Christopher Caldwell

Bush: Palestinians good, but not great

The politics of conviction helps the President not because his own convictions are so good but because those of his opponents are so bad


In the 48 hours before George W. Bush took the podium to deliver his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday, the presenter for ABC news was blown up in his flatbed truck by a roadside device near Baghdad, Martin Luther King Jr’s widow died, former Enron chairman Kenneth Lay went on trial for accounting chicanery allegedly committed by his company back when it was President Bush’s largest single campaign contributor, Alan Greenspan spent his last day at the Fed, Judge Samuel Alito spent his first day on the Supreme Court and the radical Islamists of Hamas started their first week as the democratically elected rulers of Palestine.

Whatever poll you check, about 60 per cent of Americans say their country is on the ‘wrong track’. So the blitheness with which Republicans anticipated this week’s speech was breathtaking. This is one of those rare moments in recent US history when Americans consider the Republicans (by 36–22 per cent) the party of special interests and corruption. When a friendly reporter asked Senate majority leader Bill Frist how the President would parry this view, Frist was blasé. The Democrats were using this corruption talk, he said, ‘Because they don’t have any ideas like we are going to hear from the President tonight. They don’t have any of the convictions.’ Mr Frist, a former Rhodes scholar, was putting ‘ideas’ and ‘convictions’ on the same footing. If you can’t figure out what you think, then at least you can stick tenaciously to what you feel. This has always been Mr Bush’s approach.

For a politician it is not a bad one. It won him some real political momentum on Tuesday night. At times his speech was brutally frank in the face of hostile public opinion: ‘We hear claims that immigrants are somehow bad for the economy, even though this country could not function without them.’

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