"How poorly we understood George W. Bush"

By Tim Grieve
Published October 18, 2004 4:46AM (EDT)

We noted over the weekend that John Kerry has a huge lead over George W. Bush in at least one category -- newspaper endorsements. The current tally from Editor & Publisher: Kerry 45, Bush 30.

There's no surprise in some of the Kerry endorsements. Anyone could have predicted months or even years ago that the New York Times would back Bush's Democratic challenger. We're much more interested in the crossovers. This weekend alone, three papers that backed Bush in 2000, including the Tampa Tribune, said they couldn't bring themselves to endorse anyone this year.

Five more papers that endorsed Bush in 2000 came out this weekend in favor of Kerry instead. No one did it more eloquently than the Bradenton Herald, a daily in Florida's Manatee County. Manatee went big for Bush in 2000, but the Herald says its readers shouldn't let themselves be fooled again.

"When the Herald recommended the election of George W. Bush as president of the United States four years ago, we lauded his record in Texas as a consensus builder and expressed confidence in his ability to unite the country after four years of bitter partisanship. We liked his slogan, 'A uniter, not a divider,' and criticized opponent Al Gore's role as point man for Democrats' mean-spiritedness.

"How poorly we understood George W. Bush in 2000. We could not imagine the possibility that, just four years later, Bush would have done just what we feared of Gore -- that the United States would barely be on speaking terms with some of its staunchest allies, and that America would be reviled around the world as a bullying, imperialist superpower. How far we have fallen from the bright fiscal forecast in 2000, with surpluses that offered the promise of debt paydown now replaced with a staggering $500 billion annual deficit and the national debt projected to exceed $9 trillion by 2010.

"As for Bush being a uniter, sadly, the nation is more polarized than it has been since the 1960s. Bush's administration is notable for its lack of transparency, its intolerance of dissent, its refusal to admit mistakes. Under Bush's leadership and Republican control, Congress has become a mean-spirited, partisan body where the vice president is praised for cursing an opposition senator on the Senate floor. The 'compassionate conservative' president has people at outdoor rallies arrested for hoisting an opposition sign.

"But all of this is overshadowed by the two most significant issues in this campaign: the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. In both, Bush has failed as well -- to our country's great peril."

There's much more where that came from, and it's all right here.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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