Monday, November 27, 2006

War by another name

Civil war. The phrase resonates regardless of what ideology you follow, or what country you live in. It's that special war with a special, self-consuming savagery meted out by combatants who know each other like brothers, because they are. The American media is finally coming around to the grim majesty of that phrase in the context of the Iraq war, and starting to accept what it means for the United States.

Among the media majors, NBC and its news partners have bitten the bullet and acknowledged the Iraq situation as a civil war. The network announced the decision on Monday, at virtually the same time that the number of days America has fought in the Iraq war were the same number as the days Americans fought and died in World War II.

NBC, in a welcome departure from the mainstream thinking in American media, separated itself from the strategy of misnomer used by the administration in the past, evidenced by any of the latest batch of geopolitical and military malapropisms (“War on Terror” and “detainees” are two). Maybe without meaning to, NBC has called the question, has called on the Bush administration to set a yardstick – to draw a line in the sand, if you will – and, in the inevitable discounting of NBC’s assessment, be forced to finally establish its own threshold for the agony of the Iraqi people and the depth of our agonizingly unnecessary national conundrum.

Ted Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said it "certainly is a major milestone." "That does change the terminology and is likely to change the perspective of viewers, and one suspects other media outlets will sooner or later follow suit," Carpenter told Reuters.

The Bushies obviously disagree. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told the news agency that, while the situation on the ground is serious, neither President Bush nor Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki believe it is a civil war. We can therefore all rest easy tonight; those two most brilliant military strategists of our time have decided things are not as bad as they seem.

Sound familiar? With NBC’s breaking of ranks, we have a situation at least roughly analogous to that of March 1968, when CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite -- a voice of the public’s sensibility, and increasingly one of the public opinion – broke ranks with the storied disinterested decorum of American journalism and said, plainly and clearly, that the war in Vietnam was unwinnable.

The NBC decision happened despite the protestations of the Bush administration -- and the painfully obvious fence-sitting by the Joint Chiefs, and hardened military silos like the TV analysts, all of them old enough to remember Vietnam. One of them, Gen. Bernard Trainor, had the curious nerve a few nights ago (after mosques were torched and worshippers burned alive in a daylong fugue of violence that claimed 215 lives) to call the current situation in Iraq "sectarian strife."

But NBC’s willingness to use the words “civil war” in the Iraq context is really a wider embrace of the positions taken for months by Keith Olbermann, host of “Countdown,” the popular news and commentary program on MSNBC [the cable arm of my employer]. With “special comments” that combine a savage wit, a solid command of facts and an unshakeable sense of the wrongness of the Iraq conflict and this nation’s complicity in it, Olbermann reset the baseline for journalism, recalibrated the laser of skepticism and frankness journalists are supposed to have, and to use, as a centerpiece of their profession.

Olbermann, who clearly admires the work and career of Edward R. Murrow, is in many ways the perfect counter to the acerbic, lacerating wit of Jon Stewart or the predictable diet of one-liners from the late-night kings. The growing populist sentiment against the war has expressions of every side of the emotional spectrum. President Johnson, who lamented after Cronkite’s statement that as of that moment he’d “lost Middle America,” wouldn’t stand a chance in today’s multichannel mediascape.

You wonder who’s next. Carpenter at Cato said others would follow suit. Will the New York Times or the Washington Post step up to the mike? How about you, Los Angeles Times? Y’all need to get up and make some kind of statement. Chicago? Atlanta? Seattle? Somebody, anybody – who’s got NBC’s back?

Eventually, yes, others will follow; these things are like runaway trains rolling downhill. That demand for frankness and clarity from the government as it relates to Iraq will only go up. The times demand it. What's at stake demands it. The facts at hand demand it.

Among those facts are those published in Sunday's New York Times, in a story reporting that the insurgency in Iraq has become financially self-sustaining, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from kidnapping, oil smuggling, counterfeiting, corrupt charities and other crimes.

According to a classified United States government report, a copy of which The Times obtained, groups responsible for a variety of terrorist attacks are raising, from a variety of illegal activities, between $70 million and $200 million a year.

If there was ever a time to call a spade a spade and a civil war a civil war, if there was ever a time for clear-eyed assessment of the challenges in front of us, the time is now.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Meltdown in L.A.

“He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger!” a man shouts frantically from the stage, pointing at someone or someones in the audience. It is early in the tirade, one whose intensity eventually clears the room. It’s therefore not a speech at a Klan rally or the ravings of people in a neo-Nazi skinhead mosh pit. This is the city, Los Angeles, California, and on the stage of the Laugh Factory, a comedy club at 8001 West Sunset Boulevard, Michael Richards is apparently losing his mind.

