The operative question on everyone's mind is: "What political capital?" Sure, we all know Bush's mandate isn't a real mandate. No doubt, this week, we've seen substantive proof.
With the turbulence of Bernard Kerik and the Intelligence Bill, and, to a degree, the traction of Rumsfeld's Kuwait debacle, we’re directly witnessing (not just hypothesising about) a president with no mandate behave as if he has a mandate, but now failing miserably as a result. But what appears, on the surface, to be a well deserved list of scandals and failures, could actually be a smoke screen – a continuing "Quick! Look over there!" posture in order to accomplish other, more subversive ends.
In January, Bush, wearing his mandate dentures, aims to strap himself to a political third rail by championing Social Security, tort, and tax reform. His post-election record to date has been predictably poor, while these daunting reforms have yet to reach the table.
Despite massive political support, Bush couldn't push the Intelligence Reform bill past his own allies in Congress without a second vote. What member of Congress would oppose and obstruct the agenda of a president who has the "will of the people"? The only reason the "will of the people" would be denied is if it doesn’t truly exist in the first place.
Rumsfeld, this week, was scathingly grilled by soldiers in the field. Despite the right wing motives of the press, the story just won't go away. It's a broadly damaging incident for the last remaining high profile cabinet member -- the guy who Bush is keeping while the rest of the president's men fall away -- who stumbled into a major PR disaster, publicly and visibly exposing massive flaws in the administration's war machine. This, of course, in addition to everything else that's wrong with the Iraq picture.What else?Bush nominated an apparent hero for DHS, but Bush's Karate Kid nominee bailed after scathing details of his past were revealed in Newsweek and on the internet.Had Bush's mandate been real, the White House would've pushed Kerik through (to the chagrin of anyone familiar with his past). In fact, a White House with a self-proclaimed mandate doesn't feel it necessary to vet nominees as thoroughly as a White House still proving its political muscle. A real mandate buys a lot of Congressional ignorance. Congress would've eaten Kerik alive, and rightfully so. The "reality" isn't matching the reality.At this juncture, the seasoned post-9/11 Bush, who (allegedly) won the 2004 election by 3 million votes, is beginning to look strikingly similar to the meager, marginalized Bush of '00 and '01. No mandate, no matter how often he crows about it.If he can’t promote "heroes" or pass bills with massive bipartisan and public support, how does he expect to push an insanely expensive privatization and deconstruction of Social Security? How, too, could he possibly take on tax reform, which involves rearranging one of the most massive and entrenched bureaucracies in Washington, and ever imagine being successful doing so?There’s two potential outcomes: 1) He'll be, predictably, a terminally stalled chief executive. His second term agenda will be a disastrous roster of high profile political failure, and his legacy will be nonexistent. Or, 2) He’ll find another boogie man – just like before – that will serve as a vessel for Bush to replicate a sequel to his 2002 high water mark.The latter is too frightening to consider, but it has to be something we keep our eye on. If it’s the former, could overt failures be irrelevant to Bush/Rove’s overall strategy? In other words, if there's more subversive goals are afoot, does it really matter whether or not these big ticket items succeed? While we’re focusing on who’s confirmed by Congress and what bills are mired in political stalemates on the Hill, what will the Bushies be up to behind the scenes?Who knows how many levels of justice will be obstructed in the back rooms and corridors of high powered neocon planning sessions. Who knows how much farther our nation’s democracy will be subverted while we wring our hands over more public fiascos.As we saw the first time around, a political empty shirt who can’t achieve what he sets forth in the headlines can be infinitely more dangerous behind closed doors. Mandate or no mandate -- failures or successes be damned, we’d be well served to keep an eye on what’s really going on.After all, they've shown a penchant for managing questionable strategy under the radar like, say, slipping the Patriot Act through Congress while the nation was blinded by the destruction and uncertainty of 9/11. For crying out loud, in the midst of Abu Ghraib, missing explosives, mounting casualties in Iraq, and pathetic debate performances, they were somehow re-elected. Historians will be trying to figure that one out for generations to come. (The moral values answer has been mostly disproven, but it's a great example of a cooked up lure serving as a distraction from, say, the more underhanded explanation of possible election fraud.)So it's entirely possible that the chess move is: a fabricated mandate allows for an over-reaching agenda, and an over-reaching agenda provides a formidable cover -- a false lead -- while a covert agenda is pursued.