Great Minds Thinking Alike

Paul Krugman:

President Bush isn’t on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is, nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in office.

There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times, which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that “this is not about the midterm elections.” But the editorial’s authors surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won’t fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he won’t change strategy in Iraq; he won’t change course at all, unless Congress forces him to.

What I’ve been saying. Maybe Professor Krugman is a Mahablog lurker.

At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush’s character. To put it bluntly, he’s an insecure bully who believes that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood — and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his policies are succeeding and all of his officials are doing a heckuva job. Just last week he declared himself “pleased with the progress we’re making” in Iraq.

Yesterday there was much buzz about David Rose’s Vanity Fair piece, “Neo Culpa,” in which prominent neocons throw President Bush under a bus. There is much to remark upon in this short article, but I was most struck by this bit:

Richard Perle: “In the administration that I served [Perle was an assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan], there was a one-sentence description of the decision-making process when consensus could not be reached among disputatious departments: ‘The president makes the decision.’ [Bush] did not make decisions, in part because the machinery of government that he nominally ran was actually running him. The National Security Council was not serving [Bush] properly. He regarded [then National-Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice] as part of the family.”

Michael Ledeen, American Enterprise Institute freedom scholar:
“Ask yourself who the most powerful people in the White House are. They are women who are in love with the president: Laura [Bush], Condi, Harriet Miers, and Karen Hughes.”

For more on the walking pathology that is Michael Ledeen, see Glenn Greenwald. The point is that from 9/11 until Katrina, Bush floated along within a carefully crafted image of a great leader. But in fact, he is no leader at all. He is to leadership what a black hole is to matter. All the time he’s been occupying the White House he’s been playing dress-up, putting on a president’s clothes and pretending to do a president’s job. But no one is really doing the president’s job, and the nation lurches from one disaster to another, unguided.

Back to Krugman:

In other words, he’s the sort of man who should never have been put in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a prolonged free ride from much of the news media.

The results have been predictably disastrous. The nightmare in Iraq is only part of the story. In time, the degradation of the federal government by rampant cronyism — almost every part of the executive branch I know anything about, from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been FEMAfied — may come to be seen as an equally serious blow to America’s future.

And it should be a matter of intense national shame that Mr. Bush has quietly abandoned his fine promises to New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast.

If I believed in a personal God, I’d be tempted to interpret Katrina as a Divine Memo — the hand of the Almighty sending a great storm to show America who their much ballyhooed President really is. It’s a heartbreak the storm devastated the unique but fragile city of New Orleans and sacrificed so many vulnerable people. But if the hurricane had hit Texas or Florida, President Bush might have felt a spark of personal interest and been less disengaged. I know this sounds harsh, but for American politics Katrina was, in truth, a perfect storm.

The public, which rallied around Mr. Bush after 9/11 and was still prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt two years ago, seems to have figured most of this out. It’s too late to vote Mr. Bush out of office, but most Americans seem prepared to punish Mr. Bush’s party for his personal failings. This is in spite of a vicious campaign in which Mr. Bush has gone further than any previous president — even Richard Nixon — in attacking the patriotism of anyone who criticizes him or his policies.

That said, it’s still possible that the Republicans will hold on to both houses of Congress. The feeding frenzy over John Kerry’s botched joke showed that many people in the news media are still willing to be played like a fiddle. And if you think the timing of the Saddam verdict was coincidental, I’ve got a terrorist plot against the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you.

Moreover, the potential for vote suppression and/or outright electoral fraud remains substantial. And it will be very hard for the Democrats to take the Senate for the very simple reason that only one-third of Senate seats are on this ballot.

Tomorrow night will likely be a nail-biter. Some recent polls show the race tightening. Billmon calls this phenomenon “the idiocracy vote.”

Part of the trend shown in the Pew and ABC/Post polls may simply be “natural tightening” — as Republicans and Republicans-who-call-themselves-independents come home to their party. But what needs to be kept in mind is that at this late stage the remaining independent undecided or soft leaners generally constitute the least informed, least involved and, in many cases, least intelligent segment of the electorate. Or, to be perfectly blunt about it: Many of them are completely fucking clueless, which means they tend to be the most easily manipulated by the kind of limbic, cesspool politics the Rovian machine now specializes in.

I think it’s also true that for a stubbornly high percentage of the voters, the default position is still conservative and Republican. Scandals and/or disappointments, such as the Mark Foley case or the Iraq quagmire, may knock them off that position, but there’s a built-in tendency for them to drift back. The Reagan coalition may be old and fraying, but it remains the dominant structure in American politics.