The long-ago star of “Seinfeld,” in what appeared to be one step in the career reinvention that is common to Hollywood, had some kind of … meltdown on Friday, November 17, when he appeared at the club as a stand-up comic. Richards’ folly was captured on grainy, slightly shaky images taken on a cell-phone camera at the club; from there the images have made their way to the Web site, and from there onto the reigning information interstate, YouTube, and from there assuming a permanent place in the idiots’ division of the pop-cultural pantheon.

Richards exploded on two black patrons of the club, Kyle Doss and Frank McBride, who were taking their seats after ordering drinks as part of a group of about twenty other people. What started with Richards’ first salvo became an ugly exchange with the two, and others in the audience.

"Shut up!" Richards shouts. "Fifty years ago we'd have you upside down with a fuckin’ fork up your ass."

“You can talk, you can talk, you’re brave now, motherfucker. Throw his ass out. He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! He’s a nigger! A nigger, look, there’s a nigger!

Moderating his outburst at one instance, or perhaps himself realizing he was a man on the verge of a professional breakdown, Richards pulls back a little, telling the audience, "It shocks you, it shocks you" and making some oblique reference to "what lays buried."

◊ ◊ ◊

Watching this professional self-immolation, we considered for a fraction of a fraction of a second: Were we witnessing brilliance? Had Richards retrofit Kramer to make some broader, weightier sociological point about the power of language? It had been done before, most incisively in the legendary N-word monologue by Lenny Bruce, the comedian whose jocular but withering dissection of that word in the volatile ‘60s made an indelible, lacerating point about tolerance and American society, one that resonates today.

But no. Hell naw. Not this time. It’s clear after about three seconds of the cell-phone video that’s not the case. There was no grand strategy. The absence of context and vision speaks for itself. Richards, lashing out at the nearest target of opportunity, overdosing on the power of being the only one in the room with a microphone, just Went Off.

“A nigger! Look, there’s a nigger!” "They're going to arrest me for calling a black man a nigger!" It goes on and on, a self-destruction playing itself out to an increasingly empty room.

You knew it was, uh, an accident almost immediately, in pop-culcha time, when Richards performed a mea culpa by satellite. Three days later Richards had prevailed on Jerry Seinfeld, friend and fellow “Seinfeld” cast member, to let him issue an apology from a great height: a live satellite transmission broadcast on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” where Seinfeld was to be a guest that night.

On the broadcast, a clearly wan Richards was effusive with contrition:

“…You know, I’m really busted up over this and I’m very, very sorry to those people in the audience, the blacks, the Hispanics, whites – everyone that was there that took the brunt of that anger and hate and rage and how it came through, and I’m concerned about more hate and more rage and more anger coming through, not just towards me but towards a black/white conflict.

"There’s a great deal of disturbance in this country and how blacks feel about what happened in Katrina, and, you know, many of the comics, many performers are in Las Vegas and New Orleans trying to raise money for what happened there, and for this to happen, for me to be in a comedy club and flip out and say this crap, you know, I’m deeply, deeply sorry."

◊ ◊ ◊

How could this happen? Letterman asked him. "You know, I’m a performer. I push the envelope, I work in a very uncontrolled manner onstage," Richards said. "I do a lot of free association, it’s spontaneous, I go into character. I don’t know, in view of the situation and the act going where it was going, I don’t know, the rage did go all over the place."

Since the Letterman show Richards has gone on to seek counseling with Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and other arbiters of African American sensibilities. The Michael Richards Kum Ba Yah tour is likely to continue, in other venues, for weeks to come.

Jackson, who spoke with Richards, said on MSNBC that “my concern was that this fit of anger and rage went beyond use of the word ‘nigger.’

Jackson commented on what Richards told him. “He said, ‘I have this inner rage, and maybe it’s a feeling of inferiority, maybe I was compensating.’

“I said, ‘you need to see a psychiatrist. This requires you needing to get well.’”

Stepping away from the specifics of the Richards' moment, Jackson spoke of the word's wider use throughout America. And he mentioned how indifference to the suffering from Hurricane Katrina and the political resurrection of Sen. Trent Lott to a position of power after the Strom Thurmond debacle were examples of how you don’t have to use the N-word in order to communicate that which the word intends.

