Anglosphere: Who's laughing now?

By JAMES C. BENNETT   |   Nov. 9, 2002 at 7:53 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 (UPI) -- This week on Samizdata.net, a English Web log, one of the contributors posted a photograph taken that day on the streets of London. In it, a poster of leftist filmmaker Michael Moore depicted the blobby would-be Bush nemesis about to flick off the disembodied head of the President. A passerby had added a speech balloon from Bush carrying the timely question "Who is laughing now, you fat (alliterative expletive deleted)?"

Indeed.

The 2002 elections, in the Democrats' narrative, were going to be the opportunity to punish Jeb Bush and the Republican party for its role in depriving America of its destined and natural leader, Al Gore. The results demonstrated the problems with maintaining a partisan narrative excessively removed from actual reality. Rather than being punished by Florida voters, brother Jeb got a genuine landslide.

The question is, what now?

The big ifs, of course, are the war and the economy. I would not look for Bush to pursue a broad legislative agenda over the next two years. Rather, I expect that he will now turn his attention to the enemy coalition of radical Islamists and Ba'athist fascists.

A sufficient U.N. fig leaf has now been donned to satisfy propriety. Action is probably not far behind.

War being uncertain by nature, I am not as sanguine about our chances of an early, easy victory as are the most optimistic. I hope, but do not assume. I suspect that Saddam, who is not a stupid man, has some unpleasant surprises left to deploy. However, I also suspect that he will as always underestimate the robustness and the determination of America once aroused, as it is now.

Given a reasonable outcome of the war, an economy still faltering, or turning back down into hard recession, could still terminate the Bush presidency in 2004. Two more years should be enough time for a solid recovery, unless the hard-core bears are right. We'll find out.

It is likelier than not that both the war and the economy will be in Bush's favor by 2004. Assuming they are, we can expect a solid Republican victory in the presidential race, the Senate, and the House.

Given such an outcome, Bush is likely to then move to create a significant legacy. What should it include?

Three levels of achievement need be addressed. The most narrow is party. A popular and successful President has the ability to shape his party and solidify its appeal to a long-term viable coalition of constituencies. Tuesday's election was interesting in two regions in particular.

The Southern results demonstrated that the long-term project of making the South a genuine two-party system is still advancing. The Northern Tier, or Greater New England results, demonstrate the curious persistence of Yankee Republicans. If Bush can manage to craft a Republican big tent that can bring in Georgia while returning Massachusetts and Minnesota to the fold, he will have created a Republican Party that will be more viable nationwide than at any previous time in its history.

Beyond the party level is the nation. Although there is a wide range of agenda items, several foundational reforms might be attempted that will lay the basis for an expanded prosperity. One is the long-delayed need for tort reform. This is critical because runaway litigation and unpredictable civil legislation outcomes erode the civic capital that underlies America's high-trust functioning civil society. Almost every attempt to quantify the costs of lawsuit abuse undercounts its ill effects, precisely because no way has been found to quantify the costs of eroded social capital.

The other key reform would be a rethinking of the underlying basis of the tax system. Recently, reports indicate that the U.S. Treasury, concerned about the difficulties in defining, identifying, or collecting taxes on income, has been thinking about alternative ways of collecting taxes, such as flat taxes or consumption taxes. This is something I have been predicting for years, and I suspect it will go though.

The final level is the world, and America's place within it. A legacy accomplishment must include defining a new outlook and set of arrangements that are not only post-Cold War, but post-Sept. 11th. This would include finalizing the transition of NATO, rethinking the whole idea of international organizations such as the U.N., and repurposing them to serve a new, more realistic idea of their function in the world, and, last but not least, rethinking America's relation to the European Union, or whatever it will be by that time.

Bush and his team, once they are able to take a long view, should meditate on the fact that America's relations with almost any given European nation are more amicable, cooperative, and productive on a bilateral basis than they are with Europe collectively, that is, with the European Union. A real legacy must treat a dogmatic devotion to the EU as one more fixed idea, such as past notions about litigation, taxation, or international organizations, that must be re-examined, and if needed, reversed.

If Europe is really to become the rival hegemon and power bloc its enthusiasts predict, it makes sense for America to blunt this rivalry by making a generous alternative offer to compatible nations such as Britain and Ireland. If, on the other hand, Europe is about to sink into a demographic, structural, and fiscal crisis, as analysis suggests, then it likewise makes sense for America to buffer itself from this catastrophe by rescuing the nations, again Britain and Ireland, that hold the lion's share of American financial interests.

These European issues are likely to become most aggravated in the 2005-2009 time frame. Coincidentally, this is likely to be exactly the period in which the Bush team will be addressing its legacy issues.

Who will be laughing then? Probably not Bush's most vehement critics, either at home or abroad.

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