Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 19, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

GEORGE BUSH AS A WAR PRESIDENT....Even if you already know something well, reading about it again sometimes has a salutary effect. So it is with Conrad Black's biography of FDR.

Consider President Bush's words today at the White House:

The war on terror is not a figure of speech. It is an inescapable calling of our generation. The terrorists are offended not merely by our policies -- they are offended by our existence as free nations. No concession will appease their hatred. No accommodation will satisfy their endless demands.

....In this contest of will and purpose, not every nation joins every mission, or participates in the same way. Yet, every nation makes a vital contribution, and America is proud to stand with all of you as we pursue a broad strategy in the war against terror.

Now, that's not bad. Really. When Bush and his speechwriters are in the mood, they can do good work.

The problem is that this speech sounds unconvincing to an awful lot of people, many of my readers among them. They just don't believe him.

Compare this to FDR. The difference isn't just that Roosevelt was a better speaker, it's that FDR used oratory for a purpose: to mold public opinion, slowly and carefully, so that by the time we went to war the American public was solidly behind him, ready to make the kind of sacrifices needed to wage total war. His leadership was genuine: he understood American public opinion, he understood the dangers posed by Hitler and his allies, and he was willing to spend the time it took to make this danger clear.

Bush has done no such thing. In fact, he has been entirely unwilling to try and shape public opinion. Not only has he convinced no one, he actually seems to lose support every time he opens his mouth or announces a new policy. And he really doesn't seem to care.

This is the big difference. FDR understood that public support was the most important part of going to war. You work on that first and foremost or else failure is almost guaranteed.

Bush disdains public opinion and talks only to his base, so he's naturally viewed not as a leader, but as a mere politician. If he has failed to convince the nation and the world of the dangers of terrorism and he has that's why. It's because he failed as a leader. And that's something we really can't afford right now.

Kevin Drum 4:57 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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