Friday, May 06, 2005

Bush beyond Thunderdome

I’ve been thinking some more about Bush’s quixotic Social Security push, which just goes on and on, like a show trying to get to Broadway, but bombing in Chicago. And Boston. And New Haven. And Peoria. And Keokuk. And then on the dinner theater circuit. One reason for it must be that he has his eye on history. He’ll be the man who brought democracy to the Middle East, and like Moses he’ll lead us up to the promised land of the ownership society/private accounts, but won’t be with us when we finally take up residence there.

So even if the battle is lost for now, when (and if) Social Security goes bust, or some kind of political reckoning arrives, Bush could end up looking like someone who was ahead of his time, a visionary we should have listened to way back when. Of course, when the history books are written, Central Park will be a swimming pool, the South will be a Sahara, gila monsters will be ensconced inside the Arctic Circle and Bush will look like a fool for doing nothing on global warming. Or after repeated oil shocks the global economy will collapse, people will be living in isolated communities herding pigs for methane and Tina Turner will be running things, and history as we know it now will no longer be written. Or the Chinese will be writing the history books – but hey, by then they too will love private accounts. And Jesus. So it may yet work out for him.

This is an obvious point, but it fits here. The basic flaw in Bush’s vision, such as it is, is that it’s determined to an unusual degree by the demands of raw politics. Bush’s bold strikes, made in the guise of reform, must always advance the GOP’s short and medium-term interests (and, it goes without saying, crush the Democrats). It’s the curse of Rove’s 51 percent strategy. If genuine problems come along that are not closely aligned with Republican Party/interest group strategies or Bush’s own odd preconceptions of reality, they are simply ignored and get worse (e.g., fiscal policy, environment, energy, homeland security, intelligence reform, a host of second- and third-tier issues). Now, Bush is capable of change – he’s a democracy promoter and nation-builder now, and wasn’t before. But in many respects, he is not a true leader but a highly skilled politician who lacks the ability or the inclination to transcend politics.