In his recent book on democracy, scholar Alan Wolfe concludes that while democratic governance is superior to other forms, our American democracy works "mostly [as] a matter of luck."
Our luck is running out.
First was the coin toss of a presidential election in 2000 -- where the winner was precisely the wrong person for the new global economy and global terrorism requiring leaders who were flexible, innovative and oriented to international alliances. Second, as our government lurches toward a critical, historic decision on Iraq, perhaps the worst person in the world who could make this fateful decision is the one with the authority to do so. In a sense, the odds of this happening are 7 billion to 1. Bush is the one.
Why worst? Ideally, the "decider" coolly looks at the facts and puzzles through to the best option in a bad situation -- think JKF in the Cuban Missile Crisis. But Bush is renowned for faith-based rather than fact-based decisions -- indeed, according to Bob Woodward, among many others, for making delusional decisions where he just wills himself into believing that 1+1=7. "Absolutely we're winning" he said of Iraq in October. Also, a leader needs to look afresh about a knotty problem when first premises don't work -- think of NASA which at first thought that a little foam couldn't knock an air shuttle out of the sky. But W will be a case study in future generations as perhaps the least flexible CEO in modern political and corporate history. Consider three points from his biography:
*He's a recovered alcoholic: AA is famous for its 12 Step Program, where participants can't vary a toggle from the program or else they risk falling off the wagon. Stick to the program or else!
*Stay on message: In 1994, he reiterated four and only four points everywhere -- tort reform, juvenile justice...-- and won handily. In 2004, it was terrorists and taxes are bad, reiterated 1000 different ways. Has there ever been a candidate more on message?
*Remember the base: When Bush asked why he was signing yet another tax cut for the have-mores, according to Paul O'Neill's book, Rove reminded 43 that it was about "the base." So it matters less that a plunging minority agree with his Iraq policy than that a majority of his base -- the religious right and neo- and hard-cons -- does so.
So whoever now believes that Bush is actually going through a serious factual examination and self-reflection either don't understand his history or needs therapy. Recall the thoughtful process that led him to refuse to fund new stem cell lines, a piece of theater that led to the pre-ordained conclusion that his base demanded.
For Bush is the exact reverse of a rational, factual, flexible president. Changing one's mind -- even appearing to be considering changing one's mind -- is regarded as weakness. It's all about appearing resolute, not facing reality. A JFK or a Nixon would study facts that led to conclusions. Bush is the exact opposite -- more catechistic than empiric, as conclusions lead to "facts." So until either Republican leaders tell the President that they won't allow him to cost their party another 30 House seats and six Senate seats in '08 -- or until Democratic leaders tell him that they too will take away his keys to the car that he's smashed up -- the die is cast. To get a really new Iraq policy will probably require a new president. Or maybe we'll get lucky.