Is Bush Treading the Path Paved by Gingrich?

  • Share
  • Read Later
The supply of firewood is almost gone. Snow covers the ground, still two feet deep and melting squalidly, the temperature almost 40. The other day, as the town snowplow bullied through, roostering snow, it knocked down the mailbox and left it capsized at a drunken angle in a snowbank. Now snowmelt runs downhill onto the dirt road, which is reduced to quagmire. The car bucks and lurches through rutted mud. The creek rushes and brims.

In other words, it's just about spring. I'm glad to see the squirrels are confident about the change of seasons. No one else is. The squirrels scamper across the road in their exuberantly suicidal springtime way, racing to see if they can manage to get under the wheels. Nature on the move. Chipmunks are back in business. Our cats play Sylvester with the bluebirds. Deer, exhausted by deep snow and winter, have taken to using the plowed driveway as a thoroughfare: Yesterday I saw 20 of them file leisurely down the drive from the field, where they browse, morning and evening, on what bare patches they can find. A church social of wild turkeys congregates in the field as well — absorbed, nonchalant and pretty sure, after this winter, that they will live forever.

But none of the nation's other creatures seem to be greeting the spring with much confidence or enthusiasm. Television's talking heads look skittish, rueful. There are nasty bears on the newsmagazines, all fangs and snarls. Daytrading squirrels race around trying to get under the wheels — and succeeding. Another crunch. What will Greenspan do? Nothing less than a full point off interest rates will calm the animals. Even that may not work.

A long and rather strange winter that began, more or less, with the U.S. Supreme Court's intervention in the presidential election, and proceeded through a thin post-inaugural honeymoon — the Phony War — ends, more or less, with a crystallization, at last, of issues that betoken the real war that looms.

The tax cut. Carbon dioxide emissions. Bankruptcy laws. Drilling in Alaska. And much more to come. Remember when Ralph Nader retailed the conceit that there was no difference between Gore and Bush, between the corrupted Democratic apparat and the corrupted Republican cabal? Maybe so. But the Red nation and the Blue nation do have basic differences with one another, and their different views of the world (of the distribution of money and the role of government, above all) are about to collide, this time not just in campaign rhetoric, as before, but in the real life of the nation, in real policy changes with real consequences.

One is inclined to think that neither side is entirely up to the collision. The Democrats have become a wan, disheveled collection. Their generals are either in hiding (Gore) or in disgrace (Clinton). The command has been left to functionaries like Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt.

Meantime, the Republicans do not inspire confidence that they have overcome their past tendencies toward spectacular acts of self-destruction. The party's smart money last year settled on George W. Bush precisely because he was thought immune to the party's traditional suicidal impulses, to "extremism in the defense of liberty," as Goldwater called it, and to ideological seppuku as practiced by Newt. Bush may yet prove tougher, smarter and foxier than some previous Republicans.

It is, of course, a conservative administration. But I suspect that in starting to abandon the middle and seeming to move breezily and callously right on certain issues (the environment comes to mind, and pro-business policies that look to some like simple, blatant payoffs), Bush, who is not Ronald Reagan, may be misjudging American tolerances and setting himself up for more trouble than his ideology knows how to handle. I hate to bring this up, but the congressional elections of 2002 are not that far away. An excess of ideology gives Americans the creeps, especially when they suspect it is a smokescreen for mere venality — fat cats paying big money to get at the birds. Bush may have to do more powerful missionary work than he yet understands. He may discover, the hard way, the limits of his charm.

Meantime, that's damn well enough of this winter. The schedule calls for everything to turn green pretty soon, and I'd like to insist on punctuality.