Commentary

Months ago it was apparent that the Bush administration was losing its initiative and momentum. Bush didn’t walk with the same old swagger and his much-vaunted political capital had lost much of its value.

Tensions and fissures were evident in the Republican Party — not an open rebellion by any means, but substantial enough that the single-mindedness that had been the signature of the Bush administration and Republican Party was less evident.

At the same time, the resistance to the administration’s policies was growing in depth and breadth, while public opinion polls were showing a steady decline in Bush’s popularity.

Meanwhile, on an international level, the Bush administration’s predilection for unilateralism and force was encountering resistance from all quarters of the globe. Much to the chagrin of the neoconservatives, the use of overwhelming military power hasn’t succeeded in establishing a new U.S.-dominated client regime in Iraq — let alone set the stage for ushering in a new American Century.

Most of us assumed that support for the administration and its policies would continue to crumble. But none of us, I dare say, could foresee how precipitously this would happen.

Cascading problems

Who could have predicted back then that a storm was soon to form in the unusually warm waters of the Atlantic and then morph into a powerful hurricane that would rip into the Gulf states with such destructive and deadly force?

Who could have divined that the Bush administration would respond with such indifference and incompetence to the plight of hundreds of thousands of people in the Gulf region, and New Orleans in the first place?

Who could have foreseen the rash of indictments, sleaze, scandals and charges of cronyism that would surface and engulf the White House and the Republican Party this fall?

Who could have easily predicted the sudden surge in oil and gas prices with its disastrous implications for the approaching winter?

Who could have anticipated the rancor and divisions between Bush and many of his conservative supporters over his nomination of Harriet Miers to fill the new vacancy on the Supreme Court?

The confluence of all this — unfolding, keep in mind, in the context of widespread disapproval of Social Security privatization, generalized anxiety about the economy and, above all, an increasingly unpopular war and a resurging peace movement — has thrown the Bush administration on the defensive.

Some even ask, “Is the jig up? Are we at a turning point?”

Not quite, in my opinion, but clearly Bush now speaks with much less political and moral authority. He no longer gets the benefit of the doubt, commands the same ardent, unqualified support, or exercises power the same way that he did.

Even among his diehard supporters, dissident voices are now heard. Stirring the most controversy among Bush’s conservative constituency is the Miers nomination, but not far behind is his bungling of the Iraq war.

To make matters worse for Bush, the situation in Iraq could deteriorate even more, federal indictments of Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and others could come at any time, the corruption trials of key Republican operatives could reach back into the White House, the Miers nomination could go up in smoke, energy prices could go higher, and a fragile economy could further soften in the coming months.

The ‘Humpty-Dumpty zone’

If all, or even a combination, of these things happens, Bush could move into what might be called the “Humpty Dumpty zone,” where his loss of legitimacy becomes irretrievable as support among his most faithful backers melts away, as he becomes more of a liability than an asset to the reactionary circles of the ruling class that support him, and as opposition to his policies becomes near-overwhelming.

In this event, Bush’s presidency collapses, his right-wing counterparts in Congress and elsewhere attempt to minimize their losses, and the political terrain shifts in favor of the broad forces opposing his policies and, more broadly, the whole right-wing political project that goes back to the Reagan years and was a political response of the most reactionary groupings of the ruling class and their political allies to a series of political defeats and economic difficulties experienced by U.S. imperialism from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.

Republican counterattack

It should be said, of course, that neither Bush nor his congressional cronies nor his right-wing corporate backers nor his conservative constituency are going to leave the stage willingly. In fact, we are seeing the beginnings of a counterattack. If they had a playbook, it might be called, “Seizing Victory from the Jaws of Defeat.”

What are its main elements?

First, change the conversation from incompetence, corruption, indictments, race, poverty, and mounting war deaths, to the war on terror, Supreme Court nominations, shrinking the budget deficit and “rebuilding” the Gulf.

Second, fill the Supreme Court vacancy with someone (Miers or another faithful right-winger if her nomination is withdrawn or rejected) who will tilt the court decisively in a reactionary, anti-democratic direction for the foreseeable future.

Third, turn the Gulf states into an “Opportunity Zone,” that is, a vast laboratory of no-bid contracts, right-wing privatization schemes and unrelieved exploitation, free of prevailing wage agreements, affirmative action provisions and environmental protections.

Fourth, ethnically cleanse New Orleans of its African American community, thereby turning Louisiana into an uncontested red state in the coming elections.

Fifth, claim that tax cuts for the wealthy are needed more than ever to stimulate the rebuilding process in the Gulf region and a sluggish economy nationally.

Sixth, turn the price tag of hurricane reconstruction into a rationale for making draconian cuts in spending for Medicaid, food stamps and other people’s programs, while at the same time quietly scaling back the federal commitment to rebuilding Gulf communities.

Seventh, consider reckless provocations and wag-the-dog scenarios that will create an international crisis (Syria, perhaps), thereby deflecting public attention away from the mess that the administration finds itself in.

Finally, ride out the political storm knowing that Congress still remains solidly in Republican hands, and have no hesitation to employ that naked power to unapologetically pursue a right-wing agenda.

A winnable struggle

This counterattack by the Republican Party is not surprising, but as every football player knows, having a playbook is one thing and executing it is quite another.

For starters, millions of people are looking at the world through a different political lens now. Righteous anger is in the air and people feel emboldened. Even the Democratic Party and the mass media are showing some “moxie.” The mass turnout for peace on Sept. 24 and the incredibly positive reaction of the American people to the courage of war critic and Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan are emblematic of growing readiness to take action.

Meanwhile there are few signs on the horizon that Bush’s nosedive is going to rebound soon, if ever.

All of this gives leverage to people’s initiatives, both to block reactionary Republican congressional measures (and there are plenty of them) and to support progressive Democratic ones. It creates opportunities to end the occupation of Iraq, to block the Miers nomination, to address the issues of poverty and racism that were heaved up in the storm winds of Katrina, and to take control of Congress out of Republican hands in 2006. Perhaps most importantly, it sets the stage for a working class and people’s counteroffensive against the anti-democratic right-wing political offensive that has blighted for too long the political, economic and social landscape of our country.

Sam Webb (swebb@cpusa.org) is national chair of the Communist Party USA.

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