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A Reality Check from My Readers

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 10, 2006; 11:45 AM

In yesterday's column, I asked you readers to weigh in on the assertion by an unnamed White House aide in this Jim Hoagland column that the war on terror requires an unfettered president, and that the American public "understands and supports that unpleasant reality, whatever the media and intellectuals say."

I asked: Is that an accurate analysis of the situation on the ground? Is there a silent majority out there that understands and supports the need for a strongman in the White House? Is this White House -- so often accused of making up its own reality -- in this case actually more in touch with the "unpleasant reality" of post-9/11 America than the media and intellectuals?

You can read all of the responses here. I excerpt some highlights below.

I encouraged responses particularly from those of you who support Bush, live in red states, or think you have some insights into the mindset of Bush supporters. Most of the posts came from people in the latter two categories, so take it all with a grain of salt.

But there were a lot of interesting points made -- many of which you don't hear very often inside the Beltway -- about why some Americans do indeed seem ready to support Bush pretty much no matter how much executive power he asserts.

In the broadest strokes, you described a segment of the population less concerned about Washington obsessions like policy and the separation of powers -- and more influenced by Bush's Christianity, fear of terrorism, and an aversion to questioning authority.

This experiment in having you guys write my column wasn't perfect. Our message boards are clunky. And my column didn't go up until very late yesterday because of problems at the Web site.

But I'd be willing to try this again. So, what question should I ask next? Ideally, it would not be a purely rhetorical one, but rather one that would elicit valuable observations or suggestions from your fellow readers.

E-mail me at froomkin@washingtonpost.com. (And please forgive me for not replying personally, my e-mail has gotten a little overwhelming.)

But First, a Few Links

In his Washington Post opinion column, David Ignatius writes from Dubai with the real story of why Dubai Ports World decided to sell off its U.S. operations to an American owner, sparing Bush more humiliation:

"Officials here heard late Thursday that Karl Rove had decided to pull the plug. President Bush's political adviser was said to have conveyed to a top manager of Dubai Ports World in Washington that the White House couldn't hold out any longer against congressional pressure to kill the Arab company's plan to acquire freight terminals at six U.S. ports. The initial response of one Dubai executive was: 'Who's Karl Rove?' But in the end, political leaders here recognized that it was time to fold a losing hand."

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "Now, with his poll numbers in a political ditch, the port debacle has contributed to a perception of weakness that has liberated Republicans who once would never have dared cross Bush."

Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press: "More and more people, particularly Republicans, disapprove of President Bush's performance, question his character and no longer consider him a strong leader against terrorism, according to an AP-Ipsos poll documenting one of the bleakest points of his presidency. . . .

"The poll suggests that most Americans wonder whether Bush is up to the job. The survey, conducted Monday through Wednesday of 1,000 people, found that just 37 percent approve of his overall performance. That is the lowest of his presidency." Here are those poll results.

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "The chief of an Indian tribe represented by the lobbyist Jack Abramoff was admitted to a meeting with President Bush in 2001 days after the tribe paid a prominent conservative lobbying group $25,000 at Mr. Abramoff's direction, according to documents and interviews."

Blogger Josh Marshall keeps asking what sort of "intelligence services" the White House got for the $254,437 it paid to Washington defense contractor Mitchell J. Wade's company. Wade has pled guilty to corruption charges, including bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.).

Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times opinion column (subscription required): "We should welcome the recent epiphanies by conservative commentators who have finally realized that the Bush administration isn't trustworthy. But we should guard against a conventional wisdom that seems to be taking hold in some quarters, which says there's something praiseworthy about having initially been taken in by Mr. Bush's deceptions, even though the administration's mendacity was obvious from the beginning."

And Helen Thomas writes in the Nation, in an excerpt from her forthcoming book: "Of all the unhappy trends I have witnessed -- conservative swings on television networks, dwindling newspaper circulation, the jailing of reporters and 'spin' -- nothing is more troubling to me than the obsequious press during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out -- no questions asked. . . .

"Why did the Washington press corps forgo its traditional skepticism? Why did reporters become cheerleaders for a deceptive Administration? Could it be that no one wanted to stand alone outside Washington's pack journalism? . . .

"It is past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may."

The Readers Write

WheelsBU writes: "As a so-called 'down state' resident of the state of Illinois, I have found it very interesting to see how the Bush Administration's actions have played out in this very red part of the state. To Dan's point about how the President's strong arm tactics play here, I'd say it plays well in Peoria. Literally. Most people that I encounter here are so rabid in their support of Bush that it would take a Watergate-style event to change perceptions. People here simply tune all of this debate out. We were attacked on 9-11, and President is protecting us in the best way that he can. He knows better how to protect us, even amid the torrent of information coming to light that contradicts this assertion, than do Democrats. . . .

"Finally, I find it a bit funny that Dan asks for 'red' state input, given that most red staters wouldn't read the WP to begin with, especially if they are Fox watching conservatives who really do believe that the LAT, NYT, and WP are mouthpieces for the liberal left."

