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the politics of failure  

2008-10-01 12:14:37|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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The politics of failure

Sep 30th 2008
From Economist.com

The rejection of the bail-out plan represents a profound domestic defeat for George Bush

 

GEORGE BUSH’S speech to the country on Tuesday September 30th had a quality of exhaustion about it. It proposed no new ideas or initiatives, promising merely to make another attempt to reach a deal with the House of Representatives, which the evening before had rejected the proposed $700 billion financial-rescue package. This was the seventh consecutive day on which he had pleaded in public for the bill’s passage. The effort is not over, he explained: “I assure our citizens and citizens around the world that this is not the end of the legislative process.”

Negotiations between the White House and Congress continue. Supporters of the bill hope the market turmoil that followed its rejection might chasten legislators who voted against it. Mr Bush sought to increase pressure on the recalcitrants when he pointed out that the one-day stockmarket loss—over $1 trillion—was greater than the estimated cost of the bail-out.

A new rescue plan will not be put to a vote before October 1st. In any case it cannot disguise the damage that the congressional defeat has already done to the dying administration. This was a humiliation, not only because of the size and significance of the plan but because the presidential faults and weaknesses that contributed to defeat have existed throughout Mr Bush’s two terms. Congress was testing Mr Bush’s mode of administration to destruction. This was defeat not only of a bill but of much of what his administration has stood for.

Since Franklin D. Roosevelt revealed the importance of talking directly to the public with his “fireside chats” during the Great Depression, the ability to influence public debate directly through appeals and persuasion has been one of the most powerful tools of any president. Mr Bush has used this power patchily, at best. His set-piece national addresses on the financial crisis have been short and passionless. They have shown little sense of a leader able to guide and shape national debate. According to polls by Pew Research Centre, 43% of Americans describe themselves as confused about the bail-out; half say they are scared. The power of guidance has long been beyond the president: his most recent job-approval rating (according to Gallup) was 27%, the lowest of his presidency.

Mr Bush lost credibility with the public a while ago. The vote in the House revealed how little the president has left among his own party and on Capitol Hill. Mr Bush has been reduced to a by-standing role in the financial crisis, leaving the design of the bail-out to Hank Paulson, the treasury secretary and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve. Mr Bush left the task of lobbying Congress to his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and to Mr Paulson—at least until he joined them at the last minute. Too little, too late, said Republicans.

Mr Bush faced an uphill struggle on Capitol Hill: representatives want to put as much distance as they can between themselves and him. That was a big reason why more than three-quarters of those facing close races voted against his proposals. But that was only 30 people; 228 voted against, including 133 Republicans.

Another factor was at play: this was a day of reckoning for the partisanship that has been a hallmark of the administration from the start. With Mr Bush in office, more congressional votes have run along party lines; campaigns and public debate have been more polarised. Although Democrats were persuaded to vote by roughly two to one in favour of the bail-out plan, bi-partisanship means more than just reaching out to the other side. It also means persuading your own party to compromise, which Mr Bush failed to do. Most of those who voted against the rescue came from the extreme ends of the parties, market fundamentalists on the Republican side; the black and Hispanic caucuses among Democrats (they are among the most left-wing members of Congress). This was an ideological defeat for an ideological president.

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