But for those who do use the word, some social observers are calling for a uniform moratorium on its word. Even among those who use it more than just about everyone else: black people.

“Words are not value neutral,” political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson said in his Political Report blog on Nov. 20. “They express concepts and ideas. Often, words reflect society's standards. If color-phobia is a deep-rooted standard in American life, then a word, as emotionally charged as ‘nigger,’ will always reinforce and perpetuate stereotypes. It can’t be sanitized, cleansed, inverted, or redeemed as a culturally liberating word. ‘Nigger’ can’t and shouldn’t be made acceptable, no matter whose mouth it comes out of or what excuse is tossed out for using it.”

Hutchinson thus calls out the hiphop thug crews whose use of the word in the lexicon of the 'hood is a sadly astonishing eveyday thing.

Doss and McBride, the two objects of Richards’ fury, have retained counsel – none other than Gloria Allred, the attorney celebrated for recognizing a lucrative income on the backs of stars of various magnitudes. They want a personal apology and possibly some compensation. They hope to meet with a judge to negotiate the apology, and to let the judge decide on compensation, if any.

But you have to wonder, what will they sue for? Slander? Defamation of character? Public embarrassment? Because in that prolonged monster’s cry, there’s nothing, not one word, that black Americans don’t already have to contend with every day, anywhere in this country at any given moment.

Therein lies the fallacy of the Richards meltdown, and our insistence on that meltdown as an aberration of American conduct: It’s not so far off the charts of the way we act, black and white and others, all the time.

We’ve been here before and before: the action, the vehement and indignant reaction, the big-media contrition, the tendency to forget it all in the wash of a news cycle without end. Until it happens again.

Tongues will wag in the weeks to come about What This Says About America; but the initial hysteria will settle into background chatter, online murmurs increasingly lower on the page-view Richter scale. We’ll go back to our comfortable assumptions, our old habits about who we are and who they are. Until it happens again.

The lesson of the Michael Richards incident is how disinclined we are as a nation to learn lessons from things like the Michael Richards incident.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The House will be in order. Bet that

When the new Congress takes over on January 3, people will be dropping the H-word, and rightly so. For African American voters more recently inclined to think the Democrats had taken them for granted, the outcome of the Nov. 7 vote has lifted some of their number to lofty, Historic political heights, solidified with darker faces the emergence of the Democrats as Congress' dominant force.

At or near the top of the new brain trust taking charge on Jan. 3 is South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who becomes the Majority Whip in the House of Representatives, only the second African American to ever reach that high a decision-making position in the House. Clyburn was elected unanimously by his fellow Democrats to take on the position of Herder of Cats. Feral cats, at that.

"My job is going to be to try to round up 218 votes out of a very diverse caucus," Clyburn told the Charleston Post and Courier. For Clyburn, who follows Rep. Wiliam Gray of Pennsylvania, majority whip during the 1990s, seeking bipartisanship won't be a problem. "Negotiating across party lines is nothing new to me," he told the Post-Courier. "I have relationships across the aisle. I play golf with mostly Republicans."

Black congressmen and women in pivotal positions probably won't end there. The House should prepare for governance by black lawmakers wielding perhaps unprecedented leverage on the Hill:

Rep. Alcee Hastings of Florida is angling to head the House Intelligence Committee;

John Conyers of Michigan is the likely chairman of the Judiciary Committee;

Charlie Rangel of New York is the odds-on favorite to helm the Ways and Means Committee;

Bennie Thompson of Mississippi is expected to chair the Homeland Security Committee;

Juanita Millender-McDonald, representing California, is the likely chair of House Administration, which oversees federal elections.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus may head no fewer than five House committees and 17 subcommittees.

For one longtime observer of minority trends in American politics, it's about time.

“Within the Congress, their influence went from about a one to a nine,” said David Bositis, of the Joint Center for Economic Studies, a minority-focused think tank in Washington.

“This is by far the peak — ever — for the Congressional Black Caucus,” Bositis told Erin Texeira of the Associated Press.

There will be challenges dead ahead. Hastings, a fiery congressman, was charged in an FBI bribery sting and acquitted by a federal jury -- none of which stopped him from later being impeached by the House and removed from the bench in 1989 by the Senate.

Hastings' rise to House intel chief would be a comeback of Nixonian proportions; count on the Democrats (especially Jane Harman, the once-presumptive heir to the title) to fight him tooth and nail.

House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has apparently already told Harman she won’t be named to lead the committee, so the potential for dissension within the ranks is already high.

