Bush popularity must be seen to be believed


CHILLICOTHE, Ohio - On Sept. 10, President Bush took a one-day bus tour from Huntington, W. Va., into Ohio, with stops in Ironton, Portsmouth, and Chillicothe.

Waiting for Mr. Bush to arrive at Shawnee State University, Ron LeMaster wore a laminated picture of himself and Mr. Bush taken at a fund-raiser last year in Louisville, Ky.

Mr. LeMaster, 66, owns an insurance agency in South Shore, Ky. He downplayed the issue of whether Mr. Bush received favorable treatment when he was in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.

"That will pass quickly because it's drummed up," said Mr. LeMaster, setting his sights on Dan Rather and adding how he couldn't understand how Democrat John Kerry could serve in Vietnam and then turn against the war when he returned home.

Heidi Rockwell, 22, also stood in the morning heat to wait to see Mr. Bush. It was the first time she had seen him in person.

Her husband, Nick, is serving in Iraq as a member of the Ohio National Guard 216th combat engineer battalion, based in Portsmouth.

"It's been really hard. The temperature is really hot and it's hard to keep the morale of the soldiers, but they're making it. They're halfway there," she said.

Mrs. Rockwell said she spoke to her husband on the phone the morning before Mr. Bush's speech and he said he would have been the first person in line to see him.

Several times this year, backers of Mr. Kerry have approached me and tried to nail down why people not only support Mr. Bush, but do so fervently.

Just as I advise Republicans to check out Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 to get a flavor of the Anybody But Bush movement, I urge Democrats to try to find a way - not easy - to see Mr. Bush in person.

On Sept. 10, about 10,000 people jammed into the Ross County Fairgrounds in Chillicothe, listening to country and western music as they waited a few hours to hear Mr. Bush give a speech. With his Texas accent and his rolled-up shirt sleeves, Mr. Bush sounded like a mix of LBJ and Ronald Reagan.

●"This economy has been through a lot. A month before we got there, the stock market started to decline. Right after we got there, they declared a recession. And then we had corporate scandals. It's clear in America, we will not tolerate dishonesty in the board rooms of America.

"And then we got attacked. Some people estimate that cost us a million jobs in the three months after the attack."

●"I believe the most solemn duty of the American president is to protect the American people. If America shows uncertainty and weakness in this decade, the world will drift toward tragedy. This is not going to happen on my watch."

●"If we want to keep jobs here, we've got to open up markets around the world for U.S. products. We open up the markets for foreign goods and that's good for you. You got more choices; some of you get what you want at a better price and a better quality."

●"But you've heard the rhetoric before, 'all we're going to do is tax the rich.' I know how that works. That's why they've got accountants and lawyers. They duck and you get stuck. But we're not going to let them tax you because we're going to win the election."

●"Since the terrible morning of Sept. 11, 2001, we've fought the terrorists across the Earth, not for pride, not for power - but because the lives of our citizens are at stake."

The most interesting rebuttal to these statements can be found in Cornel West's new book, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism.

Mr. West, a professor of religion at Princeton University, wrote:

"There is a deeply troubling deterioration of democratic powers in America today. The rise of an ugly imperialism has been aided by an unholy alliance of the plutocratic allies and the Christian Right, and also by a massive disaffection of so many voters who see too little difference between two corrupted parties, with blacks being taken for granted by the Democrats, and with the deep disaffection of youth."

Mr. West sees three "dogmas" threatening democracy in the United States - "free-market fundamentalism posits the unregulated and unfettered market as idol and fetish aggressive militarism, of which the new policy of pre-emptive strike against potential enemies is but an extension and escalating authoritarianism, the Patriot Act is but the peak of an iceberg that has widened the scope of repression of our hard-earned rights and hard-fought liberties.

"How ironic that 9/11 - a vicious attack on innocent civilians by gangsters - becomes the historic occasion for the full-scale gangsterization of America.

"Do we now live in a post-democratic age in which the very 'democratic' rhetoric of an imperial America hides the waning of a democratic America? Are there enough democratic energies here and abroad to fight for and win back our democracy given the undeniable power of the three dominant dogmas that fuel imperial America?"

Supporters of Mr. Kerry shouldn't look for Mr. West for solace.

He puts the junior U.S. senator of Massachusetts in the same category as Hillary Clinton - "exemplary paternalistic nihilists - contemporary Grand Inquisitors who long to believe in a grand democratic vision yet cannot manage to speak with full candor or attack the corruptions of the system at their heart."