“You are not being governed.”

So says Dick Meyer, the editorial director of CBSNews.com, who unleashes a scathing indictment of the flailing Bush administration and its lame-duck leader.

George Bush no longer has the power, credibility or ability to effectively govern for the rest of his term in office… George Bush has at his disposal none – none – of the tools presidents have used to turn bad situations around – public support, party support or skilled statecraft. He's a lame duck less than two years in to his second term. You are not being governed.
A lack of governance is one of my greatest complaints about the Bush administration. Considering the depths to which I disagree with Bush’s agenda, one might think I’d be glad that he’s not doing much of anything on the homefront, and there’s some truth to that, because every time he’s compelled to pay attention to domestic affairs—like Supreme Court nominations, or environmental regulations, as examples—he manages to annoy and infuriate me to the remotest reserves of my being. Doing nothing at all may have seemed preferable to doing the wrong thing before we witnessed people clamoring for clean water to stave off death in the aftermath of a hurricane, but in the wake of the crumbling NOLA levees and the endemic poverty and the Keystone Cops that are FEMA, his lack of attention to shoring up the American infrastructure simply became too appalling, too deadly (which, unfortunately, is not hyperbole) to ignore, crossing our fingers and hoping nothing would go wrong in the vacuum of his inattention.

Unless it’s a wedge issue during an election year, tax cuts, a corporate hand-out, or changing the law to reduce the civil liberties of Americans—none of which do a damn thing to help out the average voter or improve the American infrastructure—he doesn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to domestic governance, as evidenced by his Monday night address being his first ever on domestic policy (and even then, one that is framed as a national security issue). His unapologetic apathy toward domestic governance genuinely has created an unprecedented void of national leadership. We really aren’t being governed.

We aren’t be led forward. We aren’t growing, or moving toward a glimmering future, or blazing a new 21st century trail. We are stagnating. And the first signs of decay are starting. I look around my community (and others like it)—a middle class suburban town that borders increasing urbanization toward Chicago on one side and rural farms for endless miles on the other—and I see a community in decline. Subtle things, that no one else seems to notice, as they happen ever so slowly. The schools and the library and other public buildings aren’t quite as clean, quite as kept-up, as they used to be. The streets aren’t quite as clean. The potholes and the cracked sidewalks don’t get fixed as quickly, or at all. There are more houses around town that need fresh paint, more vacant retail spaces. Little things. Little degrees of difference. But they’re everywhere, when you really look.

They’re the little things that indicate that salaries aren’t keeping up with inflation, that local and state governments don’t have the funds they used to. Belt-tightening everywhere. The house can go another year without paint. The City Hall can go another year, or two, without tuckpointing. We can get rid of a couple of sanitation trucks, give up a couple of salt trucks in the winter. We don’t need two toll booths onto the interstate open; one is fine. Little things that no one really notices, to stave off the rot for as long as we can.

Little things that happen in communities like mine before crime starts to go up in communities that aren’t as fortunate, communities that don’t have any give in their belts to begin with.

I keep hearing about this great economic recovery we’re having, but what I see is different. What I see is people readjusting to a new circumstance—and that can’t go on forever. We’re going to need some governance. We’re going to need someone to care about putting money—and attention—back into America again.

Part of the reason Bush avoids domestic policy is because he doesn’t want a fight, and with domestic policy proposals, especially the rather radical sort he favors (see: Social Security reform), there’s usually a fight, even when you’ve got both houses of Congress. Why bother with the negative coverage? Better to focus on international stuff, The War, which at least had lots of support (and almost unanimously favorable coverage from the media) for awhile. Leave the governance to the local Joes—that’s the conservative way, anyhow. Yet even during other conservative presidencies, there were domestic agendas. They weren’t always good ones, that’s for bloody sure, but even as he fought the Cold War, Reagan still fought the War on Drugs, too. And while I disagree from here to kingdom come with the idiotic War on Drugs as waged by the Gipper, not to mention most of the rest of his domestic agenda, at least there was something with which to disagree. The Red Menace may have served as an excuse to redirect egregious sums into defense, but not, in the end, to permanently ignore everything else. (Though as further evidence of the costs of inattention, one of Reagan’s deadlier sins was his patent refusal to acknowledge the burgeoning AIDS crisis.)

The other part of Bush’s domestic inattentiveness is his belief in the infallibility of the empire—a stubborn conviction made obvious by his impregnable resistance to concede that any amount of crushing debt could ever really damage the economy, or that people who work three jobs are not “uniquely American” and “fantastic,” but instead deeply tragic. His vision of the country he’s meant to lead is so woefully lacking nuance as to be laughable. America is dominant; hell, it’s The Greatest Country in the World. The rich keep getting richer, for goodness’ sake! I see nothing but perfectly manicured lawns, lovely homes with alabaster drives, soaring property values. What could possibly go wrong?

Perhaps next time he’s concocting a case for war with Tony Blair, the prime minister could give him a history lesson, too.

Empires fail when they lose governance, when their leaders are so intractably convinced of the perfect inner-workings of home that they feel safe in ignoring it. They cast their eyes and their interests elsewhere, beyond the borders, searching for new places to export the empire, never considering, never realizing, that it cannot be sustained as they turn their backs—that, in some time long or short, there will be nothing left to export without governance.

We are not being governed.

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