Gulf war came a year too early for Bush campaign

MIKE ROYKO

March 02, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

We are a nation of sports nuts. Which means we are fickle, impatient, demanding, in need of instant gratification. And it shows in our politics.

As sports fans, we demand that the manager or coach be fired when our favorite team fails to give us vicarious pleasure. We don't care if he has a mortgage, a wife, kiddies and a feeble mother. Or that only a year or two ago, when the team was winning, we were hailing him as a genius and a great leader of men. Give him the pink slip, we shout.

When our pitcher is befuddling the enemy and our slugger is putting balls into orbit, we cheer and shriek and weep with joy and hold civic parades. Then the pitcher gets a twitchy tendon and the slugger's wand goes limp, and we snarl that they are overpaid rats and phone radio sports shows to ask why such riffraff should be permitted to live.

And so it goes in our politics, as George Bush is discovering. Less than a year ago, George Bush was Coach of the Year, Most Valuable Player, Heavyweight Champ, Slam Dunk King and a Hall of Famer all rolled into one. He stood tall, walked tall and could be forgiven anything, even his geeky golf swing.

He had won a war. And it wasn't just a win, it was a blowout. It was like a 16-0 baseball game, 48-zip in football, a first-round KO. And we got to see every thrilling moment of the sanitized replays and the video-game graphics on our TV sets.

Yellow ribbons were everywhere. There were more victory and welcome-home parades than at the end of World War II. The pollsters said that Bush's popularity ratings had shot right through the top of the chart, up out of the computer, through the ceiling, crashed through the roof, and disappeared into the clouds. He was so beloved that if the election were held last spring, even his opponent would have voted for him.

Now look at him. Instead of walking tall, he seems to be about 5-2 and shrinking. He has gone from bestowing medals on Gen. Schwarzkopf to pleading with speech writer Peggy Noonan to come back to work and find him another 1,000 points of light.

A year ago, he had chased Saddam Hussein into the deepest basement rec room in the Middle East. Now he is being slapped around by TV-shouter Pat Buchanan.

And the dreaded W-word is appearing again. They are showing up at Buchanan's rallies, holding signs that say: "No More Wimps." In less than a year, a matter of months, really, there's been a swing from "George Bush is unbeatable" to "no more wimps."

How can that be? True, the economy is not in the best shape. But it wasn't in good shape a year ago. And it wasn't much better a year before that.

In fact, the economy shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention over the last decade or so. It was Bush who once said that Ronald Reagan was going to give us voodoo economics, and it turned out that he was right. But as the lyrics of the song might have gone: Bush do that voodoo that Ron

did so well.

And Japan didn't slip up on us in the dead of night only a few weeks ago. They've been out-hustling us for years. So why, all of a sudden, are people chanting "Buy American" who never once looked at the made-in label on a product before?

There's probably an explanation to be found in the world of sports.

Nobody in Chicago gets upset if a manager or a coach is fired in New York or Dallas. If an L.A. pitcher's arm goes dead, it's not a matter of concern in St. Louis.

So that's Bush's problem. The hard-core liberals and other Democrats didn't like him in the first place. So their attitude hasn't changed. They aren't the ones who are waving "No more Wimp" signs.

It's Bush's misfortune that the recession is now clobbering those who voted for him, and for Reagan, just as hard as it has hit those who would usually vote Democratic. In fact, some blacks are probably chuckling at all the woe and misery. They've had their own recession as long as they can remember.

In past recessions, we've read about the greasy-handed workers being laid off. This time the stories are about the unemployed suburbanites spending their dead time in the local libraries. You can bet that most of them didn't even think about a vote for Dukakis, Mondale or Carter.

This isn't the "feel good" life that Reagan promised them. And there's no point in hating Willie Horton when the personnel office turns off your computer and tells you to clean out your desk and go home.

In politics, as in sports, timing is everything. Bush just had his war one season too early.

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