The tsunami, and the White House's slow response, obscured a different wave of scandals approaching the administration.
Remember Bernard Kerik? His nomination as homeland security czar demonstrated why these scandals will come ashore: Facts don't matter to this White House. Kerik's poor judgment, peccadillos and criminality as an employer, cop, husband and businessman are beside the point. The point, as Bush constantly repeated in campaign mode, was that "9/11 changed everything."
In one critical sense, this is true: 9/11 transformed an ineffectual president who evaded war service himself into the GOP version of a happy warrior. His propaganda minister realized that endless repetition of the phrase "terrorist threat" could cover up a host of failures then and still to come. So with Kerik basking in what Republicans tastelessly call the "9/11 glow," they figured that incompetence and criminality could be trumped by further invocations of the "changed everything" mantra.
But, in politics as in law and economics, facts are stubborn things. Among the everything that did not change are three stubborn facts. First: Whether or not elections in Iraq are "successful" (the elasticity of which adjective we await), the country remains in chaos, and young Americans die needlessly every day from a lack of logistical and equipment support that is militarily inexcusable and directly traceable to the Pentagon.
Second, the Medicare, Medicaid and private health care crisis is so pervasive and so near at hand that it threatens nearly every American except those wealthy enough to pay entirely from their own wallet.
Third, in an economic equivalent of the assertion that after 9/11, water started to run uphill, the delusional pattern of federal deficit spending is inviting banks and fund managers to dump dollars and buy euros, which will force the Fed to bid up interest rates and raise the costs of both living and borrowing to live.
As is increasingly apparent, 9/11 did not cause us to go to war in Iraq, nor did it precipitate the health care crisis, nor did it justify tax costs to the rich which ballooned the deficit and threaten the dollar. All of these were the consequence of the same incompetence visible before the terrible events of 9/11. But 9/11 emboldened the White House to imagine itself invulnerable to the facts, and the scandalous management failures now waiting to unfold.
C. Ford Runge is McKnight professor of applied economics and law at the University of Minnesota.
© 2005 Star Tribune