THE BLOG
10/30/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Politics Trumped Governance

So, how did we get a war inside the Republican party that may leave the economy in shambles? Look to the end of last week, when McCain made his odd Washington cameo.

First, a bit of subtext: the legacy of the Bush years is how politics trumped governance. McCain, egging on these Republican anti-Bush/Paulson insurgents during his brief return, was doing the politics-first, win-at-all-cost, dance. He was, in essence, telling Bush it was payback time (after all McCain had done, holding his nose, in a support role for W since 2004). Specific, unspoken instructions to Bush in that big White House blow up: give way (and lose face) as the new Republican party -- which McCain now claims to lead -- alters his Treasury Secretary's $700 billion bailout. This will make McCain seem like the de facto president, filling a vaccum, giving him a huge election time boost -- maybe enough of a boost to win. Bush's response, screw you; I'm still in charge and, incidentally, I don't believe in reciprocity. Bush's position: Loyalty goes one way with me, it flows upward, and I'm still the President. I thought you got that, John.

This behind the scenes power putcsh is why most of the House Republicans are now opposing Bush. They're done with him, that's clear, and running from him like the Republicans did in Nixon's final days. For his part, Bush is trying to make sure no one else (and especially McCain) has a chance to step up into the void. With Bush, everything is personal -- it's how he makes sense of a complex world and tries to bend it to his will.

Historically speaking, the Bush/Cheney/Rove innovation of this period has been the view that politics and governance are not incompatible. In fact, their view is that politics fiercely played -- triumphing in daily news cycles and winning as a first principle -- is the guiding strategy of governance.

Now, McCain, waiting to claim victory of any brokered deal inside the Republican camp, is saying that the tide is with me. If I keep my cooI, I might ride it right to the White House. He's taking a leaf from a well-worn playbook that history may show as the cause of so much that has gone wrong. It may now spell political gridlock, incoherent policy, and disaster for the U.S. economy.