggest piece is still MIA: Obama’s domestic and foreign policy agenda for a second term.

Two principal arguments are being advanced in favor of Obama’s reelection: first, that he “took out” Osama bin Laden; second, that we are “absolutely” better off economically than we were four years ago.  These arguments, if they continue to be the Democrats’ main talking points, will lead Obama to defeat this fall.

U.S. history shows that the candidate who presents the most optimistic vision of the future usually prevails. The future he sells doesn’t have to be specific (Romney’s 12 million new jobs, say). Ronald Reagan, who projected vague aw-shucks optimism reflected by a 100%-pabulum campaign slogan, “It’s Morning in America,” defeated Jimmy “Malaise” Carter and Walter “Let’s Tell the Truth About Taxes” Mondale. (Never mind that Carter and Mondale were more honest, smarter and nicer.)

Obama followed the Reagan model in 2008: hope, change, charming smile, not a lot of specifics. And it worked. (It didn’t hurt to run against McCain, the consummate “get off my lawn, you damn kids” grouch.) So why is Obama trading in a proven winner? Why is he running on his first-term record?

Obama’s entourage has obviously talked themselves into believing that the president’s record is better than it really is—certainly better than average voters think it is. Grade inflation is inevitable when you evaluate yourself. (In 2009, at the same time the Fed was greasing the banksters with $7.77 trillion of our money—without a dime devoted to a new WPA-style jobs program—he gave himself a B+.)

First, the extrajudicial assassination of bin Laden, an act of vengeance against a man in hiding who had been officially designated to pose no threat since at least 2006, makes some people queasy. Sure, many voters are happy—but getting even for crimes committed more than a decade ago still doesn’t spell out an optimistic vision for the future.

Similarly, and perhaps more potently since jobs are the most important issue to Americans, claiming that we are better off than we were four years ago, either personally, or nationally, is a dangerous argument for this president to make. Four years ago marks the beginning of a financial crisis that continues today. GDP remains a low 1.7%. Credit remains so tight that it’s still strangling spending.

Four million families lost their homes to foreclosure, millions more were evicted due to nonpayment of rent, and a net 8 million lost their jobs under Obama. Structural unemployment is rising. New jobs are few and pay little.

Most Americans—by a nearly two-to-one margin—feel worse off now than they did four years ago. Coupled with the media’s ludicrous claim that the recovery began in mid-2009, Obama’s “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes” (or pocketbook) sales pitch is so insulting and reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s tone-deaf attitude during the 1992 recession that it can only prove counterproductive.

The historical lesson for Obama is 1936. Franklin Roosevelt is the only president in recent history to have won reelection with unemployment over 8%, as it is currently (it was 17%). Why? FDR’s New Deal showed he was trying hard. And things were moving in the right direction (unemployment was 22% when he took office).  Fairly or not, Obama can’t beat Romney pointing to improvement statistics don’t show and people don’t feel.

Obama must articulate a new vision, relaunching and rebranding himself into something completely different—in other words, running as though the last three four years had never happened. Like this was his first term.

New image. New ideas. New policies. New campaign slogan.

Not only does Obama need to float big new ideas, he needs to convince voters that he can get them through a GOP Congress. Not an easy task—but there’s no other way.

It isn’t enough to simply say that Romney will make things worse. Lesser-evil arguments are secondary at best. As things stand now, with people angry and disappointed at government inaction on the economy, Romney’s “Believe in America” meme—though stupid—is more potent than Obama’s reliance on fear of a Ryan budget.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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AL JAZEERA COLUMN: Too Soon To Tell

I am pleased to announce that I am now writing a weekly long-form column for Al Jazeera English. Here is my second piece for Al Jazeera:

One Year Early, Obama’s Reelection Far From Certain

The American punditocracy (and, perhaps more importantly, Las Vegas oddsmakers) currently cite Barack Obama as their odds-on favorite to win next year’s presidential election. Some even predict a landslide.

Mainstream media politicos acknowledge the atrocious economy, with its real unemployment rate nearly matching the worst years of the Great Depression of the 1930s, as an obstacle to reelection. But most of them believe that other factors will prove decisive: disarray in the field of candidates for the nomination of the opposition Republican Party, the GOP’s reliance on discredited Reagan-style austerity measures for the masses coupled with tax cuts for the wealthy, and Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden.

