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Monday, January 29, 2007

Bush and Cheney in the National Kitchen

If there were one overarching metaphor for the current U.S. political situation I think it would be this.

U.S. politics in January 2007 is like a huge stove top, like one might find in an industrial kitchen, with 16 or 20 open burners, a huge frying surface and all sorts of ovens, broilers and grills...all of them in active use.

On each cooking surface we can find what we might call one of the "issues and controversies of the day" in various stages of preparation.

Iraq...Bush's "surge" and the Congressional anti-surge resolutions...is clearly the main course. Iraq is hot. Minimum wage is simmering on a side burner. As is the Scooter Libby trial, the 2008 Presidential race, the Gonzales recess nominations, the national debt, our nation's health care crisis. There are all sorts of smaller dishes...Jim Webb's speech is cooking right along side Dick Cheney's CNN interview and George Bush's State of the Union address. Pretty much anything one can think of having to do with our national political life is actively being "grilled" as we speak.

Now, this analogy might be relevant at any moment in our political history. What's so distinct about this point in time is that almost everything in our political life points to a battle over who is going to do the cooking.

In fact, I would argue that we are headed towards an inevitable costitutional crisis over that very issue, a battle for governance.

You see, the distinguishing characteristic of the Bush/Cheney mode of operations has been this: they have managed our nation's affairs as if they would never and could never be held accountable. They are like cooks who've worked as if no one could question their handiwork, even though, invevitably, as all cooks must, they knew they would have to justify their results when the plates hit the table.

In point of fact, hidden in the midst of all the boiling pots and sizzling grills that make up the American national kitchen is this grim reality: almost everything that the Bush Administration has prepared has gone deeply awry. So awry, in fact, that if George Bush and Dick Cheney were cooks of any competent restaurant, they would be fired in short order.

Normally in American politics when we transfer those in power, when we "change cooks," we simply hand off the cooking, more or less, from one party or ideological view to the other. The flavor of the dishes might change, but everyone still gets served. That has been our national tradition.

In this case, it's not that simple.

Whether it's the Plame affair, or the fiasco in Iraq, or warrantless wiretapping, the terrible failure of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, or our nation's incredibly mismanaged health and energy policy, the Bush Administration have been like cooks who have deferred and delayed any sense of accountability about what they've been up to in the national kitchen.

In fact, they've made a utterly horrible mess of things and in January of 2007 it is clear that they CAN'T and WON'T share power with Congress and the American people because to do so would mean that they will be held accountable and suffer the inevitable consequences. The Bush Administration will ask for "one more chance" and "one last, best chance" to run the national kitchen unchecked and unsupervised till January 2009. We all know that's true.

If you ask me, that is why Senator Jim Webb's speech in response to the President's State of the Union was a watershed moment in American political life.

Senator Webb's closing...implying that the Bush Admininstration can go along with the leadership of this Congress and the will of the American voters on Iraq or they will be "shown the way"...created a powerful impression.

Here, for the first time in decades, was a Democrat standing on center stage of American poltical life and elbowing out the GOP cooks. Webb wasn't complaining. Webb was taking over.

We are, in my view, fully engaged in a battle for governance in American politics of which Jim Webb's speech was the opening salvo. I think, given the Bush Administration's stonewalling, this battle is shaping up, inevitably, to take the form of a constitutional crisis.

If the President's response to any challenge to his decision-making power is always "because I say so"...and, at bottom, that has been his response...then the only way to wrest power from this malignant cook is with the force of the United States Constitution. That may come in the form of acts of Congress. That may come in the form of popular calls for this President or Vice President to resign or face impeachment.

I think those who bet on Bush/Cheney to win this Constitutional battle are ignoring something very powerful in American politics.

Each month as we move forward in 2007 will mark both the imminent arrival of the 2008 Presidential campaign, and bring us one step closer to a second round of national accountability regarding the work that's been done the GOP kitchen. There are any number of significant dishes ready to boil over and burn...and fewer and fewer folks have incentive to hide that reality.

This President and Vice President have obfuscated and blustered through their failures past the point where it has done lasting damage to their national party. The 2006 elections left the Congressional GOP in shambles and in retreat. The question now is how much will this administration's intransigence and failure work its poison down into the roots of the GOP at the local level. I predict that local political opposition to Bush and Cheney will drive a wedge deep into the heart of the GOP. When local politicians start to feel the heat...and they have...things will start to change nationally. That's the last stop in American politics: Main Street.

You see, the failures of this administration in the national kitchen reverberate down to the very roots of our democracy.

The American people have always been the ultimate judge of what's been served on the plate in front of them. American politics has always been about decisions and judgments that are made at the kitchen table.

In my view, taking a whiff of the aroma of what's cooking in Bush and Cheney's national kitchen, things could not smell much worse for the GOP.


  • Executive power ebbs and flows. Any reason to think that, in an historical context, this is unique?

    By Blogger Lucas, at 11:05 PM  

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