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The Fire This Time


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The next presidential election is still a long way off but it’s already beginning to intrude on America’s consciousness. We’ve already had a series of debates, with candidates from both parties going at one another in their respective forums, and the nightly news programs carry a steady tale of political potshots and hot shots.

After seven years of the Bush presidency, Americans are tired of the Iraq war and have been listening to an endless litany of complaints about George Bush since he was inaugurated in 2001. That takes its toll.

Bush hasn’t made things better for himself, either, by fumbling a number or areas, most noticeably in his intermittent and often indecisive public responses to the incessant charges leveled against him. He’s routinely blamed for just about everything, from Global Warming to global anti-Americanism and from Hurricane Katrina to the latest rash of raging brush fires in southern California. It’s all Bush’s fault, the Democrats incessantly intone and a largely sympathetic national media turn up the amplifier to get that message out. After seven years of this stuff, it’s not surprising Americans seem ready for a change.

In 2006 they showed this by voting out enough Congressional Republicans to hand Democrats the majority in both houses. Democratic majorities in Congress now combine to keep the pressure on the administration by keeping the investigations simmering, by starting up new ones at the drop of a hat, and by constantly scurrying about in search of some big administration scandal that will finally bring the Bush presidency down.

The Democrats learned this game back in the Watergate years (when Richard Nixon self-destructed under the fire of Congressional hearings). After trying and failing to get a full court Watergate replay during the Reagan years, via the Iran-Contra investigations (Reagan’s presidency, unlike Nixon’s, survived), Congressional Democrats kept at it during the one-term presidency of the elder Bush.

During the Clinton administration, Republicans embarked on their own get-the-president crusade, trying to gin up the same kind of hearings and investigations against Bill Clinton that their Democratic predecessors had turned loose on Reagan and Bush. In this they had plenty of help from Clinton himself, of course, a seemingly inveterate womanizer with a penchant for sweet-talking the American public and triangulating his politics.

Republicans eventually built a Congressional majority for themselves, however, more through Clintonian missteps than their own cleverness; the evidence for this is found in the miserable way GOP lawmakers comported themselves when they finally won the majority. With one of their own, George W. Bush, in the White House, Republicans proved no less capable of spending taxpayers’ money than the Democratic majorities they had supplanted. In so doing, they opened a pathway to the Democratic resurgence we ultimately saw in 2006.

Now, with Americans tired of President Bush’s clumsy locutions and awkward grins, and of hearing about how bad he is (despite the remarkably strong economy his low taxation policies have nurtured and facilitated and which the mainstream media rarely deign to remark on), Americans seem set to turn the page, glad to be able to choose anyone but the hapless George Bush.

Whom will they choose? The Democratic candidates have the inside track, to be sure, and Sen. Hillary Clinton has the advantage among the Democrats. On the Republican side it looks like it’s coming down to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Arizona Senator John McCain, and former actor and former senator Fred Thompson. But so far none of them can boast a commanding lead.

Looking forward, Hillary Clinton brings a lot to the race, whoever her opponent turns out to be. She’s smart and has an experienced political machine behind her with plenty of dough. Moreover, Democrats have been longing for a restoration of Clintonian dominance in Washington since Al Gore lost to George Bush in 2000, and Hillary can give them a Clinton at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue again. Indeed, she can provide two Clintons for the price of one, as Bill put it in his first campaign when he famously promised American voters that they could “buy one; get one free.”

Not every voter finds this appealing, however. Though Bill Clinton presided over a relatively peaceful and prosperous period in the country’s history, it was on his watch that our military preparedness rapidly deteriorated and Al Qaeda, our self-declared mortal enemy, grew big enough to do us real harm.

About the Author: Stuart W. Mirsky is a former New York City official who last served as assistant commissioner for operations in the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene before retiring in 2002. He is one of the original founders of the Rockaway Republicans, one of the most active Republican groups in southern Queens, and is the author of a number of books, including “The King of Vinland's Saga,” a historical novel of the Norse in North America, “A Raft on the River,” a memoir of Holocaust survival, and “Choice and Action,” a work of contemporary philosophy addressing the implications of relativism and nihilism for our moral beliefs. He has also edited and collaborated on a number of other works.


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