A year ago, everyone expected President Bush to get his way on Social Security. Pundits warned Democrats that they were making a big political mistake by opposing plans to divert payroll taxes into private accounts.
A year ago, everyone thought Congress would make Bush’s tax cuts permanent, in spite of projections showing that doing so would lead to budget deficits as far as the eye can see. But Congress hasn’t acted, and most of the cuts are still scheduled to expire by the end of 2010.
A year ago, Bush made many Americans feel safe, because they believed that he would be decisive and effective in an emergency. But Bush was apparently oblivious to the first major domestic emergency since September 11. According to Newsweek, aides to Bush finally decided, days after Hurricane Katrina struck, that they had to show him a DVD of TV newscasts to get him to appreciate the seriousness of the situation.
A year ago, before “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job” became a national punch line, the rising tide of cronyism in government agencies and the rapid replacement of competent professionals with unqualified political appointees attracted hardly any national attention.
A year ago, hardly anyone outside Washington had heard of Jack Abramoff, and Tom DeLay’s position as House majority leader seemed unassailable.
A year ago, Dick Cheney, who repeatedly cited discredited evidence linking Saddam to September 11, and promised that invading Americans would be welcomed as liberators – although he hadn’t yet declared that the Iraq insurgency was in its “last throes” – was widely admired for his “gravitas.”
A year ago, Howard Dean – who was among the very few prominent figures to question Colin Powell’s prewar presentation to the United Nations, and who warned, while hawks were still celebrating the fall of Baghdad, that the occupation of Iraq would be much more difficult than the initial invasion – was considered flaky and unsound.
A year ago, it was clear that before the Iraq war the administration suppressed information suggesting that Iraq was not, in fact, trying to build nuclear weapons. Yet few people in Washington or in the news media were willing to say that the nation was deliberately misled into war until polls showed that most Americans already believed it.
A year ago, the Washington establishment treated Ayad Allawi as if he were Nelson Mandela. Allawi’s triumphant tour of Washington, back in September 2004, provided a crucial boost to the Bush-Cheney campaign. So did his claim that the insurgents were “desperate.” But Allawi turned out to be another Ahmad Chalabi, a hero of Washington conference rooms and cocktail parties who had few supporters where it mattered, in Iraq.
A year ago, when everyone respectable agreed that we must “stay the course,” only a handful of war critics suggested that the U.S. presence in Iraq might be making the violence worse, not better. It would have been hard to imagine the top U.S. commander in Iraq saying, as Gen. George Casey recently did, that a smaller foreign force is better “because it doesn’t feed the notion of occupation.”
A year ago, Bush hadn’t yet openly reneged on Scott McClellan’s 2003 pledge that “if anyone in this administration was involved” in the leaking of Valerie Plame’s identity, that person “would no longer be in this administration.” Of course, some suspect that Bush has always known who was involved.
A year ago, we didn’t know that Bush was lying, or at least being deceptive, when he said at an April 2004 event promoting the Patriot Act that “a wiretap requires a court order. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so. It’s important for our fellow citizens to understand, when you think Patriot Act, constitutional guarantees are in place when it comes to doing what is necessary to protect our homeland, because we value the Constitution.”
A year ago, most Americans thought Bush was honest.
A year ago, we didn’t know for sure that almost all the politicians and pundits who thundered, during the Lewinsky affair, that even the president isn’t above the law have changed their minds. But now we know when it comes to presidents who break the law, it’s OK if you’re a Republican.