It's somewhat strange to me that a with Bush's approval ratings tanking once again, the White House has decided that the right way to deal with the problem is for Bush to make a televised speech.
It could, of course, be a sign of desperation, but I've given up interpreting this administration's actions as desperation, since the Bush folk always seem to bounce back. Unfortunately, I can't come up with anything better. So for now I'm just baffled.
One of the wierdest aspects of Bush's sort-of victory over Al Gore in 2000 was that Bush seemed to fit so perfectly in the role of the likable candidate, opposite the weird caricature of Gore that the Republicans (with subsantial help from print reporters and commentators) were able to turn into common currency.
What's odd about this is that Bush is amazingly unlikable and churlish on television. As a Bush opponent (though being an R-Lib at the time I had to think a little while about who really was the bigger fuckhead) I was immune to the whole "guy to have a beer with" aspect of the Bush campaign. Even at the time it was a little hard for me to understand how such large numbers of people could find Bush likable on television (I found him childish and annoying.)
In fact, the more I watch Bush, the more I realize the sublime genius of the Gore caricature, presumably engineered by Rove. The Gore caricature is Bush. Thinking about this will hurt your head. But recall if you will (if you need it, the archives of the Daily Howler have the whole story) what it was we were supposed to hate so much about Gore during the 2000 campaign. Gore the liar. Gore the exaggerator. Gore the man who needs personality consultants to tell him how to wear his hair, what color it ought to be, etc. Gore who wears too much makeup (seriously, what's up with Bush's makeup in those Oval Office speeches?) Bush exudes this stuff in waves whenever he appears on TV.
Above all, though, it's the schoolmarmishness, the condescencion, the pedantry that jumps out at me when Bush speaks - all characteristics, of course, attributed to Gore in 2000. Bush talks to Americans as if we were a nation of five-year-olds who just don't understand why daddy has to do certain things that we don't like. I half-expect Bush to tell us we'll understand when we're older why he had to lie about why and how he was going to invade Iraq.
So to my mind it's unlikely almost to the point of impossibility that this speech - in and of itself - is going to do anything for Bush. First of all, Bush's least popular policy position, the Social Security phaseout, is not even being addressed. Second, the White House has already said publicly that Bush is not considering any policy changes with regard to Iraq, which is baffling from the center-left talking head perpective (who still think we are in Iraq to promote Democracy), but makes a lot of sense from my perspective, since from the very beginning I have believed that Bush intends to keep a substantial American military presence in Iraq indefinitely, and that this was in fact the primary war aim.
[Once again I succumb here in brackets to the desire to point out that when you are working with a model that makes sense, there is usually no reason, even over a fairly long time, to change the model to fit the facts. Which is why my explanation for the US invasion of Iraq has not needed to undergo the same semiannual tune-up as those of more mainstream commentators.]
Thus Bush is not addressing his least popular policy position, and in the case of the unpopular policy position he is addressing, he's going to basically reiterate the same unpopular policy he's been pursuing. So the only thing that could possibly bouy Bush here is if he were somehow to come off as charming and affable, which is and always has been a fictional part of his TV persona. Bush is not capable of a televised charm offensive.
So what's the angle? Rove, presumably, knows all of this. I have to wonder if this appearance is something of a rope-a-dope, hoping to get some prominent Democrats to step forward and attack Bush in some sort of intemperate way, to give the Bush attack machine some sort of target to shoot at.
It's a thin theory, I recognize. But I can't think of anything that makes sense. So for now, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.