Columns » Max Brantley

Obsessed

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Try as I might, I can’t turn my attention to more parochial subjects. The presidential election obsesses me. It’s not healthy. I shout nightly at the TV shouters. I websurf all hours, desperate for scraps of encouraging poll information. If there is good news, it is that I’m not alone. It is the only subject when I run into friends at the grocery. People with previously lukewarm political interests are energized. My college sophomore son wants to know why County Clerk Carolyn Staley hasn’t yet supplied him with the absentee ballot he requested long ago. (I’d tell him the sad story of the clerk’s office, but I don’t want him to sour on politics altogether.) Finally, I make here a frank admission, prompted by a Bob Herbert column Monday in the New York Times. Yes, bad news is good political news for those who’d like to see George W. Bush sent home to his faux Texas ranch. There are, of course, ample policy reasons to oppose a Bush election (none dare call it re-election). The news bulletin that Chief Justice William Rehnquist is suffering from thyroid cancer was a stark reminder of the singular damage Bush can do with just ability to replace the aged members of the Supreme Court. But it is in the bad news that we really understand this president, a man on whose desk no buck has ever stopped. It was not the U.S., which broke and thus bought Iraq with Bush’s war, but the Iraqi provisional government that was forced to make a startling announcement this week. Oops, nearly 400 tons of powerful explosives are missing. When Saddam was in power and Iraq was under the watch of international inspectors, this arsenal was accounted for. The inspectors warned the Bush administration. Then came shock and awe. The Bushies were too busy guarding the oil ministry. The explosives disappeared. Now we are shocked by the loss of more than 1,000 American men and women and crippling of thousands more, thanks often to explosives such as those missing. There’s so much more to consider, as Herbert noted. That ragged band derided by Bush lieutenants as a handful of dead-enders has infiltrated the Iraqi army. It used their uniforms to set up a mass execution of troops. Hostages plead not to be beheaded. The stock market has cratered. Early retirement based on private investments is a joke, a dollars-and-cents repudiation of Bush’s idea to privatize Social Security. Oil, which Bush was going to jawbone down to $28 a barrel, costs double that. We don’t have enough flu vaccine. Bush says we can get it from Canada, which he had previously deemed unsafe as a drug source for pinched seniors. And yet and yet — Bush is in a dead heat in the polls. He’s below 50 percent, true. He is trailing in some key battleground states. It is not ridiculous to imagine a scenario in which he could win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. Do you believe he will leave office gracefully or willingly if that happens? Has he ever admitted a mistake or a defeat? No, he’d linger and sue in hopes that Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra O’Connor would appoint him again.

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