Monday, July 28, 2003

Krugman on Bush v. Blair


Now the Bush administration was at least as guilty of hyping the case for war [as Blair's]. It was a campaign not so much of outright falsehoods — though there were some of those — as of exaggeration and insinuation. Here's what the public thought it heard: Last month, 71 percent of those polled thought the administration had implied that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

(Which we now know, from the 9/11 report, was YABL.)

And when it comes to domestic spin, Mr. Blair isn't remotely in Mr. Bush's league. Whether pretending that the war on terror — not tax cuts, which have cost the Treasury three times as much — is responsible for record deficits, or that those hugely elitist tax cuts are targeted on working families or that opening up wilderness areas to loggers is a fire-prevention plan, Mr. Bush has taken misrepresentation of his own policies to a level never before seen in America.

While Mr. Bush's poll numbers have fallen back to prewar levels, he hasn't suffered a Blair-like collapse. Why?

One answer, surely, is the kid-gloves treatment Mr. Bush has always received from the news media, a treatment that became downright fawning after Sept. 11. There was a reason Mr. Blair's people made such a furious attack on the ever-skeptical BBC.

Another answer may be that in modern America, style trumps substance. Here's what Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, said in a speech last week: "To gauge just how out of touch the Democrat leadership is on the war on terror, just close your eyes and try to imagine Ted Kennedy landing that Navy jet on the deck of that aircraft carrier." To say the obvious, that remark reveals a powerful contempt for the public: Mr. DeLay apparently believes that the nation will trust a man, independent of the facts, because he looks good dressed up as a pilot. But it's possible that he's right.

What must worry the Bush administration, however, is a third possibility: that the American people gave Mr. Bush their trust because in the aftermath of Sept. 11, they desperately wanted to believe the best about their president. If that's all it was, Mr. Bush will eventually face a terrible reckoning.

I'll take door number three...