IF GEORGE W. BUSH HAS A POLITICAL PROBLEM IN this election year, it's that the people who hate him exhibit so much more passion than those who love him. That may be more an appearance than a reality, of course, because we have been so saturated for the last couple of months with the Democratic primary process. The vitriol and venom that have sloshed over the boundaries of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and a dozen other states suggest an energizing of the anti-Bush voter base that few had predicted. Most states enjoyed record turnouts for the Democratic primaries-and sometimes by thumping margins.
All of that might still prove to be misleading. It could still turn out to be another media bubble that will ultimately burst in Mr. Bush's favor.
But I have to say that right now the tone I'm hearing personally is uncharacteristically consistent with what the big media are saying. In this space last week, I summarized a few responses I received when I asked 50 WORLD readers about the depth of their own political commitments. Since writing that, I've now heard from perhaps two dozen more of those folks-and they are notable for all the reservations they hold.
Almost to a person, these folks said they still intend to vote next November for George Bush. But almost to a person, they also suggest that they are half-hearted in that commitment. And half-heartedness doesn't typically win a close election.
Ray Thompson, a businessman from Montana, typified these folks: "Between Democrats, the media, and George W. Bush, the average American has no representative. Big government socialists have them all. True, he's stolen the platform from the Democrats-and they hate him for it. It's the one area in which his integrity is suspect. His sidekick in the campaign, Mark Racicot, did the same thing in Montana. The compassionate neighbor is competing with the big government compassionate conservative."
From an opposite corner of the country, in Charleston, S.C., Will Haynie echoed the same thought: "I don't want a 'moderate' Republican in the White House or for Congress to fund the same programs a liberal Democrat would-but for less money. To me, it's not the amount; it's the principle.... I don't have a high degree of confidence in the Bush administration's commitment to limited federal government."
Former college president Frank Brock said tersely: "He must cut back federal government if he's going to cut taxes. The deficit is not tolerable." WORLD's managing editor Tim Lamer added: "If he would veto a single spending bill, that would make my support for him somewhat more enthusiastic."
One reader stressed that the interest on our national debt this coming year will be a bigger expenditure than will be our national defense-a development that almost certainly will weaken our national defense.
What really surprised me, though, was how few of my correspondents chose to defend Mr. Bush. Attorney Brian Dutton from Pittsburgh pointed out that the president inherited a recession from Bill Clinton, suffered the 9/11 attacks, and then felt forced to fight wars in two countries-"all valid reasons for a deficit." But such arguments were rare indeed-strengthening my own argument that way too many of those who will be voting for Mr. Bush will be doing so with a good bit of reservation.
Most ominous of the responses was from Ross McGee in Nevada, who said he goes to coffee every morning with a large group of retired men. "The sense there is that we need a new person in the White House-if only to get some gridlock up there," he said. "They all went for Bush last time."
Anecdotal evidence is a bad methodology for political forecasting. But neither this, nor last week's very similar collection of vignettes in this same space, is meant to be statistically valid. Both are included here simply to make the point that if a man's natural friends are fainthearted, what can you expect from his foes? Most of these folks (minus the morning coffee bunch) would likely vote for almost any Republican. They like George Bush, and they note especially their concern for electing a president who will make the right judicial selections over the next four years.
So far, though, they're a lot less excited than their political opponents.