When a Landslide is Really Just the Ground Giving Way Underneath You

03/03/2006 12:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Two days after his election a year ago, George Bush said, "Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style."

Alas, he has since learned the lesson that Americans have long known: a dollar just doesn't go as far these days.

Of course, George Bush did earn political capital in the campaign. That can't be denied. The pesky problem is that he didn't earn nearly as much as he thought. While he believed that he had one of the great landslide mandates in American history (or maybe hoped that 59 million people would forget they didn't vote for him two days earlier), the reality is that he squeaked by with in the smallest margin by any sitting President during wartime, a paltry three million votes out of 121 million cast. (If a handful of votes had been counted differently in Ohio, then John Kerry is President. Boy, how's that for a flip-flop?) Yes, George Bush did earn capital - but he only earned a few bucks. Chump change. "Here, kid, go buy yourself an ice cream cone" kind of capital. The kind of political capital that slips out of your dad's pockets when he's lying on the couch.

It's one thing to use smoke and mirrors to trick people. It may work, it may not. But make no mistake, perception is not reality. Reality is reality. You may perceive that if you jump off a skyscraper, you can fly. The concrete pavement will tell you otherwise. No matter how loudly and often you yammer that you won a mandate, no matter how much a perception you create otherwise - the cold, hard, actual numbers will rear their ugly head. And George Bush has finally hit the concrete.

As President Bush was plummeting towards the sidewalk from his leap off the Proclamation on the Mount two days after the election, he began throwing around those few nickels he earned as if they were oil gushers.

The very first thing he spent his political capital on was gutting Social Security. That was such a disaster that he had spent all his meager capital before even being able to get out the words "private accounts." Yet he kept spending capital he now no longer had, for his 60 Day Magical Mystery Tour of America. And the public wasn't buying. By the end, he was more in debt from his lack of political capital than was the rest of the country from his tax cuts and war.

But he kept spending capital that was already long gone. (Which ironically enough is, of course, supposedly an anathema to fiscal conservatives.)

He spent more of it with unabashed grandstanding, leaving his vacation early in order to fake-save Terry Schiavo and sign a bill allowing Bill Frist to make medical diagnoses by fortune cookie and let Republican Senators intrude on a marriage. The country was appalled, and this fiasco backfired on the G.O.P.more than a broken-down Edsel.

His political capital debt mounting, the President overspent an ungodly amount on the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Losing a major American city on your watch was seen by the public as Not a Good Thing. The country watched as even more of the President's political I.O.U.'s were swept away in the flood, where they can be found at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain, along with a large portion of New Orleans.

The thing is, when you're living in deep political capital debt and forced to seek out loan sharks, interest builds up and drains your account even further. As a result, still more deficit political capital got spent by his Administration fending off federal charges of outing a CIA agent, and then defending itself from party scandals with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Then, just as you were sure the President would realize that he long-since had zero political capital left to spend, he opened his empty bankbook to kite a hot check for his Vice President shooting a man and forgetting to a) tell the public, b) tell his boss, and c) go to the hospital to see how the poor fellow was doing.

And finally, instead of recognizing that his political debt was so massive that the only appropriate response was dropping to his knees and begging for mercy, the President ignored his bankrupt account and tried to palm off the management of American ports to a country with ties to terrorists. (Note. See earlier speech re: "axis of evil" and "You're either against terrorism or you're for it.")

In his now-infamous Proclamation from the Mount two days after the 51-48% faux-mandate, the President also stated through his bullhorn, "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals." While excitement of the moment is understandable, it probably wasn't the wisest declaration to make, since that group today is limited to a mere 34% of the country.

As the President himself would phrase it, "Let me put it to you this way": considering that in only one year George Bush is now supported by a third fewer people than voted for him, it would suggest that this is a really poor way to spend his political capital. But then, when you don't have much political capital to begin with, it's probably best not to spend any of it, but rather hold on and let it accrue for a rainy day.

Like next hurricane season.