The Post-Bush Era
Pride goeth before a fall, and three notable people discovered this week that arrogance has a price tag. The reporter Judith Miller, the femme fatale of journalism, finally left the New York Times, where after 28 years she had become an embarrassment to her bosses and colleagues. Terrell Owens, the Philadelphia Ego, learned, in spite of his belated apologies, that hed exhausted the patience of his teams owners, his coaches, and his teammates. And President Bush read the election results.
The drubbings the Republicans took from coast to coast werent a total surprise. The weekend before the election, the Washington Post reported voter discontent with the GOP, even in the heartland. David Broder, the veteran political analyst, quoted an old Republican leader saying of Bush, Hes lucky hes not on the ballot this year. And that was in Ohio.
Voters in Ohio, Broder noted, couldnt care less about whether Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Karl Rove minor studies in arrogance have committed perjury; the dominant factor in the Republican slump is the endless Iraq war. Bushs patriotic happy-talk leaves them unmoved as American soldiers, many of them Ohioans, keep dying in ambushes.
On election day I got a startling bit of feedback. A fervent and principled conservative, a Vietnam veteran and former CIA man, the sort the Democrats would call an extremist, mentioned that he and many of his friends now look back on the eight Clinton years as the good old days.
In Republican Virginia, Democrat Tim Kaine was easily elected governor after Bush came down to campaign for his opponent, Jerry Kilgore. At one point Kilgore, sniffing the wind, had avoided appearing with Bush during a presidential visit to the state, but by the end of the race he was desperate enough to welcome his support, hoping it might make the difference. It didnt.
Neither did feverishly branding Kaine a liberal. The old Republican tricks arent working anymore. Bush, guided by Rove (Bushs brain), has worn them out.
Only last year, when Bush and his brain whipped the feckless John Kerry, the Republicans looked invincible. Theyd consolidated not only their hold on the presidency but the conquest of Congress that had begun in 1994, when Newt Gingrich was riding as high as Bush has since.
The war on terror rallied the country behind Bush, and dozens of neoconservative keyboards gushed forth analogies with Roosevelt and Churchill fighting Hitler, the Saddam Hussein of yesteryear. Pre-emptive war quickly effected regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq, where democracy put down its roots, women enjoyed rights for the first time, and weapons of mass destruction would soon be found. The invincible Bush basked in triumph.
Meanwhile, at home, the invincible president became the biggest spender ever to occupy the White House. As nearly 80 million Baby Boomers approached retirement age, he added new Medicare benefits that would consolidate Republican popularity for the foreseeable future.
And without raising taxes! With a booming economy, it would all pay for itself. Optimism was the legacy of Ronald Reagan, Gingrich, and supply-side economics. You couldnt argue with success, and even most of the Democrats were too intimidated to protest much.
But, amidst all the GOP celebrations, the Iraq war sprang a slow leak. A fierce resistance to the invasion, or liberation, erupted and persisted. Saddam Hussein was overthrown, captured, and humiliated, but his dreaded weapons were never found; it seemed they didnt exist. The slam-dunk pre-war intelligence had goofed. The administration had also taken some liberties with the facts. Eventually a special prosecutor got into the act.
The wheel of Fortune turned out to be more than a game show. Within a remarkably short time, early in his second term, Bush had totally lost his aura of mastery and heroic virtue. The headlines brought a welter of new or formerly marginal names, none of which reflected well on the president: Katrina, DeLay, Frist, Libby, and Harriet Miers. And more than 2,000 American soldiers had died in Iraq.
If conservatism means Bush, we may see a new political alignment in the years ahead. Given only two choices, sensible voters should prefer a chastened liberal to a deluded conservative.
This is excellent news for the junior senator from New York. Think of it. In early 2009 she could become not only the first woman president, but the first president to bring White House furniture in with her.
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