Maybe they’re right. But if I were the President, I wouldn’t be offering the White House chef a contract renewal any time soon. Count me among the majority of Americans (54 to 44 percent) who told a March 2011 CNN/Opinion Research poll they think Obama will lose the 2012 election.

I could be wrong.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, doesn’t think much of these so-called “trial-run” polls. “A review of polls conducted in the first quarter of the year preceding the election found many of them forecasting the wrong winner—often by substantial margins,” Keeter wrote in 2007, citing three elections as far back as 1968.

However, a historical analysis of the more recent presidential races, those over the two decades, reveals an even bigger gap. The year before a U.S. presidential election, the conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. The early favorite at this point on the calendar usually loses. So betting against the pundits—in this case, against Obama—is the safe bet at this point.

The meta question is: what difference does it make who wins next year? In practical terms, not much.

For one thing, American presidents tend to find more heartbreak than political success during their second terms. Had Richard Nixon retired in 1972, for example, he would have been fondly remembered as the architect of the Paris peace talks that ended the Vietnam War, the founder of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the defender of the working and middle class (for imposing wage and price controls to soften the effect of inflation). His second term saw him sinking into, and ultimately succumbing, to the morass of the Watergate scandal.

The next second termer, Ronald Reagan, was similarly preoccupied by scandal, in case the Iran-Contra imbroglio in which the United States traded arms to Iran in return for hostages held by students in Tehran and illegally funded right-wing death squads in Central America. Bill Clinton’s last four years were overshadowed by his developing romance, and the consequences of the revelation thereof, with intern Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush’s second term, from 2005 to 2009, was defined by his administration’s inept response to hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the deteriorating security situation in U.S.-occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, and the economic collapse that began in 2008. His number-one political priority, privatizing the U.S. Social Security system, never got off the ground.

Presidents rarely accomplish much of significance during their second term. So why do they bother to run again? Good question. Whether it’s ego—1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is one hell of an address—or something else, I don’t know. Whatever, I have long maintained that a sane president would think of himself as standing for one four-year term, then announce his intention not to run again at the last possible moment.

From the standpoint of the American people and the citizens of countries directly affected by U.S. foreign policy, it is unlikely that the basic nature of the beast will change much regardless of Obama’s fortunes in the next election. One only has to consider the subtle “differences” between the tenures of Presidents Bush and Obama.

On the domestic front Obama continued and expanded upon Bush’s non-reaction to the economic crisis, exploiting the panic created by widespread unemployment, the bursting of the housing bubble and a massive foreclosure crisis that put tens of millions of Americans out of their homes in order to pour hundreds of billions of federal dollars into the pockets of the top executives of the nation’s largest banks, with no resulting stimulus effect whatsoever. Controversial attacks on privacy rights and civil liberties inaugurated by the Bush years were expanded and extended: the USA-Patriot Act, the National Security Agency “domestic surveillance” program that allowed the government to spy on U.S. citizens’ phone calls, emails and other communications. Obama even formalized Bush’s assertion that the president has the right to unilaterally order the assassination of anyone, including a U.S. citizen, without evidence or proof that he or she has committed a crime.

As promised during the 2008 campaign, Obama expanded the U.S. war against Afghanistan, transforming what Bush described as a short-term attempt to find Osama bin Laden after 9/11 into the most protracted military conflict in the history of the United States. The war continued in Iraq, albeit with “combat” troops redefined as “trainers.” During the last few years, the “global war on terror” expanded into Pakistan, east Africa, Libya and Yemen. Drone attacks escalated. Violating his campaign promises, he continued to keep torture available as a legal option—indeed, he ordered it against a U.S. solder, Private First Class Bradley Manning—and kept Guantánamo and other Bush-era concentration camps open.

If Obama goes down to defeat next year, then, the results should be viewed less as a shift in overall U.S. policy—hegemonic, imperialistic, increasingly authoritarian—than one that is symbolic. An Obama defeat would reflect the anger of ordinary Americans caught in the “two-party trap,” flailing back and forth between the Dems and the Reps, voting against the party in power to express their impotent rage, particularly at the economy. Mr. Hopey-Changey’s trip back to Chicago would mark the end of a brief, giddy, moment of reformism.

