That sound you hear is a sigh of relief -- still somewhat tentative, but more hopeful than it's been in years -- from the collective center of American politics, Republican as well as Democrat. What prompts it is not yesterday's election results in themselves, but President Bush's press conference reacting to them this morning. In the LBJ-Nixon era -- under both a Democratic and a Republican president, for all sorts of reasons, and driven by ideologues in and out of government and on all sides of America's cultural divide -- the United States dipped very deeply into chaos on the one hand, and tyranny on the other...and then made a collective decision to come back from the brink, and become one country again.
President Johnson had to decide not to run again in 1968, and President Nixon to resign in 1974, for -- as the latter's successor, President Gerald Ford, so memorably put it -- "America's long national nightmare [to be] over." As I write this, the possibility exists that we didn't need to change presidents this time. That the president simply needed to change his mind.
As in all great moments of compromise, the president's press conference will displease ideologues at both extremes; and despite the dramatic events of the last thirty-six hours we won't know how sincere the new tone really is until we see how it plays out. But the immediate signs are both stunning, and heartening. President Bush announced the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and appointed former DCI (under President Bush Sr.) Robert Gates to replace him. Furthermore, if "sources close to the White House" are right, the president made these decisions against the specific wishes of Vice President Dick Cheney, who wanted Rumsfeld to stay on, and, failing that, wanted someone very like him appointed to the job.
I've repeatedly said here that this wasn't an ideological Republican-Democratic issue for me: that I've voted for good folks from both parties, and expect to do so again. I meant it, and I hope now you can tell that I meant it. What I've tried to emphasize in countless posts here is the danger to the United States as a whole if we didn't get a serious infusion of professionalism, competence, realism -- hell, basic sanity -- in a hurry.
I am hoping and praying that this is what we see developing now.
Thanks largely to Democrats and Independents "flooding the zone" on election day (as we recently discussed here), the Democrats have taken firm control of the House of Representatives, and may well have taken the Senate as well (both starting January 7, 2007). Everything about the rigidity, apocalyptic vision, divisive rhetoric, contemptuous dismissal of the party out of power, and dictatorial unilateralism that have characterized this administration for over six and a half years, led me to fear that such a result would harden its resolve even further, and make this country a scarier place than ever, for the next two years at least.
That could still happen. In all honestly, our experience to this point suggests that it will happen; and I certainly don't kid myself that policy divisions aren't going to continue to be very deep. Political warfare will continue, which is just a way of saying that politics will continue. It is supposed to. That's how representative government is supposed to work.
But President Bush's decisions, and press conference, this morning have given me hope that whatever disagreements we face, we can once again face them together, as a single country; and in a way that doesn't threaten the interests, and indeed the survival, of the United States itself. For that, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.
93 93/93 -- AJ