The one strength of George W. Bush that has carried him throughout the last three years and has sustained his numbers in the polls, in spite of an endless parade of scandals, gaffs, political miscalculations, monumental blunders, and a stubbornly anemic economic recovery, is his unswerving commitment to his beliefs and his unwavering loyalty to his people. Say what you want, public opinion by and large holds, the man has character and he acts on what he believes.
This strength is beginning to turn into a liability. The image of George W. Bush that is beginning to emerge and solidify within mainstream public opinion is one of a president who is so beholden to ideology and so loyal to his close circle, that he is willing to place the whole nation in danger rather that change his mind or get rid of people who do not serve him or his office well.
Indeed, the one criticism of George W. Bush that may prove fatal to his re-election campaign, and that threatens to set it into a tailspin, is the one that is being currently leveled by Richard Clarke in his new book, 'Against All Enemies': that George W. Bush was so fixated on invading Iraq from the get-go of his presidency that he neglected the bigger and more imminent threat from al-Qaeda before 9/11 and recklessly abused that tragedy to pursue his all-consuming obsession, thereby not only further distracting from the urgent need to hunt down Bin Laden and dismantle his network, but also engaging in actions that have alienated our allies and strengthened our enemies.
In other words, the bottom is beginning to come undone on Karl Rove's strategy that all the president needs to do is to stick to his beliefs, no matter what, and all will be well and will end well.
Of course, all of this presents a huge opportunity for his Democratic rival, John Kerry. Kerry had the fortune of being off on vacation when the Clarke bombshell landed: by remaining on the sidelines, rather than engaging Bush in a tit-for-tat that could have distracted from the substance of the accusations by injecting Kerry's voice in the mix and thereby tainting Richard Clarke's accusations with a political hue, Kerry has been smart enough to let Bush and his people hang themselves with the political rope that is being extended their way by the 9/11 commission.
But the opportunity for Kerry is golden not only because the Bush campaign has been distracted from its mission of defining and pushing the image of Kerry they want the majority of the American people to form of him, but also because the emerging scandal offers Kerry a strategic opportunity, given the timing, to not only define himself, but to redefine his rival, George W. Bush.
What Kerry should do right now is to begin aggressively advertising about himself as a positive attribute the very thing that the Bush campaign has been aggressively casting as a flaw: his ability and willingness to change his mind.
John Kerry should incorporate in his campaign the theme that he, unlike George W. Bush, is willing to change his mind if he comes to believe that he is wrong. He should pledge that should he ever make mistake while in office, he, unlike George W. Bush, will acknowledge his mistake, will take responsibility for it, and will seek to quickly correct it.
He should also pledge that the only thing that he can guarantee the American people is that he will put above all else the interest of the nation, not blind commitment to a set of beliefs, or undying loyalty to cronies.
If Kerry is able to effectively execute this strategy, expect a major earthquake in the Bush campaign. The 'flip-flop' strategy effectively drowned, Karl Rove -- whose only mission in life since his boss took office in January 2001, has been to re-elect him -- will pull out all the stops. George Tenet will be sacked for intelligence failures for not only Iraq but also for 9/11; Dick Cheney will withdraw, citing health concerns; Rumslfed will be sacked, and a general purge of the neo-cons will take place. A quest to restore the image of George W. Bush the 'compassionate-conservative' that got him elected in 2000 will be the goal of the campaign, and a vice-presidential running mate to fit the bill will be chosen -- someone like Elisabeth Dole, who is adored by the fundamentalist right and perceived by the general electorate -- thanks to her Dole name and her work at the Red Cross -- as a welcome moderating voice in the Bush administration.
In either case, as things stand, the winner will be the one who will make the bolder, more daring next move in this young and yet already very old campaign.
Ahmed Bouzid is the President of Palestine Media Watch (www.pmwatch.com), and author of Framing The Struggle: Essays on the Middle East and the US Media (Dimensions, 2003). His essays can be read at http://www.ahmedbouzid.org.
Other Articles by Ahmed Bouzid