Bubble Trouble

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 7, 2006; 1:32 PM

Has any American president ever been less disposed to work with the opposition than George W. Bush?

Since 9/11, he has largely ignored people who don't agree with him.

Inside the bubble his loyal staff so arduously maintains, just about everyone the president sees loves him and prays for him. The important issues of the day are boiled down to a simplistic binary: You're either with me or against me.

And with the Republican Congress essentially serving as a White House annex, there's rarely been any need for Bush to doubt himself.

But American voters today are poised to breach Bush's bubble, exposing him to the real world.

In the real world, just because he says something doesn't make it so. In the real world, he can't just demonize people who don't agree with him -- he has to work with them. And in the real world, he is the president of all the people, not just his partisan supporters.

Bush's Certainty

Can Bush adapt to this reality? Whether it's bluster or bluff, he certainly hasn't sent out any signals of compromise so far.

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "Any doubt he may harbor, he kept to himself. Any feelings of regret are locked tight inside. The rest of the world may see an unpopular president in the midst of an unpopular war. But Bush soldiers on. He does not publicly stew as other presidents have. He powers through event after event as if he were still the leader the country rallied behind after Sept. 11, 2001.

"To his critics, it sometimes seems as if Bush lives in his own world, oblivious or unwilling to accept the shifting reality around him. His is a world of absolutes. 'I view this as a struggle of good versus evil,' he said the other day about the war with terrorists. To Bush, that is strength, not weakness -- the certitude of conviction, the power of principle. He's 'the decider' in a business afflicted by equivocation and thumb-sucking. . . .

"Bush's stump speech the past few weeks has underscored a with-us-or-against-us worldview. Democrats and some Republicans opposed warrantless surveillance of telephone calls of people with suspected ties to terrorism, objecting to unchecked executive power and arguing that officials should still get warrants from a secret intelligence court. Likewise, Democrats and initially some Republicans opposed redefining Geneva Conventions protections for prisoners and permitting harsh interrogation, preferring more traditional practices.

"In the version Bush offers campaign audiences, that boils down to the Democrats not wanting to fight terrorists at all. Democrats, he said in Missouri, 'oppose listening in on terrorist conversations' and 'oppose letting the CIA detain and question the terrorists who might know what those [next] plots are.' As for Iraq, he said in Texas, if Democrats get their way, 'the terrorists win and America loses.'"

One Last Gamble on His Credibility

The central question of this election, in a nutshell: Do you trust him?


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