The argument that an overextended, indebted empire can be repaired via internal changes of personnel would be dead. With the reformism that Obama embodied no longer politically viable, American voters would be once again faced, as are the citizens of other repressive states, with the choice between sullen apathy and revolution.

Obamaism is currently believed to be unstoppable. If history serves as an accurate predictor, that belief is good cause to predict its defeat next November.

During the late spring and early summer of 1991, just over a year before the 1992 election, President George H.W. Bush was soaring in the polls in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, which the American media positively portrayed as successful, quick, internationalist, and cost the lives of few America soldiers. A March 1991 CBS poll gave him an 88 percent approval rating—a record high.

By October 1991 Bush was heavily favored to win. A Pew Research poll found that 78 percent of Democratic voters thought Bush would defeat any Democratic nominee. New York governor Mario Cuomo, an eloquent, charismatic liberal star of the party, sized up 1992 as unwinnable and decided not to run.

When the votes were counted, however, Democrat Bill Clinton defeated Bush, 43 to 37.5 percent. Although Republicans blamed insurgent billionaire Ross Perot’s independent candidacy for siphoning away votes from Bush, subsequent analyses do not bear this out. In fact, Perot’s appeal had been bipartisan, attracting liberals opposed to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico and globalization in general, as well as conservative deficit hawks.

The most credible explanation for Bush’s defeat was handwritten on a sign that the victorious Bill Clinton’s campaign manager famously taped to the wall of the Dems’ war room: “It’s the economy, stupid.” As the 1989-1993 recession deepened Bush’s ratings tumbled to around 30 percent. A February 1992 incident, in which Bush was depicted by The New York Times as wearing “a look of wonder” when confronted with a supermarket price scanning machine, solidified his reputation with voters as patrician, out of touch, and unwilling to act to stimulate the economy or alleviate the suffering of the under- and unemployed. “Exit polls,” considered exceptionally reliable because they query voters seconds after exiting balloting places, showed that 75 percent of Americans thought the economy was “bad” or “very bad.”

In 1995, Bill Clinton was preparing his reelection bid. On the Republican side, Kansas senator and 1976 vice presidential candidate Bob Dole was expected to (and did) win his party’s nomination. Perot ran again, but suffered from a media blackout; newspapers and broadcast outlets had lost interest in him after a bizarre meltdown during the 1992 race in which he accused unnamed conspirators of plotting to violently disrupt his daughter’s wedding. He received eight percent in 1996.

Clinton trounced Dole, 49 to 40 percent. In 1995, however, that outcome was anything but certain. Bill Clinton had been severely wounded by a series of missteps during his first two years in office. His first major policy proposal, to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the U.S. military, was so unpopular that he was forced to water it down into the current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” compromise. Clinton’s 1993 attempt to deprivatize the healthcare system, mocked as HillaryCare after he put his wife in charge of marketing it, went down to defeat. He signed the pro-corporate, Republican-backed trade agreement, NAFTA, alienating his party’s liberal and progressive base. Low voter turnout by the American left in the 1994 midterm elections led to the “Republican Revolution,” a historic sweep of both houses of the American Congress by right-wing conservatives led by the fiery new Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

1995 saw the so-called “co-presidency” between Gingrich and a cowed Bill Clinton, who was reduced to telling a press conference that “the president is relevant.” The United States, which does not have a European-style parliamentary system, had never seen a president so politically weak while remaining in office.

During the spring and summer of 1995 Bob Dole was already the heir apparent to the nomination of a Republican Party that traditionally rewards those who wait their turn. Dole was a seasoned campaigner, a Plains States centrist whose gentlemanly demeanor and credentials as a hero of World War II. Conventional wisdom had him beating Clinton. So did the polls. A March 1995 Los Angeles Times poll had Dole defeating Clinton, 52 to 44 percent in a head-to-head match-up. “Among all voters, Clinton’s generic reelect remains dismal, with 40 percent inclined to vote him in again and 53% tilting or definitely planning a vote against him,” reported the Times.

