Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Midterm Elections Recap

I can't add too much to my friend Snoopy's reaction. I really tried not to make predictions or have high expectations, but it was hard to avoid it. For months Democrats were just aching with anticipation, while cowering in fear of GOP dirty tricks, John Kerry gaffes, and The Myth of Karl Rove's Genius. But I went through the day November 8th tired, but with a smile on my face, which just got bigger with each news update: Don Rumsfeld, George Allen, Conrad Burns...

Here's something strange, though: Bush's postmortem press conference inspired James Fallows to muse, "Has Bush Been Smart All Along?" This is an odd little column, that Fallows half-apologizes for as he's writing it. By way of background, Fallows had written a story in The Atlantic in 2004 that examined Bush's oratory going back to his days as Texas governor, and concluded that GWB's verbal acuity had declined noticeably over the years. Anyway, Fallows listened to Bush in the aftermath of his midterm "thumping" and thought the President sounded eloquent and sure of himself, as if some his rhetorical brain cells had regenerated; Fallows even praised him for pronouncing words like "cumulative" and "nevertheless" without a hitch. (Christ, do our pundits ever grade Presidents on a curve!)

Has Bush been smart all along? The overwhelming consensus is No. (In the days before the election, I savored the fact that while Bush seemed eager to be out on the campaign trail, his party would only send him to out-of-the-way places where they figured he couldn't hurt them. It turned out that he hurt them anyway in formerly Red States like Montana.) I didn't think Bush sounded especially smart on the Day After; he was robotically repeating the phrase of the day, "fresh perspective" (as in, flushing Rumsfeld was not an admission of failure, it was a quest for a "fr...) and his peevishness was competing with the need to extend a hand to Nancy Pelosi.

However, I wonder if this drubbing at the polls was a psychic watershed for Bush. I see certain hints that he is sure of himself in defeat. There's been lots of discussion of the Rumsfeld firing, and its timing, and a tangent about Bush "lying" to reporters about Rumsfeld's job security the week before the election. What I take from the Rumsfeld story is that the President implicitly agrees with the proposition that the 2006 midterms were a referendum on him and his wars. In my view Bush has been a fundamentally weak and insecure leader, urgently trying to puff himself up, surround himself with yes-men and cheering crowds and triumphalist campaign advisors. Now his bubble has burst, and part of him was sure all along that it would, and I wonder if he feels a tremendous relief and unburdening. I think he'll take to being a lame duck better than Clinton did.

One intemperate election prediction I did make had to do with a certain Senate race in Connecticut. I guess I'll never publish the anti-Joe Lieberman post I wrote back in August at the height of Ned Lamont fever. Don't want to make the Independent Democrat angry. (Watch out! He's a maverick! Stand back while he DOESN'T issue subpoenas!)

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