Poor Karl Rove. He's the George Steinbrenner of presidential politics. Here he's assembled the best campaign team corporate money can buy and his All-Star lineup of heavy hitters is being mowed down like a bunch of bottom-of-the-batting-order chumps.
Once they coaxed her out of the locker room, Condi had a decent plate appearance but fell for Dicky Ben-Veniste's tricky curve ball and coughed up the biggest error of the 9/11 hearings -- letting it slip that the president was told "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." just five weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks. Kinda changes the mental caption to that image of Bush's reaction in the classroom on that horrible day, doesn't it -- from "They did what?!" to "Oh, my god, they did it!"
Rummy is mired in a woeful Iraqi slump. Anti-American Shiites are joining forces with Sunni rebels, our handpicked figureheads on the Governing Council are threatening to abandon the new ship of state before it even leaves port, and the U.S. body count is rising at a frightening rate. But the secretary of defense continues to swing -- and spin -- away, saying of the chaos in Iraq, "You're going to have good days and bad days." More than 70 dead Americans in the last 10 days, and that's the best he can do? Talk about your foul gall.
Ashcroft, in his turn in the batter's box, was handcuffed by a series of fastballs, unable to counter the growing evidence that Justice has long been suffering from a bad case of misplaced priorities -- more concerned with covering up bare-breasted statues than uncovering murderous sleeper cells.
And, worst of all for Rove, the president -- the GOP's cleanup hitter -- is looking less and less like the powerful, hard-nosed, Ruthian Hall of Famer depicted in his campaign ads, and more and more like the Bush leaguer we always feared he might be.
The president's refusal to appear in front of the 9/11 commission without Dick Cheney by his side has comedians everywhere scrambling to locate their Campaign 2000 routines depicting Bush as a dummy sitting on ventriloquist Cheney's knee. This is our take-charge "war president"? White House den mother Karen Hughes says that having Bush and Cheney testify together is "an effective use of their time." Why not make it really effective and have them make fundraising phone calls in between questions?
As for Bush's claim that the President's Daily Brief he received on Aug. 6, 2001, wasn't specific enough, let's see: Al-Qaida? Check. Hijacking? Check. New York? Check. I've watched a lot of TV cop shows over the years, and, as far as I can remember, the good guys are never told exactly where and when crimes are going to occur. They investigate, follow leads, talk to informants, and generally track down the bad guys. Bush should have made damn sure his top terror cops were doing the same. Instead, it appears that we have a president more consumed with his PB&Js than his PDBs.
Things aren't any better on the domestic front, where W has struck out on his promise of compassionate conservatism: His latest budget slashes housing assistance for the elderly, veterans' benefits, and vocational education, while eliminating programs dealing with alcohol abuse, the arts, dropout prevention and family literacy. And his cherished No Child Left Behind Act is underfunded to the tune of some $9 billion for the coming year.
In other words, the president is 0-for-his-entire-agenda.
All of which leaves the dugout door wide open for John Kerry to shake off the small-ball signals his advisors are giving him and swing for the fences.
Forget about trying to put together a bunch of policy singles. He needs to go to the bat rack and pull out the big lumber. Pine tar it up. And give it a Roy Hobbsian whack.
Fifty-seven percent of the public believes the country is on the wrong track. All across the political spectrum, there is a yearning for community, a hidden hunger to be part of something bigger than ourselves -- even to be asked to sacrifice for the greater good. To be reminded that we are all in this boat together.
I believe the country is so longing for this that I consider an appeal to idealism the sleeper issue of 2004.
We are, undoubtedly, a nation divided. And a nation divided cannot stand, let alone move forward. Which is why Kerry needs to call his shot -- and offer up a bold vision that is bigger than the things that divide us. A nation that has been divided by fear can be united by hope.
If he can step up to the plate and inspire us, Mighty Kerry will be circling the bases doing his grand-slam trot come November, and Bush will be heading to the showers. Who knows, maybe the Texas Rangers will give him a roster spot on their Crawford farm team.