It’s becoming increasingly clear that John McCain is going to have to cope with something I call PT-BDS — or Post Traumatic Bush Derangement Syndrome. Let me explain and, as is so often the case with my explanations, let me start with a personal anecdote.
I’m visiting with the in-laws right now (hence the sporadic blogging). It’s quite a nice visit. We’re in a lovely American city, the children had a rapturous reunion with their cousins, and I’ve had a stimulating time with my in-laws, all of whom have moved right, just as I have. Indeed, poor Mr. Bookworm is the only hold-out. He feels that the family is betraying decades of committed liberalism (not the mention the New York Times), and is putting up a heavy rearguard action to defend his belief that “Bush is the worst president ever” (or, BITWPE).
Things got difficult for him though when talk rolled around to the upcoming elections. He conceded that he thought Obama would be a disaster and that he couldn’t vote for him. He also admitted that he hated Hillary and wouldn’t vote for her. But, he said, he couldn’t vote Republican. Why not, we all asked? Because, he said, “Bush is the worst president ever.” Had you been in the kitchen at that moment, you would have heard nine adults say in perfect harmony and synchronization: “But Bush isn’t running for President.”
Mr. Bookworm acknowledged this fact, just as he acknowledged that McCain is an entirely different personality from Mr. Bush. In my conversations with him, Mr. Bookworm has also admitted that McCain is not a Bush crony, and that he agrees with a lot of McCain’s politics. Still, Mr. Bookworm just can’t get passed the “BITWPE” problem.
It would be easy enough to say that Mr. Bookworm is just stubborn, which he is, if it weren’t for the fact that my mother is exactly the same. She agrees that there is a war of civilizations going on, and that the Democrats are ignoring it. She agrees that Obama is scary and Hillary awful. She agrees that illegal immigration is a problem. She recognizes that identity politics and political correctness are divisive and are weakening America. But she can’t vote Republican. Why not? She can’t stand Bush’s smirk. Point out to her that Bush and Cheney are not running for office, and she tells you she doesn’t care. She just can’t vote for Bush.
PTBDS has potentially far-reaching effects, effects that go beyond my neurotic, retro-Progressive family members. In writing about the “country in the wrong direction” poll that just came out with a devastating 81% unhappiness rate (although Democrats were overpolled and Republicans unpolled), Rick Moran pointed out the problem this poll poses for McCain and the Republicans:
This is not good news for John McCain and the GOP. People who think the country is headed in the wrong direction rarely vote for the incumbent party. However, in this case, the Democrats may have something to worry about as well. Approval ratings for Congress are worse than they are for the incumbent Republican president. But people tend to punish the party of the president during general elections than they do the party in control of Congress which is more common in off year contests.
McCain’s challenge is to distance himself just enough from Bush that he stands on his own two feet while not alienating Mr. Bush’s core 30% support among Republicans. It is a balancing act that many in the past have failed to do (see Al Gore) but will be necessary if McCain wishes to avl\d a backlash against the party of Bush among the general public.
In a normal world, one could deal with the revulsion felt towards the incumbent administration during an economic downturn simply by pointing out the obvious,which is that no one from the Bush administration is running for President. However, in this election, conservative Democrats — who ought to be a swing vote — dislike the man with such fervor, they can’t be reasoned with. For them, Bush and the Republican party have become fused into a single entity, making it impossible for them to view any Republican candidate objectively. They’ve been so deeply traumatized by the Bush presidency that even the letter “R” after someone’s name causes frightening flashbacks, with avoidance the only option.
I just hope that all of these PTBDS sufferers are able to overcome their phobias and realize that, if as I believe is the case, Obama becomes the Democratic candidate, their Post-Traumatic Obama suffering will dwarf anything George Bush sent their way.