2006-11-24 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

What Have We Done?
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

In my last column, for obvious reasons, I focused on a local election, one I had an unusual interest in. But that doesn't mean the broader election lacked significance. Nationally we saw a repudiation of Republican majority status though, of course, it was hardly noticeable in blue state New York. President Bush has never been particularly popular here and he's even less popular now, given the pervasive sense of failure suffusing his Iraq policy.

The media largely turned against that policy shortly after the claims of WMD came up short, but things really started to turn south for Bush a little more than a year ago when Katrina became a synonym for federal "failure" on his watch, despite the fact that, as blogger Phil Orenstein writes on the Democracy Project ( http://www.democ racy-project.com/archives/ 002942. html ), "100,000 state and federal emergency personnel flooded New Orleans within three days, rescuing 100,000 individuals from harm, making this the fastest rescue operation in our history."

The inability to halt the ravages of this natural disaster occurred at all levels of government, of course, and was far more widespread at the city and state levels, where officials failed to use a local bus fleet to evacuate residents or to insist upon evacuating locals as recommended by the feds, and where they failed to house residents safely in emergency shelters, to maintain workforce discipline and preparedness among local emergency responders (including the police), to permit the Red Cross to provide food, water and medical supplies to shelter residents in need, to ask for federal troops, etc., etc. As Orenstein notes, all of this simply proved to many that Bush was at fault and that he was some kind of "racist (who) doesn't care about black people." Go figure.

After the media blitz over Katrina, it seemed Bush couldn't do anything right. Of course Katrina came on the heels of a relentless campaign to 'get' him and his allies, a campaign that saw Cindy Sheehan, surrounded by panting reporters, hounding him on his vacations and included the Valerie Plame affair with accusations that dragged on for a debilitating three years but which actually came to naught when we finally, and belatedly, learned it wasn't Bush and his inner circle, after all, but career State Department official Richard Armitage (who wasn't even close to the Bush people), who had inadvertently revealed Plame's alleged secret identity - which wasn't even a secret. But no matter. The media zeitgeist had solidly turned against Bush by then and the truth, when it came out, no longer made much difference.

The Democrats got smarter, too, in their electoral efforts. They finally figured out that one key to their success lay in finding candidates who display moderation on social issues. As Democratic operative Kirsten Powers, writing in USA Today on November 15th, notes, they "recruited candidates palatable to conservative or moderate voters who wanted to send a message about the war, but who didn't want to compromise on beliefs about abortion, gay marriage or the role of religion in public life. . . ." The Democrats, after a decade in the wilderness, weren't going to stand on ideological ceremony this time. And they rammed their new strategy home with a timely release of damning information about another blundering Republican Congressman, information they had had in their arsenal for at least a year but which they carefully held back until almost election time. What was it John Kerry liked to say about the "Republican attack machine"?

But Iraq, of course, was the tipping point. After years of relentless anti-Bush agitation from opposition Democrats, amplified through the megaphone of a sympathetic media, the American public, like the proverbial ocean liner, had finally turned. It no longer believes in Bush's flagship project, to reform the Middle East through Iraq, and this turning is welcomed in quarters far and near. As Reuters reported the day after the election, "Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called U.S. President George W. Bush's defeat in congressional elections a victory for Iran." It was noticed in Iraq too, where al Qaeda-in-Iraq promptly pronounced satisfaction with the electoral outcome on its website and called on its adherents to redouble their efforts with an eye toward eventually burning down the White House while, all the while, stepping up their bombings in Baghdad.

Iraq, the flashpoint of nearly all political disagreements in this country these days, is now generally thought by Americans to have been a mistake. Bush must play defense as his erstwhile advisers and supporters jump ship around him and Donald Rumsfeld, who did such yeoman's service in modernizing our military, is finally offered up as the quintessential "human sacrifice . . .," according to blogger psychiatrist Robert Godwin ( http://one cosmos.blogspot.com/2006/11/elect ions-group-fantasy-and- human.ht ml). "The fact that the economy is thriving is literally inconsequential to the significant majority of Americans who fantasize that it is not," Godwin writes as he seeks to explain why nothing the president does looks good to a large majority of Americans anymore. He adds that the recent election shows that Bush is "unrealistically blamed and vilified for all sorts of things outside his control - homosexual predators, hurricanes, rising (but never falling) gas prices, global warming, deadly flu pandemics, etc." When you lose the confidence of the voters, he seems to be telling us, there's a cascade effect.

You'd think that those who have made all sorts of outrageous charges, claiming Bush and Republicans are secret fascists, that Bush is like Hitler, that he's out to steal our freedoms, our democracy, etc., will now take a breath and savor their recent win. After all, if Bush were really a fascist, he wouldn't have allowed elections to happen and certainly wouldn't have accepted losing them. Well, guess again. At the Election Defense Alliance's on-line site ( http://www.election defensealliance.org/ ), devoted to the claim that America's elections are rigged, it seems irrelevant that Republicans actually lost this November. The Republicans and their allies habitually adjust election results, we're told, so results will look close enough to deceive us! In fact, argue the authors of this site, "analysis of national exit polling data indicated a major undercount of Democratic votes and an overcount of Republican votes in congressional races across the country . . ." Add the site's authors: "Had the intended votes (in the recent election) been accurately tallied, this election would have produced a Democratic landslide of epic proportions." That's quite a claim.

So how do you argue with this kind of thinking? When they lose they were cheated - and when they win they were cheated! No one could ever win an election legitimately, according to this kind of thinking, but them. Theirs is the mentality that's given us six years of bitter Bush hatred and on which the Democrats have finally ridden back into town. But it's also what's sullied our political discourse and turned al Qaeda and the mullahs of Iran into partisan cheerleaders for Congressional Democrats. What have we done to ourselves?

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