Yet hope remains.

The key question, of course, is how many of these soft-headed soft leaners will actually turn out on Tuesday.

That’s what the famous Republican “ground game” does, of course; flush out the idiots and get them to the polls. Recent events may have taken some of the energy (and volunteers) out of the ground game, however. We’ll see.

Returning to Krugman:

What if the Democrats do win? That doesn’t guarantee a change in policy.

I’ll come back to this in a minute.

The Constitution says that Congress and the White House are co-equal branches of government, but Mr. Bush and his people aren’t big on constitutional niceties. Even with a docile Republican majority controlling Congress, Mr. Bush has been in the habit of declaring that he has the right to disobey the law he has just signed, whether it’s a law prohibiting torture or a law requiring that he hire qualified people to run FEMA.

Just imagine, then, what he’ll do if faced with demands for information from, say, Congressional Democrats investigating war profiteering, which seems to have been rampant. Actually, we don’t have to imagine: a White House strategist has already told Time magazine that the administration plans a “cataclysmic fight to the death” if Democrats in Congress try to exercise their right to issue subpoenas — which is one heck of a metaphor, given Mr. Bush’s history of getting American service members trapped in cataclysmic fights where the deaths are anything but metaphors.

Hidden behind the trivial and phony issues dangled in front of the American electorate, there are real issues critical to the nation’s survival.

Jonathan Schell writes,

The stakes, as President Bush likes to say–and on this point he is correct–could scarcely be higher. But they include one stake he never mentions: the future of constitutional government in the United States, which his presidency and his party have put in serious jeopardy. The old (lower case) republican system of checks and balances and popular liberties, you might say, is in danger of replacement by a new (upper case) Republican system of arbitrary one-party rule organized around an all-powerful presidency. …

… It is simply impossible to know in advance when, in a great constitutional crisis, the decisive turning point–the irrevocable capsizing–might come. We are left wondering whether we are witnessing just one more swing of the familiar old American political “pendulum,” bound by its own weight to swing back in the opposite direction, or whether this time the pendulum is about to fly off its hinge and land us with a crash in territory that we have never visited before.

This is the danger we face, and — with the exception of Keith Olbermann — the news media and the professional “pundit” corps are ignoring it.

Back to Krugman:

But here’s the thing: no matter how hard the Bush administration may try to ignore the constitutional division of power, Mr. Bush’s ability to make deadly mistakes has rested in part on G.O.P. control of Congress. That’s why many Americans, myself included, will breathe a lot easier if one-party rule ends tomorrow.

In spite of the poll-tightening, conventional wisdom still says that Dems are nearly certain to take the House, but not the Senate. If I had to choose one house of Congress to take back, I believe I’d rather have the House. Senators are too entrenched, too cautious. But the House will be infused with new blood, and under the leadership of old lions like Waxman, Conyers, and Murtha, the House might pose a real challenge to the Bush Administration.

But here’s the thing: no matter how hard the Bush administration may try to ignore the constitutional division of power, Mr. Bush’s ability to make deadly mistakes has rested in part on G.O.P. control of Congress. That’s why many Americans, myself included, will breathe a lot easier if one-party rule ends tomorrow.

I realize the Dems will not have a veto-proof majority. But I say again that Republican politicians are going to be in a very uncomfortable place for the next couple of years. They can no longer hide behind the coattails of a popular president, and now that Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay are out of the picture, K Street is not so much the cornucopia of cash and influence it once was. Republican House members in particular, once they are a minority, might feel compelled to choose between loyalty to Bush and party leadership and their reelection chances in 2008. I’m not saying they will switch parties, but it’s possible many of them will cross the aisle and vote with the Dems now and then.

And check out this editorial in the current issue of The American Conservative, “Bush Must Go.”

It should surprise few readers that we think a vote that is seen—in America and the world at large—as a decisive “No” vote on the Bush presidency is the best outcome. We need not dwell on George W. Bush’s failed effort to jam a poorly disguised amnesty for illegal aliens through Congress or the assaults on the Constitution carried out under the pretext of fighting terrorism or his administration’s endorsement of torture. Faced on Sept. 11, 2001 with a great challenge, President Bush made little effort to understand who had attacked us and why—thus ignoring the prerequisite for crafting an effective response. He seemingly did not want to find out, and he had staffed his national-security team with people who either did not want to know or were committed to a prefabricated answer.

