"Government in Time of War
By Josh Manchester
Source Tech Central Station Daily
"Recently President Bush met with a select group of opinion columnists. Their reports paint an image of a White House that is operating at a very different level than most news stories and Democratic critics have otherwise intimated. Even though the majority of the country still leads peacetime lives, and the majority of the opposition does not comport itself as though we are at war, President Bush is unmistakably fighting a war, day in and day out.
Daniel Henninger quoted Bush and described the atmosphere in his weekly column for the Wall Street Journal:
"I'm campaigning like mad, and I'm looking at people in the eye and saying, you better have a government that does everything in its power to protect you from attack. You're right here in the office where I get briefed every morning and I'm telling you it's on my mind, and I can't keep it off my mind. I was affected deeply by the attacks of September the 11th. It became clear to me that day that we were at war. I know we're at war . . ."
Admittedly, it is difficult to convey in public the urgency about the war on terror that Mr. Bush conveys in private. But it is obvious that he regards the threat to the American people as palpable.
"My biggest issue that I think about all the time," Mr. Bush says, "is the next attack on America, because I am fully aware that there are people out there that would like nothing more than to have another spectacular moment by killing American people. And they're coming. And we've got to do everything we can to stop them. That's why we need to be on offense all the time." This, he insists, is the justification for the terrorist wiretaps, the Patriot Act, the interrogations and the Iraq war.
Both the Republican Congress and President Bush have long been condemned for not living up to their conservative credentials, or for other errors that just didn't sit right: by letting spending grow; by not getting a Social Security reform bill passed; for nominating Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court; and so on. Perhaps such critiques, well-founded though they might be, are a little too swift to ignore the central feature of this Presidency: it's at war, and in such times, other considerations quite frequently fall to the wayside.
Some would probably place the blame for this at Bush's feet himself. "After all," they might argue, "he didn't take the entire nation to war. He asked us to go on shopping as usual." Be that as it may, it does not change the fact that in any endeavor and in any organization, leadership can only grasp hold of so many goals at a time, whether attempting to maintain situational awareness, developing a policy and creating a consensus around it, or rallying the public to a cause. In short, it is not absurd to think that one reason for the GOP Congress' seeming malaise is that the Presidential leadership, which often plays a very important role in congressional goal-setting and consensus-building, is entirely consumed with preventing the next attack on America.
Will anyone really care about Social Security reform the day after the next attack? Or how big the federal budget deficit is? Capable politicians, of whom the president is one, realize that such considerations, while important, will sink to the bottom the moment the next bombs detonate. Marine General Al Gray was once asked why he spent so much of the Corps' money on training, and not on quality-of-life initiatives like better housing. To paraphrase him, "the best quality-of-life is having one," - meant to imply that training keeps men alive.
Is it too much to think that Bush and most key members of his cabinet are so focused on preventing attacks and prosecuting the war that all other functions of government are on auto-pilot? Bureaucracies have an inertia of their own that allows them to function for a good bit of time even without detailed guidance. And Congress can certainly keep itself occupied without the President submitting new legislation, or rallying them to it - though it doesn't hurt to note that the main legislation Bush did work on in the last three months was that dealing with interrogations - in other words, he was focused on the war.
How long can this go on? Bush implies that the next President will be just as busy as he is in preventing attacks on the United States. If it's true that the presidential attention span will be concerned primarily with security for the foreseeable future - say ten or fifteen more years - this does not bode well for those who are most eager for large-scale domestic reforms. It might even augur an age of diminished capabilities for the federal government. Simplification of the government's role in life might make it easier for it to more effectively accomplish its remaining core competencies: those largely related to security.
Josh Manchester is a TCSDaily contributing writer. His blog is The Adventures of Chester (www.theadventuresofchester.com).