Therein lies the potential for the sort of sniping and infighting that the Democrats have raised to a high art. Witness the veiled bare knuckles used in the battle between John Murtha and Steny Hoyer for the post of Majority Leader.

But past isn't necessarily prologue. With African Americans at the helm of significant committees with impact on the lives of Americans, legislation central to many locked-out lives -- from issues of law enforcement and fairness in elections to hate crime legislation and appropriations -- has at least a chance. It makes for a new year, and a new Congress, to look forward to. It's not panacea; it's possibility, and there's nothin' wrong with that.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wisdom from Henry the K

We’re loathe to ascribe any description remotely close to "voice of reason" to Dr. Henry Kissinger, singularly and in concert with others the architect of some of the worst, most egregiously criminal excesses of the Vietnam War. But Henry the K got it right this weekend, speaking with the British Broadcasting Corporation and coming to a conclusion that millions of Americans beat him to by months and years: the conflict in Iraq is militarily unwinnable, and military victory, as narrowly defined by the masters of war in the Pentagon, is no longer possible.

“If you mean, by 'military victory,’ an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible,” he told the BBC in a program that aired Sunday morning.

Kissinger actually prefaced these remarks last week in an interview with Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times. Kissinger told The Times that it wasn’t possible to characterize the current state of affairs in the country as “winning.”

"You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that what we're seeing now would be an odd appearance for a victory," he said.

Instead of holding elections and trying to build democratic institutions from the ground up, Kissinger told McManus, “the United States should focus on more limited goals: preventing the emergence of a ‘fundamentalist jihadist regime’ in Baghdad and enlisting other countries to help stabilize Iraq.” Other countries including Iran.

Kissinger’s statements don’t exactly qualify for bombshell status. His tardy arrival at the same assessment Americans have harbored for years won’t, for example, have the populist resonance of Walter Cronkite’s statement in February 1968, shortly after the Tet offensive, that the Vietnam war was unwinnable. Our 21st-century mediascape is too fragmented, too stratified for any one news anchor or columnist to have that kind of pull anymore.

But coming as it does from a friend of the current administration – and not long after Cronkite said the same thing about the Iraq conflict that he said in 1968 – it was the kind of statement you’d expect to have some traction with the stay-the-course pamphleteers in the West Wing.

Time will tell. It's hard to be hopeful, though. President Bush, just arrived in Vietnam and asked if there were parallels between the war he evaded and the one he started, said the American people were plagued with a desire for "instant success," and he again stressed the need for patience and determination as the way to prosecute the Iraq conflict.

“We tend to want there to be instant success in the world, and the task in Iraq is going to take awhile,” the president said in Hanoi attending the APEC summit.

This, mind you, was said after his Republican party took its worst electoral drubbing in a dozen years, largely over the way things are going in Iraq.

The former secretary of state should make a gift to the current president, a gift of a book of the observations of the philosopher George Santayana -- one in particular. President Bush's inability to get it, his steadfast unwillingness to admit the screwups of the past is condemning this nation to repeat them, more than a generation after doing it before.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Meet the new math

The pursuit of revisionist mathematics by White House senior adviser, Deputy Chief of Staff and Prince of Darkness Karl Rove continues, even in the face of a clear and resounding election defeat.

Some of the latest evidence of that is the Nov. 12 interview Rove conducted with the Washington Post’s Peter Baker. In that interview, Rove bends over backwards to elaborate on the mistaken calculus he used before the election to explain why the Republicans would again prevail where it counts, at the polls.

But despite all of his errant figuring, it is clear from the outcome of the election that Rove, like his party, truly underestimated the impact of the Iraq war on the hearts and minds of the voter. The Architect is a man clearly not above building a house whose foundation sits squarely in the middle of a swamp.

Bear in mind, the words “swamp” and “quagmire” are hardly antonyms.

Denial persists in the White House. To judge from the post-election expressions of the faces of Rove and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, as they attended a press conference where their boss, President Bush, offered his own election postmortem, you’d think they had won. They wouldn’t have looked any different if they had.

Part of this is testosterone bravado. The glass-jawed palooka who gets his brains beaten out in the ring still musters up that little shred of ego after the fight. As he staggers to his feet to shake one of his opponent’s six hands, the expression flits across his face: “You didn’t hurt me that bad. I want a rematch. This was nothing!

Bolten and Rove looked like that, in the Washington style. But despite their tough-it-out attitude, there’s been some piling on by a multitude of conservative friends presumably in their corner: Richard Perle, Richard Viguerie, Andrew Sullivan, David Gergen, and more besides.

