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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Iraq Dogs GOP Candidates

It's about time.

Financial Times:

For three years after the invasion of Iraq, it was difficult to drive more than a few miles through middle America without seeing a car displaying a magnetic yellow ribbon.

The magnets, bearing the slogan "Support Our Troops", became a symbol of patriotism for millions of US motorists.

But as support for the war fades, demand for yellow ribbons has collapsed.

Magnet America, the largest manufacturer of the product, has seen sales fall from a peak of 1.2m in August 2004 to about 4,000 a month and now has an unsold stockpile of about 1m magnets.

The problem here is that the right has successfully confused supporting the troops with supporting the war in the minds of the public. People who had these magnets on their cars weren't showing their support for the troops, they were showing their support for Bush.

As Bush's numbers sink lower and lower, support for the war drops as well. A Diageo/Hotline poll shows Bush's favorability at 35% -- anemic -- while a CBS News/New York Times poll puts his disapproval at 71% on the issue of Iraq. Bush has lost the war at home.

Of course, Bush could be excused for not giving a damn about his approval ratings. He's done. But the president still needs supporters -- now more than ever -- to get his agenda through. And they have good reason to care about Bush's approvals. These days, if you hitch your wagon to Bush's star, you'll be lucky to go anywhere but down. Which is exactly the direction that John McCain's campaign is headed.

Salt Lake Tribune:

President Bush announced last month a plan to send an additional 21,500 military members to Iraq in an attempt to quell worsening sectarian violence. While expressing some skepticism over whether the recent "surge" is enough, McCain said military leaders have ensured him the new plan is sound.

"I still believe we can succeed," he said. "We have the right general; we have the right plan."

Americans don't appear as confident. Less than a quarter approve of Bush's management of the Iraq war, according to a recent CBS News poll, and more than half believe the United States should begin a withdrawal of its troops, according to an ABC News survey.

McCain, once a front-runner in the race for the Republican nomination, has recently lost ground to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with a recent Fox News poll giving Giuliani a 2-to-1 edge over McCain. Giuliani has touted himself as a "crime fighter," "business leader" and "tax cutter" but has thus far given little indication of where he stands on Iraq.

Of course, Giuliani can't continue to be ambivalent on the war -- people kinda-sorta expect the Commander in Chief to have some sort of opinion on it. Maybe even a plan. Once he sets his position in stone, he'll lose the support of some. If you don't take a stand on an issue, people allow themselves to project their own opinions onto you -- you are what voters fantasize you to be. Once Rudy definitively states his position, a lot of people will see he's not the candidate they thought he was at all. Which, of course, is why he's avoided the subject so far.

John McCain has been less circumspect. In fact, he's got the pom-pons and the pleated skirt. In the campaign for president, there is no bigger cheerleader for the war in Iraq. And this strikes a lot of people -- myself included -- as a complete disconnect from reality.

Well, maybe not complete. He's been critical of the way the war has been fought, if not the war itself. He caught a little flak for telling David Letterman that american lives were being 'wasted' in Iraq. A tempest in a teapot, really. The right made a big deal out of Barack Obama saying the same thing, so they had to call McCain out for it. There were probably three people in the US who were genuinely offended by it -- most people think it's true.

Whether or not McCain will go the way of the yellow ribbon magnet depends on his ability to convince voters that the war is both winnable and worth winning -- not freakin' likely. His best chance now is to have Rudy Giuliani adopt that same position.

And that's not likely either.


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