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Time and tide wait for politicians
Media General News Service


June 16, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Heaven help the metaphor that wins the favor of a politician in an election year. It never gets a rest.

As Henny Youngman might say, take the tide, please!

From the mouths of politicians, tides turn, rise, surge, spread and are being rowed against. The tide is in.

President Bush often talks about the tide turning in Iraq, where his critics see nasty cesspools. In politics, it's all in the metaphor.

"The tide is turning" is one of those phrases like "we'll stand down when the Iraqis stand up" that say less than meets the ear. What constitutes "standing up," anyway?

The stand-down-up phrase leaves the impression there will be an observable moment when Americans can leave Iraq with a good conscience. But if, as Bush now says, the violence in Iraq isn't going away ever, how will we know when Iraqis have stood up?

Similarly, "the tide is turning" sounds good. It evokes the force of nature. To say the tide is turning in Iraq gives the hopeful impression that conditions are improving when many people are pessimistic about the course of the war.

At least since JFK said of a growing economy, "a rising tide lifts all boats," politicians have been evoking tides. Bill Clinton warned against the "tide of cynicism."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, accepting New York Democrats' nomination for Senate last month, said, "we've rowed against the tide and we've made progress."

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warns of a "global rising tide of protectionism" that threatens entrepreneurs.

For President Bush, the tide has been turning in Iraq for more than three years. On May 1, 2003, on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the president triumphantly declared the end of major combat in Iraq.

"The war on terror is not over," he said, "yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory but we have seen the turning of the tide."

Soon reporters were grilling Ari Fleischer, Bush's press secretary at the time, about whether the tide had actually turned.

"I think there's no question that the tide is turning, and, as the president said, al-Qaeda is diminished but is not destroyed," Fleischer said.

Not content to leave it there, Fleischer waded deeper into the surf. "Tides that turn also have a way of trying to return so they can continue to spread whatever waves they can. And that is why there is an ebb and flow to wars."

Got that?

More than a year later, the president took the tide out of Iraq but it was still turning.

In a September 2004 radio address, the president said America and other nations were "determined to turn the tide against global poverty by taking a new approach to economic development."

Three months later, on World AIDS Day, Bush said his administration "has made turning the tide against HIV/AIDS a priority."

On World AIDS Day 2005, he said the United States was working with its partners "to turn the tide against HIV/AIDS."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just last week talked about turning the tide on AIDS.

Bush has said that "the tide of freedom is spreading across the globe." Sometimes, the tide of freedom is "surging." It frequently is "rising."

When Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed, President Bush said in the Rose Garden June 8 that the killing offered a chance to "turn the tide of the struggle" in Iraq.

Last week, after Bush returned from Baghdad, a reporter asked the president in his Rose Garden news conference if he still meant what he'd said about the tide turning.

Maybe it was the jet lag, but Bush stammered for a moment.

"I think - tide turning - see, as I remember - I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of - it's easy to see a tide turn. Did I say those words?" he said.

Mustering his thoughts, he said he hoped no one expected that in Iraq "all of a sudden, there's going to be zero violence - in other words, it's just not going to be the case."

He added, "And whoever said it's a tide turning and all that, need - never mind."

Could the tide have turned one time too many?


E-mail Marsha Mercer, Washington bureau chief for Media General News Service,
at mmercer(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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