Sunday, May 22, 2005

Now, if we could just convince Al Jazeera to carry Rush Limbaugh ...

Laura Bush’s Middle East trip has an air of ridiculousness about it.

The strategy appears to be literal-minded: She’s more likable than W – so she can help repair our image in the Middle East. The Arabs and Jews will love her, and their love for her will reduce their hatred of us. A little. Maybe.

It’s OK, I suppose. Can’t hurt. But it’s the same thinking with regard to W and the media that gave us close encounters of the equine kind a couple of weeks ago at the White House Correspondents Dinner – a fun but politically inconsequential event.

Appointing Karen Hughes to buff our image abroad (she has not started yet, so is apparently not behind this trip, but who knows) sparked a lot of commentary that the White House was finally taking the issue seriously. But the opposite is true, as Laura’s trip illustrates. The Bushies view our deteriorating image not as something demanding concrete action, but as a political message problem.

So they will handle it in their customary fashion – by doing whatever they damn well please, then putting a friendly face on it with sunny rhetoric and message discipline. Hughes is a peerless practitioner of this political art, and the First Lady an ideal front person. But while it may work on 51 percent of the American public, the Middle East and the rest of the world are not going to buy it.