The Successful Opposition

It was the first time I ever shook the hand of a United States president. Or laid eyes on one in person, for that matter. It was the first Monday in November, 2002.

George Walker Bush had barnstormed the nation that day. He was spending his last pennies of political capital before he flew to Crawford to cast his own vote the next morning.

His final speech was slated for Southern Methodist University’s Moody Colisuem, which fell squarely in the Dallas district my boss represented in the Texas House. I managed a ticket.

After peaking in the 70s earlier in the year, Bush’s approval ratings hovered around 60% as the campaign season came to a close. People generally felt confident in his competence as commander in chief.

The president had activated a war on terrorists and their harborers. He laser-focused on keeping our country safe while also moving his compassionate conservative domestic agenda forward. He had signed bi-partisan education reform into law only months earlier.

As the mid-term elections approached, Bush was undeterred by the historical fact that the president’s party usually loses Congressional seats after his first two years in the White House.

Bush seemed unconcerned by the hit his personal popularity might take if his party lost seats; that is, if his political investment failed to pay off. He was boldly willing to leverage the goodwill he had accumulated in order to further the first principles he held dear.

So, he campaigned with vigor for Republican candidates, for frivolous lawsuit reform, for the confirmation of conservative judges and for a strong and evolved military led by a strong and resolved executive. And he won. Big.

In the weeks following the November 2002 elections, President Bush dominated print media covers. Time magazine declared that he had “aced [his] mid-terms.” Newsweek had him in a brown jacket with the headline “Top Gun.” The Economist’s rendition: “By George!”

Only two other times in U.S. history has the party of a sitting president not lost seats in Congress at his initial mid-term.

The first: Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 only a year after the assassination of President McKinley (and actually, because of population growth and the resulting new seats in Congress, both major parties made gains that year).

The second: Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression in 1934. That mid-term election was largely seen as a referendum on FDR’s New Deal policies. People handicapped by the sour economy endorsed those policies in droves.

Will we see a similar endorsement in less than four weeks of President Obama’s post-financial disaster policies?

Recent polls suggest not, despite the president’s pleas in Rolling Stone that people “buck up” and not “take their ball and go home.” The magazine’s October 15 edition attempts to resist the unfolding Republican surge. Its cover headline: “Obama Fights Back.”

But the main thing the cerebral Obama seems to fight is wealth accumulation, which is merely the product of education, risk-taking, hard work and prudence. One might also call it success. And success sure is an odd thing for a president to oppose.

1 Response to “The Successful Opposition”

  1. 1 Lad Mingus October 19, 2010 at 15:19

    The wealth accumulation seems to be concentrated is the very highest economic brackets. It doesn’t appear to show any percentage of economic gain in the pockets of the remaining ninety plus percent of the population. There is something skewed in the numbers to the harm of almost all including eventually even the very wealthy.

    Lad Mingus

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