Monday, May 19, 2003

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The Bush cycle

This administration has a peculiar pathology. It focuses like a laser beam on a key priority for several months, ignoring any criticism from outsiders. It then achieves its priority, earning plaudits for gutsiness and discipline. Immediately afterwards, however, drift sets in, unexpected complications arise, events beyond the Bush team's control create new obstacles to policy implementation, and things appear to fall apart.

The policy drift has occurred four times in this administration -- after the passage of the 2001 tax cut, after the fall of the Taliban, after the 2002 mid-year election, and, alas, after the victory in Iraq.

What's going wrong? There's the wave of Al Qaeda attacks, which the FBI now warns could hit American soil. Click here and here for the latest problems with postwar Iraq. And here's Jacob Levy on the stupidity of a temporary tax cut on dividends. And, as in other down cycles, key staffers are announcing their departure.

A troubling hypothesis -- is it possible that the message discipline so valued by the Bushies also leads to the suppression of policy adaptability?

[WARNING: The argument presented in this post is purely inductive].

UPDATE: Kevin Drum and Jay Fitzgerald suggest an alternative hypothesis with regard to Iraq -- Bush just doesn't care about the people of Iraq. That would certainly be consistent my TNR piece about Bush using the neocons rather than vice versa. The problem is, I don't buy Kevin's assertion that "[Bush] thinks that committing lots of money and lots of troops over a long period is an electoral loser, so he's not willing to fight for it." What viable Democratic challenger is going to criticize the President on these grounds? John Edwards just blasted Bush from the other direction today.

Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan think that the Bushies are quick to adapt but slow to realize when it's necessary to adapt. I hope they're correct.

posted by Dan on 05.19.03 at 02:57 PM