Talking with The Post’s Baker, Rove reflected an inability to work that math he’s been so proud of. From Baker’s story:

“In an expansive interview last week, Rove said [his election] strategy was working until the House page sex scandal involving ex-representative [Mark] Foley (R-Fla.) put the Republican campaign "back on its heels," as he put it. ‘We were on a roll, and it stopped it,’ he said. ‘It revived all the stuff about Abramoff and added to it.’

“The various scandals surrounding convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other ethics allegations, Rove said, had as much, if not more, to do with the defeat than the Iraq war. In Rove's analysis, 10 of the 28 House seats Republicans lost were sacrificed because of various scandals. Another six, he said, were lost because incumbents did not recognize and react quickly enough to the threat. That leaves 12 other seats lost, fewer than the 15 that Democrats needed to capture the House. So without corruption and complacency, he argued, Republicans could have kept control regardless of Bush's troubles and the war.”

With such reveleations, it’s clearer than ever that Rove just doesn’t get it, doesn’t appreciate the deeper reasons for the GOP defeat on Nov. 7 and 8. Last we heard, for example, corruption and complacency were good reasons for turning a Congress out.

Rove rationalizes away the election results with a conveniently tidy argument courtesy of Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.

“ … if Iraq is the determining factor and it is a dominant opinion, then in a blue state like Connecticut you should not have 60 percent of the voters vote for one of the candidates who said, 'Stay, fight and win,' " Rove told Baker, referring to Lieberman’s victory over challenger Ned Lamont while running as an independent candidate. “I don't deny that it's a factor, but it is hard to declare" it was the leading factor, Rove told Baker.

It's a narrow view, and utterly reflexive in its partisanship. Rove forgets that Lieberman also had the long-term accumulated goodwill a favorite son acquires after almost 20 years in Congress, and more years in state government.

Rove needed to look a few states over, at Rhode Island, and the more emotionally typical case of Lincoln Chafee, a sitting liberal Republican senator beloved by his party and moderate Democrats alike – a man sent packing on Nov. 7 largely because the citizens of Rhode Island voted this time to send more of a message about the party than about the candidate.

Rove goes on to intimate that losing 28 House seats, six Senate seats and the congressional majority was no big deal, since it was, to quote Baker quoting Rove, “roughly comparable to losses suffered by the party in the White House in the sixth year of other presidencies.”

The very idea that Rove would try to compare this administration’s sixth year to that of “other presidencies,” utterly failing to understand the unique nature of this particular debacle in the making, indicates the depth of the disconnect between Rove and a large segment of American reality.

Much of the post-election Republican thinking seems to embrace the idea that the losses at the polls were the result of a momentary miscalculation. In the eyes of Rove and the Republican leadership, the GOP’s failure has been ascribed to either a mammoth (if single) misinterpretation of polling data and intelligence, or a single equally mammoth deus ex machina (like either of the Abramoff or Foley scandals) that arose to pervert the inevitable.

What’s largely missing from Republican retrospectives is glaringly obvious:

First, the Republican Party failed to hold its majorities in Congress because of a fundamental shift in the mindset of the American public, a change created and intensified by the needless slow undoing of the war in Iraq. Second, the Republicans lost because they didn't appreciate the gravity of that change in American thinking, relying instead on the habits of hubris to rescue them again, and totally failing to see the ways in which the voters made this election as much a referendum on the country's direction as the one we'll be having in less than two years' time.

Whether his miscalculation lasts will play itself out over the next two years, as the Democrats take the congressional reins. But however narrowly, Karl Rove misread the numbers, and this time it was the bigger numbers. This time, Bush's number-crunching brain couldn't handle the tidal arithmetic of the American mood.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Changing all the drapes

Tuesday was a day of rare events. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration reported that the planet Mercury passed between the earth and the sun in an infrequent celestial transit. The five-hour event, NASA says, was visible in parts of North and South America, Australia and Asia, and won't be repeated until sometime in 2016.

Equally rare, and no less momentous for some of us who inhabit the American corner of the third stone from the sun, is the outcome of the 2006 midterm election, a national canvass that saw a sea change in congressional leadership on Capitol Hill. With stunning swiftness, Americans turned out in near-record numbers for a midterm vote and transferred control of Congress to the Democrats for the first term since the Newt Gingrich-authored Contract on America in 1994.

