There is something different about the way the president moves these days. There are remnants of the Bush arrogance (the man who once couldn't name any mistakes he might have made), and there's still that Texas swagger when he walks in a room. But lately, as he struggles to lead a country in which a majority opposes the war in Iraq--and his congressional majority hangs in the balance--there are signs of his own frustration with the hand he has dealt himself.
A new Bush?He admits that the never-ending stream of violence in Iraq is creating "difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country." And he also admitted that other points of the view on the war are, well, acceptable. "We'll continue to speak out in a respectful way, never challenging somebody's love for America when you criticize their strategies or their points of view."
That's a far cry from the usual love-us-or-leave-us kind of stance, but it's one that the administration understands it must have. There's a midterm election in the offing, and the last thing the administration needs to do right now is seem as if it's not listening. At the same time, what you also see is a White House trying to draw the lines of combat very clearly: Withdrawing from Iraq now is silly and would signal a loss. Staying the course means finishing the job America set out to do. Americans like to finish the work they started.
At least that's the gamble the White House is making. If the Democrats want to nationalize the election, which they do, then the administration will play, too: After all, the GOP has always trumped the Democrats when it comes to national security. The question, of course, is whether this year is different. Will the Iraq war, which is a drag on the president's popularity, be a drag for those Republicans who have supported him? Will the Dems finally be able to convince voters they're tough enough--even if they do not support this war?
At this point, it's hard to say. Historically, presidents in the sixth year lose seats in the midterms--and that is likely to happen this time, too. But how many, and will that mean the GOP hands over control of the Congress? If that happens, President Bush can kiss the rest of his agenda goodbye, not to mention his grand plans for a GOP realignment in this country. But beware, Democrats. If you win either one or both houses of Congress, the public will demand as much of you as from the Republicans.
In other words, Democrats must figure out how to govern.