Why 2004 Is Shaping Up as a Replay of 1984





Noemie Emery, in the Weekly Standard (Feb. 9, 2004):

CLOSE YOUR EYES on some days, and you can almost believe it: You're back somewhere in the mid-1980s, 1984 to be precise. At least from the Democrats' side of the aisle. There it all is: The Republican president denounced as a dunce and a dangerous cowboy; the left on a tear against corporations and tax cuts; and the vast, murky war against a dangerous enemy, which Republicans think of as a crusade against evil and Democrats think is a sham. Magically, the three intervening elections--1992, 1996, and 2000--appear to have vanished, as have their protagonists: Bill Clinton is gone, as is the George W. Bush of 2000, gone in the moment he learned, on live cameras, that tower number two had been hit. We are back now in Reagan country, with deep divisions, big issues, deep feelings, big wars. And quite a few things are familiar. This is the way they equate.

l. THE PRESIDENT. Now, as in those days, there is a Republican president, a man of the West, detested in Europe and deeply despised by the base of the Democrats, who are driven to distraction by his mere presence. He is looked down on by them as a dupe or dullard, and portrayed, as Richard Wirthlin, Reagan's favorite pollster, once put it, as "dumb, dangerous, and a distorter of facts." Reagan was described also, by professional crony Clark Clifford, as an "amiable dunce." Bush should be so fortunate as to have the word amiable invoked in this way by his foes. Instead, he is widely regarded by liberals as swaggering, arrogant, clueless, vindictive, and mean. Opinion differs as to whether he is an evil political mastermind, surrounded by similar knaves and connivers, or merely an empty suit dressed up and guided by others (in which case the "evil genius" description is used to describe his counselor Karl Rove).

Despite all of this, or perhaps owing to it, Bush is nonetheless liked by the rest of the country, which gives him high marks for his leaderly qualities. Leadership and national security are his best issues. His weakest one seems to be the environment. Although his beloved ranch is run on the greenest of principles, the greens turn him down three to one. Repeatedly, they claim he has poisoned the air, poisoned the water, and is feeding small children a diet of arsenic. For these reasons, and others, they long to destroy him, and are united with the rest of the left in this great cause. "Ronald Reagan has provided all the unity we need," Gary Hart said at the 1984 Democratic convention. "Not one of us is going to sit this campaign out. You have made the stakes too high." But not high enough to impress most Americans, who remained less than outraged by the president.

Deep tranches of rage did not produce general anger with Reagan. Thus far, they have failed to do so with Bush....


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