Bush’s war

· 2004 Election

I gather that the next 11 to 90 days may end up as a three-ring circus after Democrats wake up and start sifting through any possible signs of discrepancies in Tuesday’s apparent Republican blowout (popular vote advances, gains in both houses of Congress, and so on).
I suppose there is some possible future in which Kerry claims Ohio and then tries to govern for four years with a tide of Republican fury (hypocritical or not) about the electoral college and lawyers and such.
But it is sadly looking likely that the country has ratified Bush’s tactics of governing from the base of his own party and putting the nation on a permanent war footing. The “incumbent rule” may have succumbed to the “khaki election” rubric that says we generally don’t change presidents in time of war.
To the rest of the world, we’ll no longer be able to use the excuse that “we didn’t really elect him.” We will have to live with the consequences of Bush’s foreign policy and the blowback from overweening confidence as the dominant power in a unipolar world, unless the EU gets its act together and decides to confront us more assertively, which would probably cause grief and woe in equal measure to any benefit derived from a counterbalancing player on the world stage.
Something tells me Canada is cringing right now too.
On the other hand, I sense that the Bush administration has been frantically sweeping issues under the rug, postponing an avalanche of reckonings till after election day. There is the CIA’s 9/11 report, the Plame affair, the disturbing trends in Iraq, problems with Halliburton, and any number of other scandals small and large that might now have four years to play out in full. Should Bush take a second term, will his administration be plagued with investigations and full-scale opposition? Perhaps not, as his party has strengthened its hold on the branch that most directly checks the executive (and is now likely to set the course for the Supreme Court and the lower courts as well for a generation to come).
Had Bush been defeated handily, the Republicans would have been in for a bloodletting. With his victory looking more likely, it remains to be seen whether the party will do any internal soul-searching about the direction it’s heading in. Winning, even winning ugly, tends to reinforce whatever techniques led to the victory. On the Democratic side, it’s hard to see what another round of self-recrimination will accomplish but it’s harder still to explain how an unprecedented mobilization of the liberal half of the country could fall so short of success or to derive a lesson from this that will yield some kind of growth for the party by 2006 or 2008.
One thing’s for sure, though. If Bush is reinaugurated in January, he will gain sole credit for the Iraq war and its aftermath. Colin Powell’s Pottery Barn rule that Kerry had so much trouble getting right (“you break it, you bought it”) comes fully into play, and the Bush team will spend the next four years living with the ramifications of a first term that seemed geared more toward eking out a reelection victory through targeted political tactics than prosecuting a coherent agenda at home and abroad.