It isn't cynical if it's really so

Presidential scandals usually feel like a stress test, with each new development making you wonder if it’s going to be the one that forces the administration across the Nixon Threshold, the point from which there’s no recovery. In reality Reagan probably rendered that threshold moot when he publicly declared that he was taking full responsibility for Iran-Contra even as he was giving sworn testimony that he didn’t know or couldn’t remember a damn thing about it, and in the last couple months Bush has shown again what a reliable gambit this is. So we can forget about impeachment for at least half a century or so, the agony of the process seemingly outweighing anything a president might do to warrant it. The best we can do is hope that Americans aren’t such easily led sheep that they won’t just mindlessly vote for whichever candidate promises them the biggest tax cut, and that when a president fucks up as much and as deeply as George W. Bush has they’ll take notice and be champing at the bit to dump his ass come the next election.

Alas, it’s apparently not to be. A few months ago I offered a standing $50 bet to my co-tenants in an online forum that Bush would win in November. Only one person took me up on it, and as March gave way to April and May, in which time the American death-toll mounted by leaps and bounds, Fallujah and Najaf seemed ready to go up in flames, every day brought another revelation of high-level incompetence or mendacity, and Kerry climbed steadily in the national polls and it seemed ever more apparent that he’d pick the right man for the caboose on his ticket, it looked more and more like I’d lose that bet – that we’d garner enough bad news to guarantee that Bush was a goner.

But holding to the 6/30 handover made a whole lot of things fall into place, and made the news more manageable for the administration, and damn if Bush isn’t holding steady, or even rising, in the polls. (I’d love to know what exactly happened at Fallujah, which went from a flash-point to yesterday’s news with scarcely a murmur in between. The official explanation – that we pulled our troops back and let the imams sort things out – is basically a microcosm of what we’ve done with Iraq as a whole, but there had to be more to it than that.) You look at everything that’s happened – the contested election and accusations of voting fraud, 9/11 and the subsequent committees, hearings, reports, and accusations by people like Richard Clarke, the scandals within the scandals (such as the Plame affair, which on its own might’ve sunk any of the Cold War-era administrations), the transparently evasive and self-serving performances by Bush, Rice, and other officials on the occasions that they peeked out of their holes, Abu Ghraib and the other detention scandals, Michael Moore’s piece of agitprop that swept through the media and multiplexes like a raging brushfire for the week or two before Spiderman 2 came out, and on and on and on – and have to wonder just what it takes to tick off the American people. I can’t blame Kerry for this – he’s mostly said and done the right things in a tricky situation – but it hasn’t been enough. It may just be the lack of an alternative people can enthusiastically vote for that’s keeping it a tight race (Clinton might be up by 30 points if he were running), but the fact remains that the race is tight, and that gives the incumbent the edge every time. If people still don’t think, with everything that’s happened, that Bush is a piss-poor excuse for a president, not even a million John Kerry stump-speeches are going to make them see the light. (And after being reasonable for so long, he’ll have to avoid looking desperate when he finally takes the gloves off. We also don’t know how badly his decision to accept public funding is going to hurt him in the home-stretch.) As it is, I’ll take J—J—’s fifty bucks when the time comes, and buy the best bottle of scotch I can with it, but there’s no way it’s going to make me happy.


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