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NYT -- Paul Krugman -- Limiting the Damage: "At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush's character. To put it bluntly, he's an insecure bully ....."

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Charles Dickens

Nov 5, 2006, 11:13:35 PM11/5/06
November 6, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Limiting the Damage

President Bush isn't on the ballot tomorrow. But this election is,
nonetheless, all about him. The question is whether voters will pry his
fingers loose from at least some of the levers of power, thereby
limiting the damage he can inflict in his two remaining years in

There are still some people urging Mr. Bush to change course. For
example, a scathing editorial published today by The Military Times,
which calls on Mr. Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld, declares that "this
is not about the midterm elections." But the editorial's authors
surely know better than that. Mr. Bush won't fire Mr. Rumsfeld; he
won't change strategy in Iraq; he won't change course at all,
unless Congress forces him to.

At this point, nobody should have any illusions about Mr. Bush's
character. To put it bluntly, he's an insecure bully who believes
that owning up to a mistake, any mistake, would undermine his manhood
- and who therefore lives in a dream world in which all of his
policies are succeeding and all his officials are doing a heckuva job.
Just last week he declared himself "pleased with the progress we're
making" in Iraq.

In other words, he's the sort of man who should never have been put
in a position of authority, let alone been given the kind of
unquestioned power, free from normal checks and balances, that he was
granted after 9/11. But he was, alas, given that power, as well as a
prolonged free ride from much of the news media.

The results have been predictably disastrous. The nightmare in Iraq is
only part of the story. In time, the degradation of the federal
government by rampant cronyism - almost every part of the executive
branch I know anything about, from the Environmental Protection Agency
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been FEMAfied
- may come to be seen as an equally serious blow to America's

And it should be a matter of intense national shame that Mr. Bush has
quietly abandoned his fine promises to New Orleans and the rest of the
Gulf Coast.

The public, which rallied around Mr. Bush after 9/11 and was still
prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt two years ago, seems to
have figured most of this out. It's too late to vote Mr. Bush out of
office, but most Americans seem prepared to punish Mr. Bush's party
for his personal failings. This is in spite of a vicious campaign in
which Mr. Bush has gone further than any previous president - even
Richard Nixon - in attacking the patriotism of anyone who criticizes
him or his policies.

That said, it's still possible that the Republicans will hold on to
both houses of Congress. The feeding frenzy over John Kerry's botched
joke showed that many people in the news media are still willing to be
played like a fiddle. And if you think the timing of the Saddam verdict
was coincidental, I've got a terrorist plot against the Brooklyn
Bridge to sell you.

Moreover, the potential for vote suppression and/or outright electoral
fraud remains substantial. And it will be very hard for the Democrats
to take the Senate for the very simple reason that only one-third of
Senate seats are on this ballot.

What if the Democrats do win? That doesn't guarantee a change in

The Constitution says that Congress and the White House are co-equal
branches of government, but Mr. Bush and his people aren't big on
constitutional niceties. Even with a docile Republican majority
controlling Congress, Mr. Bush has been in the habit of declaring that
he has the right to disobey the law he has just signed, whether it's
a law prohibiting torture or a law requiring that he hire qualified
people to run FEMA.

Just imagine, then, what he'll do if faced with demands for
information from, say, Congressional Democrats investigating war
profiteering, which seems to have been rampant. Actually, we don't
have to imagine: a White House strategist has already told Time
magazine that the administration plans a "cataclysmic fight to the
death" if Democrats in Congress try to exercise their right to issue
subpoenas - which is one heck of a metaphor, given Mr. Bush's
history of getting American service members trapped in cataclysmic
fights where the deaths are anything but metaphors.

But here's the thing: no matter how hard the Bush administration may
try to ignore the constitutional division of power, Mr. Bush's
ability to make deadly mistakes has rested in part on G.O.P. control of
Congress. That's why many Americans, myself included, will breathe a
lot easier if one-party rule ends tomorrow.

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