Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush’s Monday Up-Front: A Critical Failure; A Ratings Flop

Even the PR isn’t that good anymore.

As I have pointed out numerous times, the Bush Administration doesn’t do policy—they only do public relations. So, imagine my surprise, what with all the hoopla surrounding the President’s Monday night Oval Office address, that even the PR value of the event was a bust.

First, there was the false start, which the White House and CNN blame on NBC’s stage manager. Whether it was a White House screw up or just another example of the “liberal media” sticking it to our nation’s Leading-Man-in-Chief, the metaphor was unmistakable: another stutter step on Bush’s long path to so-called immigration reform.

The other “subliminable” message was that the wheels have come off. It was almost as if you could hear Karl Rove’s voice off camera intoning, “Please ignore the man behind the curtain!”

As for the “content” of the speech, it was a muddled early-bird dinner combo, with a little from column “A” and a little from column “B,” off of a take-out menu that offered little beyond lo-cal baloney—but it really doesn’t matter. As Marc Cooper put it:

Chances are Bush’s border move will be no more successful than his management of the war in Iraq or his response to Katrina.

The proposed 6,000 new border patrol agents by 2008 don’t make up for the 9,790 agents Bush cut from the budget 15 months ago. The “most technologically advanced border security initiative in American history” is every bit the fantasy it sounds—a “Star Wars” for the ground, with about as much chance of ever working. And the 6,000 National Guard troops slated to fill in as backdrop for the President’s photo-op have not yet been released by their state’s governors, are under-staffed and under-equipped because of Iraqi deployments, and are not trained for border patrol duty (even as support personnel).

Underlying all of this, of course, is the same old problem of funding. The recently extended tax cuts coupled with the ever-hungry war in Iraq continue to hamstring domestic initiatives, substantive or otherwise. The president plans to ask for $1.9 billion to be included in another underhanded supplemental budget, but even with that degree of creative accounting, it is doubtful this immigration scheme will ever see anything close to that.

And that’s just the “substance.” The real objective of Bush’s address, a grand attempt to find a topic he can use to enhance his and his Republican allies’ anemic poll numbers, seems equally doomed. Again, Marc Cooper:

The close-the-border faction of his own party is highly unlikely to accept Monday night’s sop. They know, just like the governors of New Mexico and California know, just as local law enforcement on the border knows, that Bush’s gesture is but a photo-op political stunt. They want the border closed, period. And their political representatives in the House – the Sensenbrenners and the Tancredos—are showing no signs of softening their resistance to both a guest worker plan as well as legalization path for the illegals already here.

And even those who bought the get-tough portion of the President’s speech also heard him endorse “comprehensive immigration reform” and a “temporary worker program” i.e. precisely the sort of measures scorned and denounced as an “amnesty.” So much for placating the Right.

Maybe the administration had a slightly different strategy. Maybe this speech was supposed to move Congress toward some sort of grand compromise, and provide Bush with a victorious moment of uniting rather than dividing. If that was their intent, however, this headline in the New York Times says it all:

President's Middle Path Disappoints Both Sides of Sharply Divisive Immigration Issue

No, no uniting the country, no victory for the president, no red meat for the base, and no real chance of a more secure border or a meaningful way of integrating economic refugees into the legal workforce. Sure, George Bush will get his photo-op, but his May sweeps Monday special—live from the Oval Office!—will likely prove to be a critical and a popular failure.

A phalanx of reporters will now head to the border, searching to file feature stories on the newly arrived Guard members. And one can expect that the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense will accommodate the media spoon-feeding. The safe bet, though, is that this speech, in spite of the momentary cable hype, will soon evaporate into the mists of memory.

And that, perhaps, is a surprise, considering the previous success this administration has had in managing its message. Or maybe, it’s by design—since what some might call a policy is doomed to fail, maybe it’s best for the Republicans if it is quickly forgotten.

What is not a surprise, and cannot easily be forgotten, is that Bush and his team continue to fiddle while Rome burns. While hunting for an issue that will shore up the base and change the national conversation, nothing is done to solve the pressing problems, foreign and domestic. And while staging another presidential PR stunt, countless millions more of our all-too-scarce tax dollars are being spent for purely political ends.

Monday’s show may have been a flop, but it is a very expensive flop indeed.

(cross-poted at Daily Kos)


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