George Bush has clearly lost his mojo. The swaggering victor who just nine months ago was ready to spin his three-percent win into a mandate now can't even get his pal Harriet's nomination out of the starting gate. And odds are very high the Miers fiasco won't be close to the worst news the White House gets this week.
Thursday morning's L.A. Times lays out how the White House is planning to manage things after the Plamegate indictments hit the fan. Among the damage control plans: roll out a flurry of proposals on spending restraint, tax reform, and immigration, and take another crack at resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict (Nothing like jump-starting a stymied peace process to take the public's mind off administration big shots being indicted!)
Former Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein helpfully suggests Bush "do some big things": "You can try for breakthroughs on North Korea, on Iran. I think he can do tax reform, tax simplification. I think he can do something big on energy. He can do something on Medicare and Medicaid. He has to do something on the spending side. He needs to be addressing immigration."
Hey, why not have W cure cancer while he's at it?
Reading that lofty list, you just know that none of it is going to work. Bush is suddenly going to do something "big on energy"? On North Korea? Please tell me how, because the current White House playbook is thinner than Lara Flynn Boyle after a 10-day juice fast.
David Gergen, who seems to be living on TV these days, realizes the futility of Bush's situation. "Changing the subject won't work," he said. "It's dangerous for the country to have a disabled president for three years, and we're getting close to seeing that happen."
In other words, Bush is a cooked goose -- a much fouler fowl than a lame duck.
More and more, Bush looks like a man who has reached the point of no return. Watching his robotic speech on Iraq this week, you got the sense his heart is no longer really in it. He seems defeated. Resigned. Running on empty.
It got me thinking of the way this happens in every great tragedy -- Greek or Shakespearean. The moment arrives when we know that all is lost. For some reason, I keep thinking of Macbeth.
Macbeth's fatal deed -- from which there was no return -- was, of course, killing King Duncan ("Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had lived a blessed time"). Bush's fatal deed was invading Iraq. It led directly to Plamegate -- an attempt to cover up the lies and deceptions used to sell an unnecessary war to the American people. It derailed the war on terror, increased anti-American feeling around the world, contributed to the soaring budget deficit, made us less safe here at home, and set the table for the disastrous mishandling of Hurricane Katrina.
In the Scottish play, Shakespeare perfectly captures the infinite weariness that sets in when you've reached the end of the road:
"Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death."
Can you think of a better summation of the position Bush now finds himself in? There will be no legacy of endless Republican power. No grand remaking of the Middle East. No privatization of, well, everything. No shrinking the government. No superseding his father.
Instead, he's staggering toward his dusty political death -- marking time until the last syllable of his recorded time in office in January 2009. Unless his last syllable comes sooner -- with Pat Fitzgerald as his Macduff, running a dagger through the heart of his presidency and sending him off on an early permanent vacation at the Crawford ranch.
I imagine the mood in the Oval Office today is not dissimilar to that in Dunsinane Castle when a messenger arrives with news that (as prophesied by the three witches) the trees of Birnam Wood are advancing on Macbeth's castle, auguring his demise. The doomed king realizes that all is lost and, resigned, awaits his destiny. As Macbeth steeled himself for the arrival of the Birnam Wood, Bush must be steeling himself for the arrival of Fitzgerald's indictments.
Out, out, brief candle!
By the way, in casting Bush as Macbeth, I am in no way suggesting that Laura is Lady Macbeth. I'm reserving that role for Dick Cheney, the instigator of W's darkest deeds, the carrier of all neocon obsessions, the power behind the throne who suffers none of the doubt or uncertainty that occasionally plague W. Although, unlike Lady Macbeth, I seriously doubt Cheney is kept awake by nightmares of the blood that's surely on his hands. If he were beset by sleepwalking fits, they would more likely be accompanied by visions of Patrick Fitzgerald showing up at his door, brandishing Scooter Libby's notes.
Double, double, toil and trouble!