« The Media's Incurable Myopia | The RCP Blog Home Page | Four Pearls of Wisdom »

Bush Surfing the Waves

I've been trying to think of a metaphor to describe the current political dynamic in Washington and I can only think of one thing: waves.  If you've ever been to the beach you know that waves travel in sets: each wave rises, crests, washes ashore and then recedes back into the following until the entire set is complete. Some waves break earlier than others and some wash much higher onto shore. It all depends.

Over the past few weeks we've seen a series of national security-related waves hit Washington. The first wave, which had been building for a year (and perhaps longer), was the theme that "Bush lied." It crested around Veteran's Day when the President hit back at critics in a tough, public speech.

That wave was followed by the rising debate over troop withdrawal, a wave cresting with John Murtha's call for immediate withdrawal on November 17 and the subsequent vote in the House. 

The issue of CIA "black sites" was another wave that came ashore, rising dramatically after Dana Priest's November 2 article in the Washington Post and cresting a month later with Condi Rice's trip to Europe. In some ways this was a mini-break of the larger wave of torture and detainee abuse, a debate that has been raging for quite some time and finally crested last week with Bush coming to an agreement with John McCain on a torture ban.

The election in Iraq last week was the break of another big wave, this one decidedly in favor of the President. But even as the positive news out of Iraq was washing ashore in the U.S. on Friday, the New York Times set the next big wave in motion by splashing the details of the eavesdropping program authorized by Bush in 2002 across the front page.

The conventional wisdom is that these waves have been slamming the president who is adrift, but the reality is that he's been surfing them rather skillfully - as the polling since the middle of November indicates.  As John argues in his RCP column today, Democrats continue to operate under the mistaken assumption that there's a positive benefit to be had from going toe-to-toe with Bush on national security when there is a far greater likelihood they will end up reinforcing the worst "soft on security" stereotypes already held by the public.