Earlier this month, I read a piece on Powerline by John Hinderaker which pretty much corresponded to my own views of why the president’s approval remains so low. Like me, he “traces it back” at least as far as the summer of 2003 when the Administration failed to respond to he dishonest statements Joe Wilson made in his New York Times Op-ed and later media appearances, claiming the president lied us into war. John wrote:
One can trace it back at least as far as the 16-words controversy. President Bush may be correct in believing that history will recognize his achievements, but history will also record that his administration’s inept efforts at self-defense resulted in a Democratic Congress that is poised to do severe damage to America’s economy and national security.
While the president’s problems transcend his Administration’s public relations errors, his team did, as John put it, make some incredibly “inept efforts at self-defense,” never effectively challenging Wilson’s mendacity nor regularly defending its own decision-making process. As a result, the views of an extreme fringe (that Bush lied us into war) gained greater currency, particularly among members of the media elite.
Polls show Americans increasingly questioned the president’s honesty and trustworthiness. The left-wing narrative that “Bush lied, People Died” seems to have taken hold
Yet, as Michael Barone observes in his essay on Douglas Feith’s recently published War and Decision, this narrative is at odds with the facts. In this book, “the the No. 3 civilian at the Pentagon from 2001 to 2003. . . quotes extensively from unpublished documents and contemporary memorandums and paints is at considerable variance from the narratives with which we’ve become familiar.” (Via Hugh Hewitt.)
Like Hinderaker and myself, Barone believes these narratives have become familiar because “the administration allowed its critics to frame the issue around the fact that stockpiles of weapons weren’t found.” This wouldn’t be the last time the Administration allowed its critics to frame the debate.
The president might not have lost the strong numbers he once enjoyed on trust had he done a better of framing the debate–or at least done a better job of challenging inaccurate media narratives. It’s nice to believe, as he well must have have, that the truth will win out and maybe it will in the end. But, if the truth is going to win out, its advocates can’t afford remain silent and must make their case with the same determination as its adversaries.
At least on the decision to go to war in Iraq, the president does have a better story to tell than his critics, but nobody’s going to believe a story never told. Or listen to a story told poorly. Sometimes you have to keep telling a story lest people start believing another version of events.
And the president simply failed to entertain the possibility that people would believe the dishonest narative of his duplicity. And that’s why so many did.