There's no more dreaded term in Presidential politics than "malaise." Twenty-five years ago, Jimmy Carter went to the mountaintop to discover why his chances of re-election were slipping away. Eventually, he came down to inform America that we, the people, were suffering a malaise.
The fault lay not with him, but with us.
Of course, we quickly decided the opposite. Ever since then, "malaise" has summed up the Carter Administration in its death-spiral.
It's hard to remember now, but just one month ago on New Year's Day, George W. Bush was on top of the world. Saddam had been captured and stocks were high. Re-election seemed like a shoo-in.
Today, Saddam's still in the pokey and the Dow's well over 10,000. But January turned out to be a terrible month for the White House.
The Administration spent the summer hyping how chief weapons inspector David Kay was going to prove there were indeed Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. On Wednesday, though, he told the Senate, "We were almost all wrong."
Bush's Iraq Attaq, once supposedly the centerpiece of the War on Terror, will go down in history as the War in Error.
Republicans were already uneasy about Bush's huge deficit and spendthrift ways. Then, we learned last week that the White House had misled the public about its huge new entitlement. Amy Goldstein reported in the Washington Post [Higher Medicare Costs Suspected for Months, January 31, 2004]:
"Bush administration officials had indications for months that the new Medicare prescription drug law might cost considerably more than the $400 billion advertised by the White House and Congress, according to internal documents and sources familiar with the issue. The president's top health advisers gathered such evidence and shared it with select lawmakers, congressional and other sources said, long before the White House disclosed Thursday that it believes the program will cost $534 billion over the next decade... "
Is Bush dishonest? Or is he simply so lazy that he's invincibly ignorant? It's a fascinating debate—but not one that Bush can win.
History is likely to record the Bush Administration's turning point as January 7, 2004, when Bush needlessly plunged his administration into a malaise by announcing the Karl Rove Amnesty Plan (a.k.a. KRAP).
I explained back in 2001 why Bush's immigration trial balloon would never fly.
Interestingly, some of the new features reflect Rove's attempts to solve problems we at VDARE.com had thoughtfully identified for him.
For example, immigrants who become citizens vote for Democrats by landslide margins, so Congressional Republicans don't want more immigrants. KRAP, therefore, denies citizenship to guest workers, leaving them a disenfranchised caste of unassimilated gastarbeiters.
But Bush's new Machiavellianism automatically cedes the rhetorical high ground to the Democrats, who are already pushing for "earned legalization" (i.e., giving illegals the vote). Bush is left contradictorily sputtering about how wonderful immigrants are and how we don't want them to become our fellow citizens.
Rove has spent three years telling the press what a brilliant political ploy amnesty would be, so his initial spin was: what a cynical political ploy!
But to anyone less innumerate than the average reporter (and I'm starting to wonder seriously if that includes Rove), chasing Hispanics at the expense of annoying others makes no quantitative sense at all. According to the huge Census Bureau survey of voters immediately following the 2000 election, non-Hispanic whites outnumber Latinos by 15 to 1. Thus, if KRAP costs Bush two percentage points of the white vote, he'd have to win an additional 30 percentage points more of the Hispanic vote to break even.
And, as I predicted, even Hispanics voters aren't krazy for KRAP. A poll of 800 Hispanics by the James Irvine Foundation found that immigration is only the fourth most important issue to Hispanics, following traditional Democratic strong suits "jobs and the economy," "education," and "health care."
It's important to note that illegal immigration is highly popular among Hispanic leaders and activists because their careers soar as the number of Hispanics rises. But Latino voters as a whole have rationally mixed feelings about it. They suffer the most direct consequences of lower wages and lousier schools.
Among Hispanics who are registered voters (and thus are not illegal immigrants), interest in Bush's immigration plan was strikingly low. Two weeks after Bush's speech, a plurality of Hispanic registered voters (41 percent) either hadn't heard of the proposal or had no opinion of it, followed by 35 percent who supported it and 24 percent who opposed it.
Worse, when given more information on the plan—such as that it required guest workers to go home i.e., be deported— a plurality disapproved (47-42).
Among all Hispanics, the Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus' "earn citizenship" plan was favored over Bush's "temporary legal status" plan by a crushing 75-16 margin.
Bush's approval rating among Hispanics is decent, but there's little evidence that will translate into more votes in November. Hispanic registered voters favored a generic Democratic Presidential candidate over Bush by a 51-30 edge.
The Irvine pollsters summed up:
"Bush's approval rating among Latinos and the percentage of Latinos intending to cast votes for him in 2004 did not show improvement over figures from recent national surveys completed before the immigration proposal was announced."
What can Bush do?
Then, Bush can backtrack on immigration. He doesn't have to admit he's dumping the immigration plan—I guess—but he should announce, quite reasonably, that his plan requires prerequisites, most notably getting control of the border.
This would be wildly popular with the public.