William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Mon, 19 Sep 2005 06:52:21 -0400

End of the Bush Era

By E. J. Dionne Jr.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005; Page A27

The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, 
the better for them -- and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a 
steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's 
government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to 
leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced 
a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like 

The Bush Era did not begin when he took office, or even with the terrorist 
attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It began on Sept. 14, 2001, when Bush declared at 
the World Trade Center site: "I can hear you. The rest of the world hears 
you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us 
soon." Bush was, indeed, skilled in identifying enemies and rallying a 
nation already disposed to action. He failed to realize after Sept. 11 that 
it was not we who were lucky to have him as a leader, but he who was lucky 
to be president of a great country that understood the importance of 
standing together in the face of a grave foreign threat. Very nearly all of 
us rallied behind him.

If Bush had understood that his central task was to forge national unity, as 
he seemed to shortly after Sept. 11, the country would never have become so 
polarized. Instead, Bush put patriotism to the service of narrowly 
ideological policies and an extreme partisanship. He pushed for more tax 
cuts for his wealthiest supporters and shamelessly used relatively modest 
details in the bill creating a Department of Homeland Security as partisan 
cudgels in the 2002 elections.

He invoked our national anger over terrorism to win support for a war in 
Iraq. But he failed to pay heed to those who warned that the United States 
would need many more troops and careful planning to see the job through. The 
president assumed things would turn out fine, on the basis of wildly 
optimistic assumptions. Careful policymaking and thinking through potential 
flaws in your approach are not his administration's strong suits.

And so the Bush Era ended definitively on Sept. 2, the day Bush first toured 
the Gulf Coast States after Hurricane Katrina. There was no magic moment 
with a bullhorn. The utter failure of federal relief efforts had by then 
penetrated the country's consciousness. Yesterday's resignation of FEMA 
Director Michael Brown put an exclamation point on the failure.

The source of Bush's political success was his claim that he could protect 
Americans. Leadership, strength and security were Bush's calling cards. Over 
the past two weeks, they were lost in the surging waters of New Orleans.

But the first intimations of the end of the Bush Era came months ago. The 
president's post-election fixation on privatizing part of Social Security 
showed how out of touch he was. The more Bush discussed this boutique idea 
cooked up in conservative think tanks and Wall Street imaginations, the less 
the public liked it. The situation in Iraq deteriorated. The glorious 
economy Bush kept touting turned out not to be glorious for many Americans. 
The Census Bureau's annual economic report, released in the midst of the 
Gulf disaster, found that an additional 4.1 million Americans had slipped 
into poverty between 2001 and 2004.

The breaking of the Bush spell opens the way for leaders of both parties to 
declare their independence from the recent past. It gives forces outside the 
White House the opportunity to shape a more appropriate national agenda --  
for competence and innovation in rebuilding the Katrina region and for new 
approaches to the problems created over the past 4 1/2 years.

The federal budget, already a mess before Katrina, is now a laughable 
document. Those who call for yet more tax cuts risk sounding like robots 
droning automated talking points programmed inside them long ago. Katrina 
has forced the issue of deep poverty back onto the national agenda after a 
long absence. Finding a way forward in -- and eventually out of -- Iraq will 
require creativity from those not implicated in the administration's 
mistakes. And if ever the phrase "reinventing government" had relevance, it 
is now that we have observed the performance of a government that allows 
political hacks to push aside the professionals.

And what of Bush, who has more than three years left in his term? 
Paradoxically, his best hope lies in recognizing that the Bush Era, as he 
and we have known it, really is gone. He can decide to help us in the 
transition to what comes next. Or he can cling stubbornly to his past and 
thereby doom himself to frustrating irrelevance.