The Thinker

The chickens have come home to roost, at last

Occam’s Razor likes to peer into the future. Sometimes I get it right, and sometimes I get it wrong. Overall though my ability to prognosticate is good. After all not many like me were predicting prior to our war in Iraq that it would turn into the insurgency that it did.

My timing can be off though. Perhaps I see trends too early. Clearly, after reelecting Bush a year ago Americans are now having buyer’s remorse. Had the election been held even a month later the presidency might well have flipped. However, shortly after last year’s election, I pointed out that Bush had set in motion events that could not be stopped. His comeuppance could not be forever postponed.

Events in 2005 have cascaded into a crescendo of bad news not just for Bush, but also for Republican rule. Bush’s approval ratings have tumbled even further, averaging recently at around 37%. While we will have to wait a year to find out the damage done to the Republican’s hold on Congress, we might get a hint from scattered elections this month that another political earthquake is coming.

One sign that should be very worrisome to Republicans is that Tim Kaine (a Democrat) won the governorship here in reliably red state of Virginia. It took a lot for Democrat Mark Warner to win the governorship in state four years ago. To win he had to convince Virginia voters that he was both a good ol’ boy and was not a liberal.

As governor Warner defied conventional logic and proved that even in a red state voters will support pragmatic taxes increases. Working with minority Democrats in the state assembly and a handful of moderate Republicans he was able to pass a modest half-cent increase in the state sales tax. As a result serious money started flowing into urgently needed transportation projects. In addition Virginia schools were able to receive desperately needed additional aid to keep up with growing population and testing demands. His pragmatic approach found wide support across the state. Arguably Tim Kaine, the former Lieutenant Governor, rode on Warner’s coattails. He won the gubernatorial election by more than five percent against his Republican opponent, Jerry Kilgore. More astonishingly, solidly reliably counties like nearby Loudoun County voted solidly for Kaine. Kilgore’s antitax message rang hollow and seemed shrill. Virginians are returning toward embracing pragmatic government again. Apparently good schools and roads are more important than paying a half a cent more in sales taxes.

Kilgore found that being a Republican was no longer much of a selling card, even in Virginia. He avoided President Bush, who wanted to campaign with him in the state, until the very end. His one campaign appearance with Bush shortly before the election seemed to seal his defeat. Yes, even here in the reliably red state of Virginia, more people disapprove of Bush than approve of him. The result of these elections suggests Bush is now toxic. In addition Republicans are being viewed by voters with jaundiced eyes. Apparently even Republicans can interpret poll number and are sobering up. They realize they may be out of office next year if things don’t change. Consequently we are witnessing serious fractures of the Republican machine in Washington. Despite all the odds, the budget cuts proposed by fiscal conservatives, which targeted the poor by cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, could not win over moderate Republicans. The bill could not even pass by removing the requirement for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is an amazing denouement for a party that just a couple months ago believed it could ram through congress pretty much anything its leadership wanted.

I do not need to spend much time restating Bush’s problems because most of you keep up on current events. Bush has been carpet bombed since his reelection. From the deepening quagmire in Iraq (for which we have no realistic exit strategy), to his surreal and deadly mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, to skyrocketing gas prices, to fumbled Supreme Court nominations, to indictment against Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scotter” Libby, Bush is more than wounded. He has had limbs blown off.

Americans are in a surly mood. The economy is doing okay, but the benefits are not trickling down to them. For the average American, expenses keep exceeding income. The new expenses are costs we can do little to trim back. As a result the middle class continues to shrink. Many, like my wife who managed to find a new job recently, will work for much less than they made in their last job. While many find their income is down, necessary expenses like health care, gasoline and home heating oil keep skyrocketing. We wonder how much longer the American Dream will be available. And we wonder why we are allowing the dream to slip away. Why did we elect people who did not serve our interests, but instead slavishly served only the interests of those that funded their campaigns? This anxiety is reflected in rather disturbing consumer confidence statistics.

The voters are sobering up. Over the last five years our country has been raped and pillaged by Republicans. What we are witnessing is the intense anger, and even hatred, of those who were disenfranchised. We no longer have a government that even makes a pretense about serving the common good. It serves those who support Bush and the Republican Party and gleefully shafts the rest. Both the president and the Congress are drunk on power. More tax cuts for the rich in a time of soaring budget deficits? Until recently, this was not a problem. Weaken air pollution laws as a response to hurricane relief? Sure, why not? Cry over Terri Schiavo’s brain dead body, but let senior citizens drown to death in New Orleans’ nursing home? Not a problem either. After all, they couldn’t vote and beside they were not one of their kind.

I do not think this situation will improve. I think it will continue to get worse. I hear people say that at 37% approval ratings, Bush has reached his floor. I don’t think so. I think it will go even lower in the months ahead. Bush is now in the rapids and he is losing control of the ship of state. The time is ripe for a change in congressional power, and we should see it in the 2006 elections. It remains to be seen though whether Democrats are savvy enough to fully capitalize on the moment. As I suggested Democrats need a new Contract with America. It is painfully clear at this point what one party Republican rule has delivered misery for the average American. A clear vision for the future should turn the House of Representatives back to its traditional Democratic Majority. With only a third of the seats up for grabs in the Senate in 2006, it is less likely that Democrats can take that chamber too, but it is not outside the bounds of possibility. Bereft of the public trust, Americans have little choice but to embrace an alterative or to suffer through even more disastrous mismanagement of their government.

A stiff wind of pragmatism is beginning to sweep across America again. It will be good to feel it again. It has been sorely missed.

 

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