As a consequence, he rushed America into a war against Iraq, a war we are now losing and cannot win, one that has done far more to strengthen Islamist terrorists than anything they could possibly have done for themselves. Bush’s decision to seize Iraq will almost surely leave behind a broken state divided into warring ethnic enclaves, with hundreds of thousands killed and maimed and thousands more thirsting for revenge against the country that crossed the ocean to attack them. The invasion failed at every level: if securing Israel was part of the administration’s calculation—as the record suggests it was for several of his top aides—the result is also clear: the strengthening of Iran’s hand in the Persian Gulf, with a reach up to Israel’s northern border, and the elimination of the most powerful Arab state that might stem Iranian regional hegemony.

The war will continue as long as Bush is in office, for no other reason than the feckless president can’t face the embarrassment of admitting defeat. The chain of events is not complete: Bush, having learned little from his mistakes, may yet seek to embroil America in new wars against Iran and Syria.

Meanwhile, America’s image in the world, its capacity to persuade others that its interests are common interests, is lower than it has been in memory. All over the world people look at Bush and yearn for this country—which once symbolized hope and justice—to be humbled. The professionals in the Bush administration (and there are some) realize the damage his presidency has done to American prestige and diplomacy. But there is not much they can do.

There may be little Americans can do to atone for this presidency, which will stain our country’s reputation for a long time. But the process of recovering our good name must begin somewhere, and the logical place is in the voting booth this Nov. 7. If we are fortunate, we can produce a result that is seen—in Washington, in Peoria, and in world capitals from Prague to Kuala Lumpur—as a repudiation of George W. Bush and the war of aggression he launched against Iraq.

If a conservative wrote that, then bipartisanship is still possible.

11 thoughts on “Great Minds Thinking Alike

  1. The truth is Krugman and others do “borrow” from you. I’ve seen it many times with my posts which were up long before others posted.

    Feel flattered.

  2. If I had to choose, I’d have to go with the Senate for one reason: Supreme Court.

    On borrowing, I’m more inclined to “great minds think alike”.

  3. I think McCain will be the big loser when the Dems take the House. Many popular bills will pass the House forcing McCain to show his true colors by voting against them or angering the hard-right Rep base he is trying to court for the primaries.

  4. The existing Senate Democrats, with few exceptions, are so weak that if we were to obtain a majority, or even a 50-50 split, there is no guarantee that even on a Supreme Court nominee the Dems would hold together. I think it’s going to be up to the House to show leadership in the next two years, and I’m counting on the Progressive Caucus and the Black Caucus for some progressive leadership.

  5. The new wave neocon, or chickencon, would like to have his cake and eat it too. They were for the war till it got messy. Now they are against the war or like “lyin Leeden” were never for the war even though he said Iraq should be invaded “yesterday”. But don’t call them on their inconsistencies because that aint fair. At the end of the day they still need to play nice with the cons in power cause who else will have them. That’s why they claim to be upset at the Vanity Fair article.

  6. President Bush made little effort to understand who had attacked us and why—thus ignoring the prerequisite for crafting an effective response

    Oh, but he did! He determined that they were evildoers who hated us for our freedoms. What more do we need to know? And besides that..he is annointed of God and blessed with divine appointment..If God be for him, who can be against him?

  7. Yes, Bush’s responses are very effective…….. in engendering divisiveness, and pandering to the idiocracy.

    Something is kind of sweet about the Repugs now worrying about electronic vote theft.

    In all the itty-bitty shifting in poll results, one statistic remains constant and grows only in an upward direction: increasing numbers join with the majority of citizens who are fed up with Bush’s Iraq war.

    maybe off topic, maybe not:

  8. Gore Vidal calls Bush The Yellow Rose of Texas – given his stellar military career which is just one of many embarrassments that have plagued George during his entire less-than illustrious life. Compared to his father, George has been a loser..

    Invading and capturing Sadaam was George’s opportunity to do what his father didn’t do during the Gulf War and for which his father was roundly criticized by more bellicose Republicans.

    For George, egged on by neocons who’d been pushing an Iraq invasion since ’92 and Dick Cheney who had also come under criticism for backing out of “finishing” the Gulf War, capturing Sadaam was George’s golden opportunity to prove himself capable of doing something his father had failed to do.

    Now that it is accomplished and Sadaam is headed for the hang man’s noose, George can proudly say, Mission Accomplished. The continuing Iraq war is truly not an issue for George.

  9. If Bush feels admitting a mistake undermines his manhood, then people need to tell him, “Whatever you do, don’t fire Rumsfeld,” which will ensure that Bush will then get rid of him.
    Poor Rumsfeld…he’s one of the few neocons that actually served (navy pilot, 1950s), so give him that. Still doesn’t mean there isn’t photographic proof he gets his behind confused with a very large hole in the ground:

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