November 14, 2005
In office, but not in power
The president’s allegiance to Dick Cheney consigns him to irrelevance and his country to chaos
What, Bush in chaos? That seems to be overexcited, to be sure. He has three full years to run and clear majorities in both houses of Congress. He’s secure, a leader beyond ousting. Maybe a certain incoherence lets him down, but his administration marches volubly on, unapologetic and seemingly unafraid.
Yet look closer. Opinion polls have been getting worse since Iraq turned sour. Bush can command approval ratings of only about 35%, his lowest in five years. […] Is Bush “honest and ethical” ask the polls, and 68% of Americans answer no. Is he a winner or a loser when real votes have to be cast? Last week’s Virginia gubernatorial defeat is pressing all manner of panic buttons.
… And so to the fatal flaw that has dogged this second term from day one, the simple question with no available answer: after George, who or what? If presidents don’t make a stab at answering that question when they choose a vice-president - a Gore, a Papa Bush, a Mondale or even a Nixon - then their inheritance crumbles to instant dust. They have no legacy, because their political span stops vacantly short.
That was the choice Bush made when he picked Dick Cheney for another term. It’s the decision that, day by day, brings him down. If you haven’t got a designated heir and an administration that sees the chance of continuing life in transferred allegiances, then you’ve only got time, running out. Cheney is not a candidate. He is too old, too sick and in too much trouble. The prosecutors who pursue his chief of staff pursue him too. The White House’s lousiest moral maze wanders straight up Pennsylvania Avenue to his door.
… Every time [Cheney] climbs into some bully pulpit and snarls defiance, Bush’s ratings slide again. The party looks out three years and sees contenders circling. Condoleezza Rice has said she’d never stand, which leaves John McCain, a favourite again at 67; Rudy Giuliani, if memories for 9/11 last; George Pataki, from Albany - and many more. The current party of government is future-obsessed. The Oval Office it holds is a pear-shaped irrelevance.
… Odd though it may seem to say it, Bush - in office but not power - will need to recover at least some authority. Goodbye dear Dick, your time is up. Resignation offered and accepted.
The phrase “a certain incoherence lets him down” should definitely find its way into the annals of British understatement.
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