Last week, trying to put the violence in Iraq and his goals for the region into perspective, President Bush explained that we dummies out here still don't get what he's aiming for. "The definition of success as I described it is, you know, the level of sectarian violence down. Success is not 'no violence'. [Insert patronizing sneer] There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where people feel comfortable living their daily lives." As with so much the war president does, starting way back when with the repeated statements issued in the wake of 9/11 to the effect that there had been no way to see it coming and that another terrorist attack on our soil was inevitable, so don't go expecting them to see that one coming, either, it's fun to try to imagine how loudly the Republicans and the talk-radio hordes would be baying at the moon if Bill Clinton had ever tried to sell this load. Seriously, can you imagine what it would have been like if Clinton, with the memory of the bloodiest gun massacre in U. S. history still fresh, had even implied to a live audience that he believed that there was "a certain level of violence" that people felt "comfortable" with in parts of America? You think he'd have made it to the fire exit in one people? Of course, Clinton was merely an intelligent, competent administrator who believed in diplomacy and had a sense of proportion; Bush "gets it." In the wake of Oklahoma City, Clinton, rather than treat what was then the deadliest terrorist act committed on American soil as an act of war and an excuse to go on and on about how everything had just changed, wimped out and simply permitted those responsible to be arrested, tried, and comvicted. If Bush had been president when a couple of Midwestern fruitcakes unaffiliated with any country's government blew up a federal building, he would have gotten it, and we would have responded appropriately by...I don't know, invading Detroit or something.
The prize comic high point (out of many) during the GOP candidates' debate at the Reagan Library came when some wisenheimer asked the mob on stage if things would be better now if Bill Clinton were president and the whole mass up there recoiled and swayed in semi-mock horror, moaning like a chorus of Wicked Witches confronted with a lawn sprinkler. The implication of the entire evening was that Bush, the guy who didn't see 9/11 coming and didn't want his vacations spoiled by those who did, is still the gold standard for dealing with the terrorist threat that the Republican candidates all think we should be absolutely obsessed with. It remained an unspoken implication, because the candidates showed a uniform unwillingness to refer to their beloved war president and standard-bearer by name. They seemed a lot more eager to associate themselves with Ronald Reagan--which I guess means that, as president, they would deal with the threat of terrorism by trying to find Osama bin Laden so they could secretly sell him arms.
Well, not really, of course. Selling arms to terrorists is what Reagan did, and if we know anything, at the end of the Bush era, about how modern Republicans think, it's that they give their guys full credit for how they strut and stare at you blankly if you suggest that what their real-life actions be taken into consideration as well. Right now, the Republican candidates are uncertain how to deal with Bush and his perturbing decision to continue to exist because his actions have given unthinking belligerance and incompetent bullying a bad name, but they still think that a belligerant, bullying image is the best way to get their base to the polls. So every one of them is doing his damndest to convey the message, without saying it out loud and appearing disloyal to the head monkey, that he's the real article--every bit as unreflective a hooligan as Bush, but the right kind of hooligan!
No wonder so many of the people they're wooing are holding out for Fred Thompson. When Thompson broke into movies, getting rave reviews for playing himself in the 1985 based-on-a-true-story movie Marie, he was an attorney and lobbyist who was probably best known for not having done much to save Richard Nixon's skin as co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee, not that he should be judged too harshly for that. Then, having spun that lucky break into ten years with his face in front of TV and movie cameras, he got himself elected to the Senate, where he held poor Randy Weaver's hand during the investigation of Ruby Ridge and chaired his own investigations into campaign finance violations, letting his mouth write checks that his ass couldn't cash by making claims about evidence he would prove unable to produce about financial ties between the Democratic Party and the Chinese government. When he fled into the waiting arms of the Law & Order cast before his term had even expired, the poor guy seemed to be fessing up that he was better at playing a hard-nosed conservative politician than at trying to actually be one. But it seems that, when it comes to impressing Republican voters, the playing's the thing.