In March 2003, Pat Robertson tried to give President Bush some advice about the coming invasion of Iraq. Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, supports the president. But he told CNN on Wednesday that he advised Bush to prepare the nation for the likelihood of casualties.
Bush's reply? "We're not going to have any casualties."
That was 9,100 American casualties ago.
The kicker is that Bush — who has denied the remark — stands for re-election a few days from now and it is not expected that he will lose in a landslide. In fact, pollsters say he could conceivably squeak to a second term. All of which throws into sharp relief the question a British man asked me in August.
"How does George Bush get away with it?" he said.
I spent part of the summer traveling in Europe and Africa and by the time I met this guy, I was accustomed to the fact that people in those places were watching our presidential campaign with great interest and greater perplexity. I'd had a customs agent in Sierra Leone solicit my opinion of Bush and had strolled the Champs-Elysees beneath a billboard for "Fahrenheit 9/11." Browsing in Harrods, I'd found a picture book that attacked Bush with scathing pugnacity.
But it's that question I was asked in a London record store that stopped me. It wasn't rhetorical. The guy was curious.
The "it" he thought Bush had gotten away with concerned irregularities in the 2000 vote. But as Campaign 2004 steams toward the finish line, it occurs to me that the same thing might be asked of Bush's entire presidency — and in particular, the war in Iraq.
Credibility lost, opportunity lost, lives lost and yet, amazingly, re-election is not lost.
That says more about us, I think, than the president.
And here, I am indebted to a reader who sent me a quote a few weeks back. It was an observation that one's willingness to acknowledge a painting is forged is usually inverse to the price one paid to buy it.
That's a neat summation of our present state. After Sept. 11, we wanted nothing so much as to feel safe. So some of us bought what Bush was selling — the idea that security lay not in finding a terrorist who had attacked us, but in deposing a dictator who had not.
We bought a forgery, a fake "War on Terror" for which we paid, and are still paying, a fortune in prestige, money and lives. Now we are loath to admit what anybody can see.
No one should be surprised that this particular salesman has failed to deliver the goods. After all, we know this guy. We know his utter unwillingness to be swayed by facts.
For four years, he and his cronies have blithely changed or suppressed government reports — on health, science, the environment — that counter their world view. Just last month, when intelligence agents issued a report whose pessimism was at odds with the party line on Iraq, the president dismissed it by saying these experts were "just guessing."
On Planet Bush, a thing is true because the president believes it to be true and any facts marshaled in opposition are irrelevant. One's job as the president's adviser, apparently, is simply to nod vigorously.
You can infer the president's level of comfort with people who challenge him from reports that those who attend his rallies are asked to first sign a statement of support for him. Or from the fact that he holds press conferences only slightly more often than J.D. Salinger does. Or from that pinched expression on his face during the first debate.
Bush has no use for people who challenge him. He trusts — and asks us to trust — his gut over and above any pesky "facts" or "experts."
If you want to judge the reliability of the president's gut, consider what he reportedly told Robertson. Then consider the latest casualty figures.
And finally, ask yourself why we're keeping that forgery on the wall.
At this point, the only people being fooled are those who want to be.
© 2004 Seattle Times