For ten years, this has been bugging me. After the 2004 presidential election, Bush the Younger said, “I earned capital in the political campaign and I intend to spend it.” Now, for years I’ve been arguing that, Political Capital is a Myth. But people talk about it all the time and I don’t get upset. I don’t care. They’re fools. But just what political capital was Bush talking about?
In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter by almost ten percentage points. He got 489 electoral votes compared to Carter’s 49. I think Reagan was a catastrophe for the United States, but you have to admit that if anyone had earned political capital, it was Reagan. And he did it again in 1984, beating Mondale by 18 percentage points with an electoral college advantage of 525 to 13.
But did Bush earn any political capital in 2004? He beat Kerry by 2.4 percentage points. He got 286 electoral votes compared to Kerry’s 251. What’s more, if less than 60,000 Bush voters had voted for Kerry in the state of Ohio, Kerry would have been elected president. And I still think that the totally unjust way we do our voting where rich people get to vote easily and poor people have to wait in long lines in the rain could well have tipped the balance. Regardless, I admit: Bush won the election is 2004.
What I think Bush meant when he said he had earned capital was as simple as this: he actually won the election. In 2000, he didn’t win the popular vote. If the recount had been allowed to finish, he wouldn’t have won the electoral college. So all he was saying was, “I actually won this election so you can’t complain!” Of course, the implication here is that Bush presided as president during his first four years with the humility one would expect when one effectively stole an election by way of the Supreme Court. But that wasn’t the case. He ruled from the very first day as though he had be elected by 18 percentage points with an electoral college advantage of 525 to 13.
But the statement was very much what we expect from Bush the Younger: the cheerleader from Yale. I’ve never accepted the idea that Bush was stupid. But he has always been a deeply unserious man. Obama, for all this faults, is a very serious man. In 2012, he beat Romney by 1.5 percentage points more than Bush beat Kerry. He beat Romney by 91 more electoral college votes. He never claimed to have a mandate. And I think we all know what the media would have done if he had said he did: there would have been universal derision. But the media just accepted it coming from Bush.
I remember when I was the head of IT at a medium sized investment company. The owner was a big Republican supporter with pictures on the wall with him and Reagan and the two Bushes. After the 2004 election, I was crushed. But one of the agents (who was also a Republican, but not as hardcore), showed me a little comedy bit from The Tonight Show:
I was a good sport about it, but I didn’t find it funny. First, there was the fact that Jay Leno stopped being funny back in the late 1980s. But also, I thought it was more or less an accurate representation of what we got from Bush and another four years of that was so depressing. But the agent showed it to the owner and he seemed to respond the same way that I did. He didn’t like the idea of us having such an unserious man in the White House. But of course, he was glad he was there because Bush had saved him millions of dollars in taxes.
What’s bothersome there is that the reaction of the agent was more or less the reaction of the country. It didn’t matter that we had a president who took winning re-election about as seriously as winning a beauty pageant. He thought he had been given a mandate because that’s the kind of thing that presidents say. Like Reagan before him, he played the part of President of the United States. But oh how much damage was done by both men.
And remember what he was going to use his political capital for: privatizing Social Security. This was not an issue in the campaign. Even if he had won by a landslide, he didn’t campaign on privatizing Social Security. He ran on the fact (and I still can’t get my head around this) that he had allowed the 9/11 attacks. It was the ultimate bait and switch, “Vote for me because I’ll keep you safe (and I hate fags), but then I’ll privatize your Social Security which I know you absolutely don’t want me to do.”