Four events, or non-events,
have put the administration in a position to make progress and
advance the standing of the president and his party in public
policy and in the public opinion polls.
of these events, at least in world importance, was the announcement
on Oct. 25 of the approval of the Iraqi constitution in the election
held 10 days before. Mainstream media, unsurprisingly, were able
to restrain their enthusiasm. The Washington Post ran
a front-page story on the 2,000th American death in Iraq and ran
a story on the approval of the constitution on page A13.
The successful election
must not be allowed to get in the way of the media meme of quagmire
and unending death and destruction. But in fact, the news about
Iraq is encouraging. The Sunnis have now been brought into the
political process. Voter turnout was up from the January elections,
and the number of attacks way down. The targeting of Iraqis by
the terrorists is surely not increasing their popularity. The
number of competent Iraqi military and security units has been
rapidly increasing. And the desire for democracy continues to
increase in the Middle East.
The second event
was Bush's appointment on Oct. 24 of Ben Bernanke to be Federal
Reserve chairman. Federal Reserve chairmen don't come and go very
often: Alan Greenspan lasted 18 years, and there have been only
five Fed chairmen over the last 54 years. Bernanke is a widely
respected monetary economist, and his appointment was greeted
favorably by the stock market and just about all observers. Another
bull's-eye, like John Roberts.
Supreme Court appointment of Harriet Miers was not another bull's-eye.
But at least the mistake was rectified in the third big event
of the week, Miers' withdrawal on Oct. 27. Leading the opposition
to Miers were many conservatives, who argued that she wasn't reliably
conservative and lacked the qualifications for the job.
found her underwhelming in interviews, and after reports by Senate
Majority Leader Bill Frist, Bush wisely chose the way
out pointed to by columnist Charles Krauthammer: The senators
wanted White House documents, Bush refused to hand them over,
and Miers withdrew. Now, Bush has a chance to make a nomination
that will evoke the same positive response, at least among Republicans,
that Roberts did.
The fourth big event
of the week was a non-event, the non-indictment of Karl Rove by
special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald on Oct. 28. Fitzgerald did
indict Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Scooter Libby -- a real loss
for the administration -- but he quite properly refused to comment
on persons not indicted. He held out the possibility that there
might be further indictments, but in words that left me convinced
that they are very unlikely indeed.
Rove holds a position
in this administration that is unique in American history: He
is both the president's chief political operative and his foremost
domestic policy adviser. He knows his history and has the creative
imagination to put together policies, and packages of policies,
that will work politically and will work in practice. This administration,
after five years, has need of a new policy package, and Rove can
do more than anyone else to provide it.
So on the whole,
it was a successful week -- successful in that it gives Bush'
administration the opportunity to rise above the low point that
it has hit since Katrina's waters smashed through the levees in
New Orleans two months ago.
But people must still
perform. Conditions in Iraq need to continue to improve. Bernanke
may be tested in a financial crisis in his first months, as Greenspan
was when the stock market crashed in October 1987. Bush must pick
a Supreme Court nominee who seems to fulfill his campaign promises
and who can be confirmed by the Senate. And Bush, Rove and others
in the administration need to come up with some fresh domestic
policies by State of the Union time next year.
Much is made of Bush's
current low standing in the polls -- though he rates much higher
than did Presidents Truman, Nixon and Carter at their low points.
But poll results count for less in a re-elected president than
performance. Last week's four events turned some things around.
Now Bush and his people must act.