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Look out: There's a flu under every Bush

In the normal ebb and flow of things, you wouldn't necessarily associate the flu with international security concerns. On the eve of the big vote next week, the flu has become an election issue in the United States; the safety and availability of a vaccine presents the kind of oxymoron that the Bush administration revels in.

An epidemic of below-the-radar elderly Americans day-tripping across the 49th to get some cheap Rx has turned into a rash of news stories after President George Bush suggested terrorists armed with the flu vaccine were pouring across the border into the United States.

What, you missed that?! Then cast your mind back two weeks, back to the second debate and listen to the President's response to a question about the possibility of importing flu vaccines from this side of the border to cover the shortfall in the United States: "[I] just want to make sure they're safe. When a drug comes in from Canada, I want to make sure it cures you and doesn't kill you . . . and what my worry is that, you know, it looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a Third World."

Next week, if Mr. Bush again loses the popular vote but this time also loses the presidency, he will be sorely missed by all the satirists, newspaper columnists, flip-floppy liberals and girly men who have dined out on his solecisms while misunderestimating the man's genius.

Take a look at the President's response again: "It looks like it's from Canada, and it might be from a Third World." George's genius is his ability to confuse two different issues as one but score an election point nonetheless. In this case, he manages to turn a domestic issue (vulnerability) to his advantage by spinning it into a "subliminable" message about Canada harbouring terrorists.

I hesitate to call the most powerful man in the world an idiot savant, if only because I suspect that Mr. Bush possesses a native intelligence that makes him a formidable opponent -- especially when all the smart money has written him off. (See: It's the intelligence, stupid.)

Anyway, I didn't come to bury Caesar because I have reluctantly come to understand that no matter what I or others may think of President Bush's personal and political failings, the American electorate (or at least the ones that bother, or are allowed, to vote) tend to cast their ballot with a buy-now-pay-later mentality when it comes to their national security and interests.

That is why political adviser Karl Rove and all the President's men don't give a poll for what the rest of the world thinks of George W. Bush. Certainly not the recent survey conducted by leading newspapers in 10 countries, including Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Japan, Spain, Israel and South Korea, where an overwhelming majority in eight of the countries hope that John Kerry will defeat Mr. Bush next week. In Britain, Mr. Bush's staunchest ally, the figures were 50 per cent for Mr. Kerry and 22 per cent for Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush's handlers may not care about the 73 per cent of British voters who believe that the United States now wields an excessive influence on international affairs.

But there is a school of thought that hopes Mr. Bush gets a second term, and I've already enrolled in that program.

I don't know whether it is my immune system's defensive reaction to Bush flu -- the shiver one feels at the thought of opening the papers to front-page pictures of a smiling George W. on Wednesday morning -- but I have already rationalized a Bush second term as serving my global interests. I've always subscribed to the notion that an empire is at its most vulnerable at the height of its power.

It is an immutable law of nature that condemns the powerful to overweening ambition: Think of the Roman Empire, Napoleon, Conrad Black and the New York Yankees. What with that monstrous budget deficit midwifing the economic miracle of a jobless recovery, the loud commitment to policing the world at any cost, and a seemingly implacable addiction to market forces in every public sector from education to health care -- another four years of Bush flu may be tough medicine. But it might, just might, weaken his country and make the rest of us stronger.

On the other hand, John Kerry might, just might, pull America from the brink of self-destruction -- that is, if he succeeds in balancing the budget at the same time as extending the reach of social programs. He just might succeed in getting the rest of the world to help America police the world, to continue to float America's trillion-dollar debt, to pull us all out of our irrational anti-American senses and persuade us that if America sneezes, we might all catch a cold.

Whatever the outcome, I'm going to get myself a flu jab.

wiwa@dial.pipex.com

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