Monday, April 02, 2007

The Four Phases of the Bush Presidency

From day one, there were signs that George W. Bush was an illusion. The debate with Al Gore that was on foreign policy showed George W. Bush as a deer in the headlights, something we have seen two, three, four times a year since: a president who is a master of photo ops and public relations completely out of his depth, completely unable even to pull a reasonable bluff of being presidential. After the debate, Karl Rove saved his man by pointing hysterically and effectively at Gore's sighs, but the fact is that we're all sighing these days as blunder piles on blunder and idiots like Senator McCain talk about walking safely in downtown Baghdad while failing to mention his safety was assured by a heavy military sweep prior to his stroll and a bristling fully armed escort with helicopters as he 'wandered' an open market. These days the deer in the headlights mode would be even more prevalent if Bush hadn't discovered some time ago the snarling bully in some of his performances that simply cover his up own incompetence and lack of understanding of what it takes to be president.

The incompetence was visible in Bush's first eight months. Sidney Blumental calls those months the first phase. Here's Blumenthal's piece in Salon as he talks about the potential treasure trove in the hidden e-mails of a very dysfunctional presidency:
The rise and fall of the Bush presidency has had four phases: the befuddled period of steady political decline during the president's first nine months; the high tide of hubris from Sept. 11, 2001, through the 2004 election; the self-destructive overreaching to consolidate a one-party state from 2005 to 2006, culminating in the repudiation of the Republican Congress; and, now, the terminal stage, the great unraveling, as the Democratic Congress works to uncover the abuses of the previous six years.


In Watergate, "Deep Throat" counseled that the royal road to the scandal's source was to "follow the money." In the proliferating scandals of the Bush presidency, Congress is searching down a trail of records that did not exist in the time of Nixon: Follow the e-mails.

The discovery of a hitherto unknown treasure-trove of e-mails buried by the Bush White House may prove to be as informative as Nixon's secret White House tapes. Last week the National Journal disclosed that Karl Rove does "about 95 percent" of his e-mails outside the White House system, instead using a Republican National Committee account. What's more, Rove doesn't tap most of his messages on a White House computer, but rather on a BlackBerry provided by the RNC. By this method, Rove and other White House aides evade the legally required archiving of official e-mails. The first glimmer of this dodge appeared in a small item buried in a January 2004 issue of U.S. News & World Report: "'I don't want my E-mail made public,' said one insider. As a result, many aides have shifted to Internet E-mail instead of the White House system. 'It's Yahoo!, baby,' says a Bushie."

An unraveling presidency, indeed. I have no idea where things will go from here. I distrust presidents who begin to feel a sense of desperation. I can only hope our military balks at any further adventures by a desperate and incompetent president, but these are, after all, strange times. It's unclear what to do with a president who is so unrepentant and who has learned so little in six years. And what of his shrinking circle of enablers on the Republican right?

The media loves scandals but has lost its ability to recognize a profound crisis. Congress must assert itself in the next two years but its not clear if the media will hamper the ability of Congress to deal with a profound leadership crisis, or recognize at last the depth of the crisis we're in and the need to steady the ship of state and protect our democracy.

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