Peter writes: "I live in the reddest city in the country, Colorado Springs, Colorado. I think that most Bush supporters here really believe that he is divinely inspired and should have unlimited power. They have no conception that his policies are anti-democratic and will ultimately lead to a complete loss of our democratic system. And, probably most naive, they also have no idea that the Republicans will ever lose power. I have found that the fastest way to shut them up is to ask a simple question. . . . 'What would you do if Hillary Clinton was president?' It sets their hair on fire and makes their heads explode. Bottom line, yes, they do want this unlimited power in the hands of the president as long as he's their guy. Once it shifts to a Democrat, or almost anyone else, they back off."

shooter242 found my questions disingenuous. "Sir, I think I have made the case that it's not Bush making up a reality, but you. Snide insinuations, careless associations, and gratuitous patronizing make up the wrapping you provide for the issue. One need not even consider the facts for you have provided the verdict already. This is nothing more than a show trial, something you have in common with the average strongman. . . .

"War is not nice. War cannot be prosecuted by either polls or pacifists. Judging by the 2004 election a majority of voters agreed with the direction of the Administration. Does that mean Americans like torture and domestic spying? Of course not. There are many aspects of the human condition that are distasteful but necessary to it's continuance."

Tom Burke writes from Riverhead, N.Y.: "I'm from a Blue State and, from what I've observed from my red state-type friends, I'd have to agree (with a proviso). Yes, they do want someone who will 'win' the war on terror for them (especially, if they don't have to sacrifice or fight!). They want to win more than they cherish their freedoms for two reasons:

"1. They have been terrified by the Bush/Rove/Rep propaganda and think that, for instance, Old Forge, NY, in the middle of a forest, is a terror target, just like every town, village and hamlet across the country.

"2. For a variety of reasons, they don't understand, or don't know, what loosing the freedoms they have really means. They don't see the danger in unfettered government wiretapping, in the damage done by the war to social service budgets, or what an imperial presidency really means."

JMdeNM writes: "I have several co-workers who are simple, straightforward right-wing nutcases. They always support Bush or whoever is his proxy at the moment, no matter the issue. For years now, they inevitably bring up 'Monica' and 'Hillary' to attack Democrats instead of actually debating anything.

"The common thread running though these folks is a crazed sense of vulnerability since 9/11. One of them is convinced terrorists are going to target his little town an hour west of Albuquerque, and nothing I can say (or chortle) will disabuse him of this fear. Somehow it just makes sense to him that Al Qaida operatives would want to nuke his sleepy little roadstop."

sneyland writes: "In my state (Louisiana), solidarity with Bush has less to do with actually agreeing with him that it does with personal identity. That is, if you're with Bush, you're not a 'librul'. I continually hear colleagues assert unwavering support for Bush simply because he is a Republican and is 'their' president. . . .

"Despite Bush's strong hold over the mostly white, middle-to-upper class voters here, he is vulnerable due to the debacle of Katrina. Even the staunchest supporter is at a loss to defend this administration's lack of focus, support, creativity, and determination to help the people of Louisiana."

Jake C. writes: "The 'unpleasant reality' of post 9-11 is another possible attack. And I'm sure Bush's worst nightmare as Prez and every American would be failing to stop another one. . . . So, I find it hard to blame Bush for his strong man leadership style. . . . At some point in the future we'll have time to judge Bush as President but not now and not today. Is that 'Red' enough?"

hcovitz writes: "An intelligent co-worker of mine, who was proud of voting for Bush and with whom I debated extensively, finally stated after a lengthy discussion, that we'd be better off with a King. He was one of those who was very cynical about the possibility of government ever getting anything done right, and would love to bring up examples of government waste. Democracy is very, very frustrating if you want quick results. And the farther we get from 1776, I think it is inevitable to lose sight of the benefits of such a system. We, as a nation, have done a poor job of teaching our children (and reminding ourselves) of why Democracy is better than alternatives. Very superficially, we have extolled how great Democracy is, when, out of any context, it is in reality a very frustrating principle."

jv54 writes: "Here in Tennessee there's plenty of people with steam coming out their ears over Bush's power grabs. Maybe if he could make the trains run on time people would be happier with it, but, really, he looks more and more like a bumbling fool who can't reliably get his pants on each morning. Is that really the dictator of choice for anybody, red state or blue?"

rlkinny writes: "A few months ago, I mentioned to a co-worker how upset I was at the actions of the Bush administration. My co-worker informed me that she was among the people who believed that we elect a President every 4 years and that we need to let them do their job. That it's not right for us to second guess the President's actions or believe that we understand the situation better than he does. I was speechless. I had no idea that there were people who had so much blind faith in an elected leader, and who, to me, had so little understanding of our individual responsibilities for living in a democracy."

