With the Phillies' hopes all but crushed, I returned from vacation desperate to find good news on the other obsession. Happily, the punditariat obliges: David Broder, the "Dean" of Washington columnists--I'd editorially add, with a tip of the cap to Homer Simpson, that Broder is in fact a "crusty old dean"--and foremost carrier of the sacred Conventional Wisdom, suggests that Bush might be cooked:
The factors that make President Bush a vulnerable incumbent have almost nothing to do with his opponent, John F. Kerry. They stem directly from two closely linked, high-stakes policy gambles that Bush chose on his own. Neither has worked out as he hoped.
The first gamble was the decision to attack Iraq; the second, to avoid paying for the war. The rationale for the first decision was to remove the threat of a hostile dictator armed with weapons of mass destruction. The weapons were never found. The rationale for the second decision -- the determination to keep cutting taxes in the face of far higher spending for Iraq and the war on terrorism -- was to stimulate the American economy and end the drought of jobs. The deficits have accumulated, but the jobs have still not come back.
Long after Hussein was defeated and captured, the American forces occupying Iraq have found no evidence of the supposed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. The rationale for a war that has taken nearly 1,000 American lives, caused several thousand American casualties and cost well over $100 billion does not exist.
Linked to the decision to go to war was the decision not to do what every other wartime American president has done -- raise taxes to pay for the cost of hostilities. Instead, in the face of growing annual deficits, Bush continued to press a compliant Republican Congress for more and bigger tax cuts. In 2003, when he asked Congress for $87 billion for Iraq, Bush said, "I heard somebody say, 'Well, what we need to do is have a tax increase to pay for this.' That's an absurd notion. You don't raise taxes when an economy is recovering. Matter of fact, lower taxes will help enhance economic recovery. We want our people going back to work."
Despite the triple dose of stimulus -- tax cuts on top of historically low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve Board on top of a huge increase in federal defense and domestic spending -- the recovery from a not-very-severe recession during the first year of Bush's term has been painfully weak. Especially when it comes to his No. 1 goal of producing jobs.
Just before the new numbers came out, the president was bragging to campaign audiences, "When it comes to creating jobs for America's workers, we've turned the corner, and we're not turning back." Democrats are making that phrase as famous -- or infamous -- as the "Mission Accomplished" sign on the aircraft carrier Bush visited in a premature celebration of the end of major fighting in Iraq.
The president has suffered other blows to his credibility -- a survey of seniors earlier this month showed major doubts about his touted Medicare prescription drug plan. But they pale in importance compared with Iraq and the economy. In The Post's polls every month since January, more voters have voiced disapproval of his performance on those two issues than approval.
I don't read the Washington Post much anymore--it disgusts me, frankly--but I might check it out to see if their other columnists take cues from Broder and start advancing the notion that Kerry is likely to win. They just seem to work that way in the Great National Swamp.
Then there's our pal Charlie Cook, back from a hiatus of a few weeks with more good news for the Democrats:
This election is certainly not over but events or circumstances will need to fundamentally change the existing equation for President Bush to win a second term.
The argument made here and in other places was that, with President Bush already laying claim to roughly 90 percent of the Republican vote, and Kerry holding almost that high a share of the Democratic vote, there was very little room in this race for either candidate to enjoy the kind of bounce that used to occur, when partisan cohesion was not nearly as strong as it is today. As veteran Democratic pollster Peter Hart puts it, we have a "concrete trampoline," which makes it almost impossible to get much of a bounce.
For more than four months, both Bush and Kerry have been hovering at around 45 or 46 percent, give or take three percentage points, depending upon the poll, the week and what was going on around the time the survey was conducted. In recent days, most polls have Kerry up a touch over the incumbent, but still well within the surveys' margins of error. The only reason Kerry's slight lead is worth noting is that it occurs in almost all of the recent national polls, suggesting that an edge truly exists, albeit a very narrow one.
Updating some figures that this column published last month with the latest AP/Ipsos survey data, the far more sobering numbers for Republicans are those of voters in the undecided column. Keep in mind two important factors: First, when an elected president is seeking re-election, the contest is a referendum on the incumbent far more than it is a competition between candidates. Second, undecided voters historically have broken heavily against well-known, well-defined incumbents. This has proven true on the congressional, senatorial, gubernatorial and presidential level. That's the origin of the phrase in politics for incumbents, "what you see is what you get" -- you get pretty much the percentage on Election Day that the last round of polls indicate that you will get, while the undecided vote goes elsewhere.
While 49 percent of all registered voters approve of Bush's overall job as president, another 49 percent disapprove. Among just the undecided voters, only 25 percent approve, and 68 percent disapprove. Those are very ugly numbers for an incumbent. Not surprisingly, this pool of undecided voters tend to be disproportionately more Democrat than Republican, with 43 percent identifying themselves as Democrats, 32 percent as independents and only 25 percent as Republicans.
...President Bush must have a change in the dynamics and the fundamentals of this race if he is to win a second term. The sluggishly recovering economy and renewed violence in Iraq don't seem likely to positively affect this race, but something needs to happen. It is extremely unlikely that President Bush will get much more than one-fourth of the undecided vote, and if that is the case, he will need to be walking into Election Day with a clear lead of perhaps three percentage points.
And finally, though I won't quote from it here, I strongly recommend checking out this article from Dailykos.com. The poster knows his polls like nobody's business, and he breaks down the so-called "battleground states" and suggests that between current polling and the sort of allocation of undecideds Cook suggests (which might in fact be conservative in this case), Kerry is likely to almost sweep the seriously contested states and wind up in the neighborhood of 330 electoral votes.
Now we just have to make sure they don't cheat--and hope that nothing happens at the RNC Death Convention later this month that fundamentally changes the equation... what's that, you say? What if they trot out a captured Osama bin Laden?
Well, timing would be everything in such a scenario, I think. If bin Laden shows up in shackles on Halloween, two days before the election, we could have a problem. But the entire history of the Bush administration has been that over time, people increasingly move away from Chimp-in-Chief; positive events, whether it be capturing Khalid Sheik Muhammed, the war in Iraq, going over there for Thanksgiving, or even nabbing Saddam Hussein, create a short-term bump, but each successive bump has been smaller and has eroded quicker. Getting bin Laden might slightly reverse the trend, but even the craziest pro-Bush hawks concede it wouldn't mean the end of al Qaeda, the collapse of the Iraq insurgency or any other paradigm-shifting outcome. Ironically, Bush himself probably had it right in early 2002 when he described bin Laden as "not that important"; the sort of results he really would need to display in order to change the dynamic in the way that Cook suggests--successful elections in Iraq, sustained job and wage growth here at home, a dramatic reduction in the number and severity of terror attacks worldwide--just aren't attainable in two and a half months.
Which is why I'm so worried that they'll just cheat, by computer voting fraud or suspending elections or some other as-yet unconsidered chicanery.