Sometimes a political figure becomes so hated that he can’t do anything right in the eyes of his enemies. President Bush has achieved this rare and exalted status. His critics are so blinded by animus that the internal consistency of their attacks on him no longer matters. For them, Bush is the double-bind president.
If he stumbles over his words, he is an embarrassing idiot. If he manages to cut taxes or wage a war against Saddam Hussein with bipartisan support, he is a manipulative genius.
If he hasn’t been able to capture Osama bin Laden, he is endangering U.S. security. If he catches bin Laden, it is only a ploy to influence the elections.
If he ignores U.N. resolutions, he is a dangerous unilateralist. If he takes U.N. resolutions on Iraq seriously, he is a dangerous unilateralist. If he doesn’t get France to agree to his Iraq policy, he is ignoring important international actors. If he supports multiparty talks on North Korea, he is not doing enough to ignore important international actors.
If he bombed Iraq, he should have bombed Saudi Arabia instead, and if he had bombed Saudi Arabia, he should have bombed Iran, and if he had bombed all three, he shouldn’t have bombed anyone at all. If he imposes a U.S. occupation on Iraq, he is fomenting Iraqi resistance by making the United States seem an imperial power. If he ends the U.S. occupation, he is cutting and running.
If he warns of a terror attack, he is playing alarmist politics. If he doesn’t warn of a terror attack, he is dangerously asleep at the switch. If he says we’re safer, he’s lying, and if he doesn’t say we’re safer, he’s implicitly admitting that he has failed in his core duty as commander in chief.
If he adopts a doctrine of preemption, he is unacceptably remaking American national-security policy. If the United States suffers a terror attack on his watch, he should have preempted it. If he signs a far-reaching antiterror law, he is abridging civil liberties. If the United States suffers another terror attack on his watch, he should have had a more vigorous anti-terror law.
Bush’s economy hasn’t created new jobs. If it has created new jobs, they aren’t well-paying jobs. If they are well-paying jobs, there is still income inequality in America.
If Bush opposes a prescription-drug benefit for the elderly, he’s miserly. If he supports a prescription-drug benefit for the elderly, he’s lining the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies. If he restrains government spending, he’s heartless. If he supports government spending, he’s bankrupting the nation and robbing from future generations.
If he opposes campaign-finance reform, he’s a tool of corporate interests. If he signs campaign-finance reform, he’s abridging the First Amendment rights of Michael Moore (whose ads for Fahrenheit 9/11 might run afoul of the law).
If he accuses John Kerry of flip-flopping, he is merely highlighting one of the Massachusetts senator’s strengths–his nuance and thoughtfulness. If he flip-flops on nation-building or testifying before the 9/11 commission, he proves his own ill-intentions, cluelessness, or both.
If he doesn’t admit a mistake, he is bullheaded and detached from reality. If he admits a mistake, he is damning his own governance in shocking fashion.
If he sticks with Dick Cheney, he is saddling himself with an unpopular vice president, giving Democrats who can’t wait to run against Cheney a political advantage. If he drops Cheney, he is admitting that the Democratic attacks against his vice president have hit home, thus giving Democrats who have made those charges a political advantage.
If he loses in November, the voice of the American people has spoken a devastating verdict on his presidency. If he wins, he stole the election.
–Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.