Like Ivan Drago, Max Von Sydow's Exorcist, or for that matter, Saruman, this election is beginning to feel like one of those movies where the entire movie is spent talking about some dude being an invincible badass only to see them go down in flames with little more than a finger tap.
Essentially, this administration has spent their entire four years running for re-election, perfectly executing the routes drawn up by "genius" offensive guru Karl Rove. Talk up compassionate conservatism. Take Democratic strengths off the table (as the Medicare prescription drug bill and No Child Left Behind was supposed to do) but mainly spend your time promoting false patriotism and packing sacks of goodies for your rightwing base and campaign contributors by borrowing money like mad (because nobody cares about deficits, as Dick-C says). Then amass an unprecendented war chest, with the implicit promise of more giveaways.
After a national tragedy created a chance to build a long-lasting Republican majority and give the President staggering approval ratings, all of that has been squandered. Partly, that's less a problem with the campaign as it is with their refusal to actually examine facts when making decisions. But Rove hasn't helped. By January 2004, these guys were trotting out weekly desperado tactics like the Mars mission and the immigration amnesty pitch (politically calculated proposals which had Rove's fingerprints all over them). Then came the State of the Union address, another dud. And after all that, they're behind in the polls, losing ground among independents, and left to wage a campaign centering on a culture war and fear-mongering to appease a grumbling base. The Shrub/Dick re-election campaign has thus far been nothing short of pathetic, and they've shown no signs of getting better.
Ah, but what about their bottomless well of campaign loot? For one thing, check out the theme: "It's not my fault". (Good job being "strong and decisive", Mr. War President.) For another, their inept first spot has already been predictably shredded by *firefighters* and relatives of 9/11 victims, two of the last groups of people you'd want to publicly offend. So the play on these rehabilitation ads over the next couple of days will be: Is the President exploiting 9/11 for political purposes? That's not what these fools were bargaining for, I'm sure.
Perhaps the more apt analogy is the 2003 World Series, in which a much unloved but scrappy franchise outplayed and outhustled the sloppy-fielding chokers with the unlimited resources and a team of superstars.
Even though neither Reagan nor Clinton had trailed their opponent in the polls in March or thereafter and undecideds break 3 to 1 against the incumbent, it's early yet and things can turn on a dime. But given the first phase of the battle, we can at least put to rest the idea that Karl Rove is some Kongming-like omniscient svengali. Let's remember, the guy didn't even win the last election he ran.