Friday, September 16, 2005

The Disordered Presidency

The Moose ponders the politics of order.

Last night, Halloween came early as W. tried to present himself as an array of former Presidents. First, he attempted to connect with his inner LBJ. We now have a Republican President selling guns and butter. Goodbye Coolidge and hello FDR. Last night was devoted to articulating W's Gulf Coast New Deal. There was a little dash of Reagan as the President articulated some "enterprise" ideas no doubt cooked up by some right wing propeller heads at a think tank. Finally, George W. Bush was channeling the theme of George H.W. Bush. - message, I care.

It was a perfectly pedestrian speech - however the words were disconnected from his Administration's incompetence and indifference. Hopefully, it will be the harbinger of a new start. We will see.

The core problem that this punctuality-obsessed, exercise-crazed President faces is that he is presiding over disorder at home and abroad. The first obligation of government is the preservation of order. That might seem obvious, but politicians often ignore that maxim to their peril. And we usually hire Republican Presidents to restore and maintain order.

Larry Kaplan addresses the order question in the New Republic,

"It's no coincidence, then, that the question of order, and the government's ability to secure it, has returned to the American imagination. If you look at polls tracking opinions about the Iraq war, the decline in support for the war hasn't tracked casualty rates so much as it has the impression that the United States will never be able to stabilize Iraq--an impression fed every evening by televised images of mayhem in the streets of Baghdad. In New Orleans, too, the images of looting and widespread public disorder arguably left a more lasting impression than the spectacle of a major American city under water. This, at least, is what one can reasonably infer from newly released surveys showing that, as much as anyone else, Americans blame the residents of New Orleans for their lot--with whites, in particular, branding looters as "criminals" rather than "desperate people." At the same time, levels of faith in government's ability to provide for the physical security of its citizens, already on the wane before Katrina, or simple trust in government, which a June Gallup survey pegged at Watergate levels, can't sink much lower."

Iraq and Katrina are linked by the failure of the Bushies to control the situation. It is disconcerting to see the party of order as incompetent, hapless and weak. Ironically, that is how the Democrats have been usually perceived over the past forty years, as the Moose pointed out a few months ago.

"Americans long for it -- social order, law and order, world order. But ever since the chaos of the 1960s, voters have felt one aspect of order or another slipping away. And, fairly or not, Americans have perceived a Democratic tolerance for disorder and a Republican commitment to restoring order. That has been the subtext of every presidential election since 1968, although it has usually been called by other names -- like abortion, gay rights, flag burning, or "values." It explains why, in most national contests, Republicans have won."

The order issue is not merely addressing crime - it is far broader. It also includes the maintenance of civil order through social and racial justice. It involves the efficient delivery of government services. It requires stemming fiscal incontinence and restoring stable gas prices. And at the moment, America is lacking a "daddy party" to maintain order. John Dickerson writes in an important piece in Slate,

"Democrats don't need to rile up their base any more. They need suburban voters, and for suburban voters, Katrina isn't so much about race, it's about homeland security-about what would happen if someone bombs their mall. Some Democrats understand this already. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Clinton have both tried to pitch sensible reconstruction plans for the Gulf while also talking about the glaring problems exposed in the country's homeland security.

"If Democrats are going to seize their moment, though, they are going to have to settle the debate between those palsied by their hatred of Bush and the swing-vote-seeking centrists. The Clinton and Reid arguments have to silence or at least moderate the Dean ones. They have to show, as one Democratic strategist put it, "that we can be the daddy party."

The Moose asks the donkey - "Who's your daddy?"
-- Posted at 8:26 AM | Link to this post | Email this post