By late autumn, however, the polls had flipped. Though statisticians differ about how big a factor it was, a summer 1995 shutdown of the federal government blamed on the refusal of Gingrich’s hardline Republicans to approve the budget turned the tide. At the end of the year the die was cast. As Americans began to pay more attention to his challenger they recoiled at Dole’s age—if elected, he would have been the oldest president in history, even older than Reagan—as it contrasted with Clinton’s youthful vigor. The Democrat coasted to reelection. But that’s not how things looked at this stage in the game.

When analyzing the 2000 race, remember that Republican George W. Bush lost the election to Al Gore by a bizarre quirk of the American system, the Electoral College. The U.S. popular vote actually determines the outcome of elected delegates to the College from each of the 50 states. The winner of those delegates is elected president.

Most of the time, the same candidate wins the national popular vote and the Electoral College tally. In 2000, there is no dispute: Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote, 48.4 to 47.9 percent. There was a legal dispute over 25 electoral votes cast by the state of Florida; ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court decided, along party lines, to award the state to Bush despite clear indications that Gore would have won recounts by tens of thousands of votes in that state.

Regardless of one’s views of the 2000 Florida recount controversy, from a predictive standpoint, one should assume that Gore won because no one could have anticipated a difference between the results of the electoral and popular votes.

Under normal circumstances Gore should have faced, as Dick Cheney said about the Iraq invasion, a cakewalk. A popular sitting vice president, he enjoyed the trappings of incumbency and a reputation as a thoughtful environmentalist and government efficiency expert. The economy was booming—always a good argument for the “don’t change horses in midstream” sales pitch. The early favorite on the Republican side, George W. Bush, was considered an intellectual lightweight who would get eaten alive the first time the two met in a presidential debate. But Monicagate had wounded Bill Clinton to the extent that Gore made a fateful decision to disassociate himself from the president who had appointed him.

A January 1999 CNN poll had Bush over Gore, 49 to 46 percent. By June 2000 the same poll had barely budged: now it was 49 to 45 percent. “The results indicate that the public is far more likely to view Texas Governor George W. Bush as a strong and decisive leader, and is also more confident in Bush’s ability to handle an international crisis—a worrisome finding for a vice president with eight years of international policy experience,” analyzed CNN in one of the most frightening summaries of the American people’s poor judgment ever recorded.

Gore didn’t become president. But he won the 2000 election. Once again, the media was wrong.

In the 2004 election, it was my turn to screw up. Howard Dean, the combative liberal darling and former Vermont governor, was heavily favored to win the Democratic nomination against incumbent George W. Bush. I was so convinced at his inevitability after early primary elections and by the importance of unifying the Democratic Party behind a man who could defeat Bush that I authored a column I wish I could chuck down the memory hole calling for the party to suspend remaining primaries and back Dean. In 2004, John Kerry won the nomination.

Oops.

But I wasn’t alone. Polls and pundits agreed that George W. Bush, deeply embarrassed by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, would lose to Kerry, a Democrat with a rare combination of credentials: he was a bonafide war hero during the Vietnam War and a noted opponent of the war after his service there.

Bush trounced Kerry. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” asked Britain’s Daily Mirror. Good question. Maybe that’s why no one saw it coming.

Which brings us to the most recent presidential election. First, the pundit class was wrong about the likely Democratic nominee. Former First Lady and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, everyone “knew,” would win. It wasn’t even close. An August 2007 Gallup/USA Today poll had Clinton ahead of Obama, 48 to 26 percent. As it turned out, many Democratic primary voters were wowed by Obama’s charisma and annoyed by Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her brazenly cynical vote in favor of the Iraq war in 2003. Aging Arizona Senator John McCain, on the other hand, remained the best-funded, and thus the continuous favorite, on the Republican side.

Obama’s advantages over McCain became clear by 2008. “The political landscape overwhelmingly favors Obama,” reported USA Today in June. At this point in 2007?

He didn’t stand a chance.

Ted Rall is an American political cartoonist, columnist and author. His most recent book is The Anti-American Manifesto. His website is rall.com.

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