Why Bush Won

The war in Iraq is going badly, and the economy isn’t much better, but the president’s victory proves the wisdom of an old political adage: You can’t beat somebody with nobody.

I voted for George W. Bush for president. This will hardly come as a surprise to regular readers of this magazine; earlier this year, when I wrote about how disappointed I was that President Bush had not governed like Governor Bush, I concluded that I would probably vote for him anyway, because I thought he was better suited than the leading Democratic candidates to deal with the dangerous times in which we live (“ The Man Who Isn’t There,” February 2004). I made the same point in our previous issue, when I took the president’s side in an e-mail debate with William Broyles (“ Stop Beating Around the Bush,” November 2004). An election forces voters to resolve their ambivalence and make a choice. I made mine, but my ambivalence, which I put in abeyance for one day, has returned.

George W. Bush deserved to lose this election, according to the normal standards of judging presidential performance—but John Kerry didn’t deserve to win it. Bush deserved to lose because the two most important policies of his administration, the war in Iraq and the tax cuts, were disasters, and his credibility was in question. His administration had fallen into the predictable trap of winning the war but losing the peace. He and his advisers ignored the generals’ advice that more troops were needed in Iraq, and they ignored the State Department’s advice on how to rebuild the country. The tax cuts have produced mind-boggling deficits without doing much to stimulate the economy. It is no wonder that the most important indicator of a president’s standing with voters—polls showing whether Americans think the country is on the right track or the wrong track—showed that, even on the eve of the election, a solid majority believed that the country was headed in the

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