There is a troubling triangle taking repeated shape in American Presidential politics that should give thinking people pause. From the murky miasma of many neglected domestic problems and tragedies in our country there emerges the Commander in Chief. He throws the spotlight on a foreign demon from the White House’s mass media pulpit. Day after day, week after week, and sometimes month after month, the President personalizes the conflict, It could be Ortega, Qadaffi, Noriega, or Saddam Hussein.
The television, radio and press take off after the dramatic boxing match featuring round after round of sparing between a huge grizzly bear and a snarling household cat. Then the Grizzly Bear pounces on the impudent cat and its all over but the shouting, the celebration, the breast-beating, the acclamation, and of course the surging polls,
George Bush has a 89% approval rating for the way he “is doing his job,” according to the Gallup Poll of March 2, 1991. George Bush more popular than Truman right after World War II? Much more popular than Ike after ending the long, bloody Korean War? Much more popular than John F. Kennedy at the peak of Camelot? That’s what the polls say. But then none of the previous presidents were able to benefit from the electronic drumbeats of the Presidential triangle featuring the White House, the fawning mass media and the pollsters which feed each other in a frenzy of single-issue mania.
There are, after all, other important entrenched disasters which Presidents have a solemn obligation to address that are bigger in gravity and closer to home than ejecting a small, harsh dictatorship from a smaller, less harsh dictatorship by the greatest armada of military power in history.
Our financial system is crumbling into taxpayer bailout after bailout already claiming some $15 trillion from you and your children over the next thirty years, Our energy industry is foreign oil dependent as never before with very little Bush attention to energy conservation and solar power development to achieve true energy independence, national security and environmental safety. Housing needs and homelessness worsen as pockets of poverty among children become larger. Recession, huge government deficits, rising unemployment and inadequate healthcare are everywhere. Corporate crime and street crime are at epidemic levels.
Since Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990, twice the number of American have been victims of homicide just in Washington, D.C., (population 650,000) than all the Americans who lost their lives by accident, “friendly fire” and Iraqi fire in the Persian Gulf. This is the community where George Bush lives and works.
Now if television (where most people say they get their news) focuses the public’s attention on one issue in any given week or month, all the other duties and responsibilities of Presidents are crowded out of public evaluation. And soon, polls about approval ratings of Presidents reflect that one big televised issue that is grabbing the screen or headlines.
Moreover, that single story is hardly subjected to much diversity of opinion. Once soldiers are sent abroad to hot spots by the President (and both Reagan and Bush have declared they can do so with or without Congressional authority), the television and the polls start to move in near lock step behind The White House. Goodbye to public debates about facts, options, history and consequences.
The one-issue Presidency becomes the no-fault Presidency and the polls soar as if nothing else eroding our country’s well-being should be the measure of Presidential performance, There are long-standing laws that Presidents are sworn to implement, through their departments and agencies, in order to do something about preventing disease, poverty, illiteracy, pollution, crime, waste, fraud and corruption. Over a trillion dollars of your taxes go to Washington every year to
help the President do his many-faceted job.
Anytime citizens are left to judge their President largely by displays of military prowess and tough talk against foreign regimes to the neglect of many serious duties affecting the daily life of most Americans, the polls will register predictably high approval. And just as predictably Presidents will concentrate on the issues around which the polls register great approval and avoid grappling with the hard domestic problems that could cost them in the polls.
If Americans do not actively raise and diversify their expectations of what Presidents should be doing and not doing, they will be severely shortchanged for all the money, power and influence they have allowed the Presidency to accumulate allegedly for the broad public good and the nation’s progress.