National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Who Believes Bush Now?

President Bush’s performance through the fifth anniversary memorials and remembrances of Sept. 11, 2001 was pathetic. It offered nothing that could assure a now thoroughly disbelieving nation that he’s steering the nation on, or better, back onto, the right track.

I am often asked if the president has any idea of what the public, and the world, is really thinking about him. Does he get to read the polls, does he get an unfiltered, realistic glimpse at the mood and sentiments of American citizens? How about those of America’s allies and adversaries around the world? Does he really get a chance to hear, at any depth, what they’re saying?

It’s, of course, hard to know. But if you go by evidence of his outward behavior, you’d have to think he’s clueless. You’d have to conclude that he’s told his only real detractors are Democratic Party leaders and their followers, that their opposition is all based on just partisan differences.

 It could be argued that this administration is the most sensory depraved in American history, the most deaf and blind, unable to sense the impact of its actions, either practically in the world or in terms of public opinion, domestically and abroad.

This is because nothing has changed. Vice President Dick Cheney’s reaction to growing opposition to the administration’s policies is to attack freedom of speech. He’s done that before, and he continues to do it.

Rather than affirming the strength of the U.S. lies in its encouragement of open and free debate, he accuses virtually everyone who dares speak out against the administration’s policies of aiding and abetting the enemy. Exercising freedom of speech is tantamount to treason to this humorless thug.

Apparently the administration thinks that by talking tough, and branding the opposition as weak, it can prevail in the November mid-term elections. It’s a pretty simple approach, and apparently the GOP is gearing up to flood the airwaves with negative campaign ads utilizing just that simple M.O.

It’s going to be “stay the course” versus “cut and run” on Iraq for the core of GOP foreign policy going into November.

But, since the current Iraq situation is degenerating into sheer chaos, “staying the course” means sinking deeper and deeper into a disaster of epochal proportions. Everything embodied in that since word, “Iraq,” is not only the worst foreign policy disaster in U.S. history, it is one of the dumbest missteps in recorded world history.

As far as “cut and run” goes, it is Bush and GOP that are “cutting and running,” cutting and running from reality, as Sen. John Kerry quipped, speaking on CNN last weekend.

The GOP has nothing but fear and name calling to bring its voters into line by November. It is otherwise not getting any help from Bush, who has refused to budge from the posture he assumed when the invasion of 

Slow to awaken, the American public nonetheless is not in the same place it was then. Polls show a majority, at last, now believes there’s no connection between the “War on Terrorism” and the invasion of Iraq.

The more folks arrive at that conclusion, the more the rage against Bush – not for the failure of Iraq, itself, but for the deception involved in trying to link it to 9/11 and terrorism – is growing. The more Bush asserts it, the more the public will grow resentful.

Modestly placed on the inside pages of last weekend’s Parade magazine was an article by Wilton Sekzer, a former New York City cop whose son died in the attacks of 9/11. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, he asked that one of the bombs have his sons name on it as to exact at least some psychological revenge.

But the anger he felt after 9/11 and going into Iraq was suddenly stunted when he later saw the president, himself, concede on TV that there was no link between Saddam Hussein and the events of 9/11. Seeing that, he wrote, “I said, ‘What did he just say?’ I mean, I almost jumped out of my chair. I said, ‘What’s he talking about? What the hell did we go in there for If Saddam didn’t have anything to do with 9/11, then why did we go in there?”

Sekzer went on to write, “I feel the government exploited my feelings of patriotism (when it invaded Iraq). But I was so insane with wanting to get even, I was willing to believe anything.”

But not any longer. Neither he nor millions of Americans who once did, believe our president anymore.

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