A View From The Handbasket

Friday, February 10, 2006
When the cow runs dry
Posted by neros_fiddle at 9:13 AM

After a State of the Union speech in which the President offered nothing new and nothing surprising, we learn that the latest round of polls offer nothing new and nothing surprising:

President Bush's approval rating has held fairly steady over the past month. The current survey, conducted over the five nights immediately following his State of the Union address, finds 40% approving of his overall job performance, compared with 38% in January. Looking back over the past six months, Bush's overall job approval has held steady, with only a slight dip to 36% in November.

But the same poll also found this:

By a 50% to 33% margin, more Americans are concerned that the government hasn't yet gone far enough in protecting the country against terrorism than are concerned that the government has gone too far in restricting civil liberties. Concern about government infringement on civil liberties has remained unchanged over the past two years, and has not moved in response to the NSA spying controversy.

In fact, the fear of terror is the only thing that can nudge Bush's approval rating above 45%:

Terrorist Threats53
Job Situation38
Tax Policy37
Energy Policy30
Health Care28
Budget Deficit27

With the midterm elections approaching, the administration is seeing its grip on Congress waver, ever so slightly, as Republicans look at numbers like those and see Bush as more of a burden than a boost.

(Of course, any sane analysis would have to point out that Bush's relevance is rapidly waning as his duck becomes lamer by the day. But the forces behind his presidency have no intention on losing their relevance, so he's still acting as though he's running again in 2008.)

So what's Bush to do? Apparently, keep tugging on Osama's udder and promoting the spying program. Today we see Dick Cheney snarling that the Democrats' cowardly refusal to violate the law in pursuit of terrorists should be used against them in the fall (as we've discussed here previously):

Speaking to Republicans gathered for the annual CPAC convention, Cheney said the debate over the National Security Agency surveillance program "has clarified where all stand" on an issue that has drawn criticism from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.

"And with an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security, and how we propose to defend the nation that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, love and are privileged to serve," Cheney said.

And, of course, yesterday, the President regaled us all with a tale of horror averted in 2002 when a plan to hijack a plane with shoebombs and fly it into Los Angeles' Library Tower was foiled. (Naturally, Bush insisted on calling it the "Liberty" Tower until sheepish aides corrected him, and exactly how a hijacking could be carried out with shoebombs is unclear, but it got the desired headlines regardless.)

We first got a hint of this in October, when it was one of 10 plots Bush announced had been foiled. At the time, it was described as a "West Coast attack," but no more details were offered because that would reveal vital secrets.

Now, though, it seems those secrets aren't so vital anymore (and Bush has to keep fear of terror more important than the civil liberties the terrorists supposedly threaten), so what would once compromise national security can now be used as a talking point against those who think the President should follow the law.

The thing is, though, Bush's approval rating on terror is dropping along with all his other numbers. (It's down six points from this time last year.) This cow is going to run dry eventually, and scary terror speeches will only resonate with the 30-40% of the population that would eagerly follow Bush into World War III (and wonder what's taking him so long).

So, what happens then? I've never been one of those who believes the neocons were somehow complicit in 9/11, but now that it's clear just how much terrorism enables them to pursue their agenda, I have to wonder what lengths they'd go to to keep the milk of fear flowing. After all, they're perfectly willing to sacrifice American lives in Iraq to further their policy goals. (If that sounds a little too far out, let's not forget Operation Northwoods, when a plan was drawn up, but never implemented, to stage fake terror attacks throughout the US and around Cuba to provide justification for overthrowing Castro.) If fear's all they've got left, fear is what we'll get.

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