Sunday, September 04, 2005

Inflection point

Will the political waters come to a head, even as the hurricane waters subside?

The Sunday headline in the Washington Post White House Shifts Blame frames the problem. President Bush had almost weathered a rough August respite of fundraising, clearing debris and cycling with Lance Armstrong, while Camp Casey remained front and center in the news.

Now, just as Labor Day arrives, the promised return to normalcy is nowhere in site. Now, as the waters and turmoil in New Orleans subside, a real storm is gathering over the nation’s capital.

The fall loomed as a time of acquiescence to the Roberts nomination and the inevitability of a continued struggle in Iraq. There would be no filibuster of a nominee whose conservatism is clear but not egregious. There would be no clamoring for withdrawal in the Senate chambers filled with erstwhile leaders who know that having conspired in getting us into war, there is no easy exit now.

Oh, how a week has changed things. The breach of the levees in New Orleans has pierced the veil and laid before the nation a failure of government, a failure of execution and a failure of leadership. The urge to shift the blame will not help salve the political wounds because people died, at home, on TV. Ethel Freeman died for no reason other than the failure of the government to send in the troops.

The troops arrived halfway around the world in Aceh in three days and saved lives. In New Orleans, a few hundred miles from Maxwell Air Force Base, Fort Hood, Barksdale Air Force Base, Meridian Naval Air Station and Pensacola Naval Air Station––to name a few––anarchy reigned for the better part of a week, people suffered, and people died. How our response could have been quicker when we had to traverse the Indian Ocean by ship than a few hundred miles by chopper will raise fundamental demands for accountability for which there will not be a good answer.

As a weakened President arrives home to lead an administration in turmoil, Chief Justice William Rehnquist succumbed to cancer. Pat Robertson had publicly prayed to God for another vacancy on the Supreme Court, and God, it would appear, has nothing if not a sense of timing. The creation of a second vacancy before the Roberts confirmation hearings have been gaveled to order will change the tenor of those hearings, and place great pressure on the President to name his second nominee prior to the vote on the first, such that the conservative credentials of Judge Roberts can be considered in the broader context of the President’s larger strategy for the direction of the court, the name and judicial profile of the proposed second justice, and the nomination of a new Chief Justice.

New Orleans, the Court. Oh, yes, Iraq. The story that has been off the front pages for a week now will reemerge, as that country moves closer to a non-constitutional crisis. The success of the Kurds in carving out their own nation within a nation will leave Arab Iraq facing the fundamental question that has lingered for a millennia: how can the Sunni and the Shia coexist when each views the other as the source of the greatest sin in Islam––Apostacy. For the first time in Iraq’s history, the underclass Shia have pulled a fast one on their traditional Sunni overlords. Working within a democratic framework of our making, they have seized the reigns of the constitutional process, and the question is whether they will respond to the––quite ironic––pleas of the Bush administration that they operate in a bipartisan manner, notwithstanding having the votes to ram it to the Sunnis.

Last, but certainly not least, there is the money. A $2 increase in the price of gas for a typical car owner costs $1,200 per year. For a two-car family, that is $2,400, or over $3,000 pre-tax. Sure, less than a week in Nantucket, but from another perspective almost 8% of the median family income. Even the scions of the dismal science have begun to admit that economic growth is going to slow.

At the same time, the reconstruction demands will necessitate further federal borrowing. A Republican administration that has insisted on borrowing first to finance tax cuts and then to fund a $200 billion war will have to add additional billions to rebuild a city that is a national icon and that will be perceived to have suffered at the failed federal response. If Pat Robertson is still in a praying kind of mood, I would suggest that he ask God’s intervention to make sure that the godless Chinese keep buying our bonds, because nothing will upset the current applecart more than the long-awaited upward move in long-term interest rates, and concurrent piercing of the real estate bubble that has been forestalled by the Chinese central bank.

So there it is. The peace and quiet of Crawford is in the past and the confluence of events is about to shatter the dominance of Karl Rove’s superior strategic vision. The events that are on the agenda now are real, not symbolic, and the Bush team has lost the upper hand. The rubber is about to meet the road, and at the end of a long summer the road is very hot and the driving will be more difficult than in recent memory.


Anonymous said...

As another college semester begins in the serene New England country side I too am conflicted by the detachment from what I see each time I turn on the television and the semblence of normalcy that surrounds me day to day. Yet, finally you get the sense that change is surely on the horizon if only prodded on by the pain suffered at the gas pumps. Even President Platitude cannot escape the reality of this. Well done David

Becca said...

Ah, here you get to it.