free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Tuesday, January 28, 2003

--- "Big Hat ... No Rabbit" ---

The Bush43 Presidency is on the skids. People with a nose for these things can smell it, and several of them are becoming honorary citizens of New Hampshire. With the exception of two minor bounces ("Bush takes Iraq resolution to UN" and "Bush rules in midterm electoral contests"), his poll numbers have been in sustained decline from stratospheric heights post-9/11.

Polls don't begin to hint at the depth of underlying problems, but the polls alone require a tactical response. Bush has been playing winner-take-all on thin margins, and the polls are an indispensable part of the act. What does Bush do to regain momentum?

One classic answer is "invade something". The Commander in Chief usually gets a rally-round-the-flag boost in the polls and a free pass on minor controversies while troops are in harm's way. Problem is, troops are already in harm's way. We're still taking casualties in Afghanistan (and Kuwait). Folks are still asking "Why Iraq?" and "What about Korea?". If Bush has better answers, it's time to trot 'em out ... but folks are starting to feel like they've had enough cowboy talk for the moment, and more isn't necessarily better.

Another classic is "reorganize". Been there, done that. We have a new Homeland Security department ... two dozen old agencies, doing the old same things they did yesterday, trying to figure out where they report today. Pretend it was your idea, George, and take your bow, but avoid details.

Another answer: "stimulate the economy" and/or "fire the economic advisors". Did that, too, and then introduced a "not-a-stimulus" growth plan that didn't pass the laugh test. [My guess is that Bush commissioned a stimulus plan, and his right-wing think tank advisors gradually -- maybe even unintentionally -- morphed it into yet another tax revolt initiative, and the not-a-plan was out the door before the boss knew the difference.] Speechwriters will do their best to deliver applause lines about "not punishing the winners" and "it's your money", but there's only so many ways you can dress up the trickle-down pig before people realize she's the same old pig.

The State Of The Union is a biggie in its own right ... always good for a bounce in the polls, right? Right? It's a time to hand out goodies, a time to unveil bold new initiatives ... a time to astonish the crowd by pulling a rabbit or two out of the federal top hat. Stirring phrases, bold delivery ... but what about content? What's in the hat? Where's the damn rabbit?

A lot of Bush's bold talk may not wear well on today's audience. War talk ... we're not too excited about that. The economy ... I wouldn't spend too much time on that. The deficit ... you can blame it on terrorism, or on your political opponents, but tomorrow's fact-checkers will have a field day. Social security reform ... no, those numbers don't work anymore (as if they never did).

What's next? A half-baked Medicare reform -- give 'em drug coverage if they'll take the HMO route in lieu of traditional Medicare (the only segment of US health care that delivers world-class outcomes). Again, go light on details -- promise 'em another bipartisan commission or something. It will look like action, and it may bump the polls before the geezers find out you really are out to kill Medicare just like those shameless "MediScare" Democrats always said.

Even the S.O.T.U. tone is problematic. Bush can't come on looking too confident ... things are bad, people know it, they want answers. He can't look too fretful -- there's no room for bunny-in-the-headlights paralysis. He can't show too much bravado ... last year's "follow me!" won't cut it this year. He can't point the finger of blame, or play the "pass my program or lose your job" card.

Bush made the big time as a cheerleader -- not as a player. Last year we wanted a cheerleader. Now we want answers. We want solutions. We want results.

My guess is he'll talk the talk again. The talk will be BIG and bold, but the talk is getting old. He may make even register a negative S.O.T.U. bounce. It's not a man on the moon, but it is sho'nuff a historic achievement!

What keeps Bush from pulling a rabbit out of that hat? He has a nice, shiny hat -- it's his to keep until 2004 -- but he doesn't have any rabbits. Can't he beg, borrow or breed one? The prototypical profligate son, Bush hocked the family jewels to throw wild parties, cover his gambling debts, make friends and influence people ... and when the bills came due there was nothing left to feed the rabbits.
Starting from unprecedented heights of positional advantage, Bush managed to run the nation into a sea of red ink, squander a king's ransom of international good will, frittered away the flexibility to make discretionary "friend or foe" decisions, gave the policy development pipeline a bad case of vapor lock, spent down his own credibility inside and outside the Beltway, and allowed unmanaged issues to overtake the White House's limited management bandwidth resources.
More on these fundamental deficits tomorrow. For now, as a famous man once said, "this looks like a re-run of a bad movie". Grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show!