In Iraq, the president rushed to invade in the knowledge that Saddam's government would topple easily, setting right again the question of Bush family honor, but without any consideration of what would happen afterward. It underscored the bully principle that is ever at work in this White House: Sometimes you do things simply because no one can stop you, and you feel at pains to prove it.
In fact, the Bush administration has created numerous precedents for expanded and still more autocratic executive branch powers. It flouted its own intelligence evidence about Iraq, and now proposes to permanently reorganize the "intelligence community" under the aegis of the president's office, so that its findings can be tailored to the government's objectives with less fuss. To preserve and expand its prerogative, the Bush gang has stonewalled (the 9/11 Commission), threatened critics into silence (Paul O'Neill and others), cast a veil of secrecy over political embarrassments while hiding behind national security (FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds), and lied, lied, lied without getting taken to task for it publicly very often. This is not just a matter of George W. Bush's style or personality. By demonstrating just how much an American president can get away with, the Bush era has given a new dimension of meaning to "executive privilege," and this is a lesson that will survive the departure of Bush three months or four years and three months from now.
The meanness and ineptitude of the Bush regime is the cornerstone of John Kerry's eleventh-hour resurgence. Stripped to its essentials, Kerry's claim to the White House is that he would be a more moderate, forward-looking executor of empire abroad and of a more familiar, if only incrementally more humane, neo-liberal austerity at home. This is fairly horrifying too, and we only set ourselves up for another fall if we forget it, but it does not mean that this election is less important than advertised, only that the stakes are different. On November 2 we won't be voting for anything like the measure of change we deserve the chance to vote for. We will be casting our ballots in a referendum on whether we wish to pause and reconsider our march toward a homegrown American fascism.