It was more than a shot across the bow of the Bush administration; the outcome was a sound rebuke of administration policies, most notably the approach to prosecuting the war in Iraq.

The good news for Democrats actually unfolded over Tuesday and Wednesday. When the election was over on Tuesday, it was clear the Democrats had exceeded their own expectations of victory. Pundits like Craig Crawford at Congressional Quarterly and Charlie Cook at the National Journal had long predicted gains for the Dems in the House of Representatives. True to form, when the votes were counted, the House had overwhelmingly changed hands, with no fewer than 33 seats moving from the Republican side of the aisle to the Democrats. In the process, the change also ushered in the pending escalation of Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California to be Speaker of the House, the first female speaker in American history.

So chastened, President Bush walked Wednesday morning down the long red-carpeted hallway of the White House leading to the East Room, where the press was waiting, the president's face betraying in glimpses the expression of a man about to ascend the steps to the gallows.

"Say, why all the glum faces?" Bush asked the scribes assembled there, mentioning nothing of the glum faces that must have haunted the West Wing in the hours before.

The president went on to formally concede the outcome. "The Democratic Party had a good night last night," he said. Then, alluding to a comment he made days earlier about the Democrats presuming victory to the point of ordering new drapes for the offices in the House, Bush acknowledged speaking with the Speaker-to-be. "And in my first act of bipartisan outreach since the election, I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the drapes for her new offices," he said.

That backhanded concession was only part of the story. What made the change in leadership so satisfying for the Democrats was the fact that, when the president conceded defeat, the second shoe -- the outcome on the vote count for seats in the Senate -- hadn't yet dropped.

That other Florsheim dropped soundly about 9 p.m. Wednesday night (probably after Bush had gone to bed), when word trickled onto the wires that the one race still outstanding -- the Senate race in the state of Virginia, bastion of the Confederacy, bulwark of the Southern strategy -- was over. Democratic challenger James Webb had by slightly more than seven thousand votes defeated incumbent Sen. George Allen, to become the senator-elect, thus completing an historic reordering of the national political calculus.

There was gravy on the icing on the cake for the Democrats. No sooner had the Democrats solidified their hold on the House than news came from the White House that Secretary of Defense & Hawk-in-Chief Donald Rumsfeld, the lightning rod for administration policies in Iraq, had tendered his resignation effectively pretty much immediately.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer perfectly captured the moment in huge type on the front page: BLUE WAVE.

The weakness of the Republican strategy for this midterm was almost immediately obvious in retrospect. At his first Wednesday news conference, on the strength of some of his comments, it was clear that President Bush had been relying on the pocketbook issues -- the stellar status of the stock market, the steadily decreasing price of a gallon of gasoline -- to exonerate him and his party at the polls, and validate the trajectory, and the tragedy, of the war in Iraq.

But the voters saw no daylight between the issues. The war -- its cost in lives and limbs, money and materiel, global prestige and gravitas -- was as pressing a matter to John & Jane Q. Public as the price of unleaded at the neighborhood Texaco. And maybe more.

"You are entitled to your math, and I'm entitled to the math," White House senior adviser and Prince of Darkness Karl Rove told a National Public Radio interviewer before the election, after NPR dared suggest the Democrats might win.

Rove was last seen scuttling out of the White House with a box of Milton Bradley arithmetic flash cards.

# # #

Where things go from here is still to be seen. The Bushies made the obligatory overtures to bipartisanship, and not just talk about the drapes.

"It is our responsibility to put the elections behind us and work together on the great issues facing America," Bush said after huddling with his Cabinet, and with House and Senate Republican leaders. "Some of these issues need to be addressed before the current Congress finishes its legislative session, and that means the next few weeks are going to be busy ones."

But already the White House is said to be ready to dig in its heels on everything from execution of the Iraq war -- a matter you'd think was pretty well decided by the election! -- to the future of the National Security Agency's domestic wiretapping program, to the prospects for John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations who got the job as a recess appointment who bypassed the usual Senate hearings.

And then there's the little matter of judicial nominations. To judge from the early reactions from the Democrats, no doctrinaire strict constructionists need apply. "Send us more moderate people or don't waste your time," Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois told The New York Times. And Durbin should know: as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he'll be in a yea-or-nay position to approve those nominees. or not.

"This isn't my first rodeo," Bush said Wednesday morning with an insincere cockiness, before the bull had stormed all the way out of the gate, before the dimension of the Republican shellacking was fully known.

The stage is now set, poliltically, for what will clearly be his last.
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