TStrand writes: "As a person who is keenly aware of the aftereffects of 9/11, and a world traveler, I see a lot of unrest in the world that we do not experience in the U.S. Why haven't we had any repeats of a 9/11 type event? No big disasters, no bombs in malls, or whatever qualifies as a 'disaster' in your mind? Did the Radical Islamists simply give up after determining that all the time in training camp was just a nice exercise, but now they've found other pursuits? Highly unlikely. Or is it that whatever measures the government has taken happen to be working?"

TStrosnider writes: "No, I don't think the administration is 'in better touch' with the American people than the media or anyone else. In fact, I think they 'misunderestimated' the public's intelligence to a point where the average, middle of the road moderates are insulted, and have had enough."

Floyd Mason of Denver, N.C. writes: "I live in North Carolina where many people support whatever President Bush says or does. I think part of the reason so many in my state are supportive, no matter the facts, is the perception that he must be a good man because he professes his Christianity publicly. Something along the lines that a leader that says he will pray for someone must be of high moral character."

Trey Kindlinger writes from Fort Meade, Md.: "As someone who grew up fundamentalist Christian near Dallas, I would have to say there are a few points working for the President.

"1) Most fundamentalist Protestants don't care about 'secular' issues (increased power of the Presidency, etc.), they care about abortion, church/state issues, and the like, and they see the President as on their side on those issues.

"2) The current war on terrorism has been couched in pseudo-religious terms, which translates well for Christian conservatives who are fighting their own 'war' (good vs. evil).

"3) Concerning the point about 'whatever the media and intellectuals say,' that's been a point of contention for a long time. There's been a long history of fundamentalist Christians vilifying the MSM (read: East Coast and California) and intellectualism."

P. Minges writes from Bumpass, Virginia: "I live in the southern part of Northern Virginia. Lots of military, beer drinkers, and religious. I've heard it all. I agree that after 911 everyone wanted to be led and they wanted desperately to think we had a competent leader. If we didn't -- what would happen to us? . . .

"President Bush exploited our weaknesses and made us less than what we were. A true leader would have exploited our strengths and made us more than what we were."

miuwtant writes: "One of my friends . . . is certain that the war in Iraq -- and therefore Bush -- has kept terrorists out of the U.S., an argument that makes no sense at all to me but from which he will not budge. He does not believe there are any historical parallels to Iraq and the war on terror -- that the situation today uniquely demands a strong executive taking secret action against a hidden enemy, and to hell with civil liberties. Why would a God-fearing Republican need to worry about the government, anyway? . . .

"What is a common thread . . . is the reliance of my red friends on the red media. The WP & NYT are for lining your bird cage, they say. I get barraged by quotes from the WT and NYP and by some of the most amazing e-mails containing the latest apologies for the administration. One friend went so far as to say he only reads what he agrees with. That speaks volumes about why so many continue to back what I believe any educated, objective person would conclude is a failed presidency."

StonewallJax writes: "I live in Alabama - a red state if there ever was one. Around here, people use the word 'Democrat' the way they use the word 'Queer,' and with the same sort of contempt for lesser beings.

"I don't believe it's the 'strongman' concept that animates Bushies here - I think it's a profoundly intense conviction that people AGAINST Bush are the worst kind of fools. I believe that Republicans who still support Bush do so because they have profited personally somehow, either in business or by keeping out the riffraff."

Eric Anderson writes from Greeley, Colo.: "I live in Rep. Marilyn Musgrave's very very red district of northeastern Colorado, although I was born and raised and lived until I was 28 in some of bluest parts of the north coast of Northern California. One distinct difference here is the influence of old-time, dogmatic, inflexible, father-knows-best Christian religions of various denominations and their power over the people's ability to think for themselves. The majority of people here in red state farming parts of Colorado seem to want very much to live under a classic male authority figure of some type like they find in religion, be it a priest or minister or pastor or father or traditional God, and they readily submit and bend their own thinking powers to that authority figure."

1watt1 writes: "In early 1944, the New York Times asked Vice President Henry Wallace to, as Wallace noted, 'write a piece answering the following questions: What is a fascist? How many fascists have we? How dangerous are they?' Wallace's answer to those questions was published in the Times on April 9, 1944, at the height of the war against the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. See how much you think his statements apply to our society today: 'The really dangerous American fascist,' Wallace wrote, '. . . is the man who wants to do in the United States in an American way what Hitler did in Germany in a Prussian way. The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.'

"In his strongest indictment of the tide of fascism he saw rising in America, Wallace added, 'They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.' "

neilschneide writes: "The marginalization of the media and intellectuals (not rogue groups or barbarians at the gate, but parties with legitimate places at the national table) is part and parcel of furthering the goal of having an unfettered executive not subject to 'conflicting pressures'--in other words, oversight."

Tristan910 writes: "It is really not germane whether the red state folks want a totally unfettered presidency, not subject to the contending forces that legislators and judges face, or not. The Constitution provides for checks and balances and separation of powers whether they agree with it or they don't."

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