Like Chris Christie, George W Bush was a trainwreck of a leader: a dangerous combination of hubris, bombast, and stunning incompetence.
The problem liberals and Democrats faced with Bush wasn't documenting his many, many flaws and catching his many, many contradictions and hypocrisies. The problem was introducing this portrait of Bush into the mainstream.
9/11 provided a suit of armor for Bush that he wore for a good, long time. He was able to start a war with a country that was never a threat to us, fail to capture the mastermind of the worst terror attack in US history, push an insane package of tax gifts for the wealthy, destroy the environment, and still get reelected - all because the media refused to see him as he really was.
It was only a matter of time before the entire thing came crashing down, but the media needed a catalyst; a failure so catastrophic that they couldn't help but change their views of Bush. Katrina was that catalyst. Because it was a disaster so unprecedented in scale, and because Bush's response was so staggeringly inept and uncaring, the punditocracy was forced to bring their perceptions of Bush in line with the reality of Bush.
Looking at history, it is very tempting to draw the parallel to Christie. The Great Recession is his 9/11; it shields him from real scrutiny of his foolish behavior and despicable policies. All we have to do is wait for some major screw up to become his Katrina and undo him. And maybe hope it happens early enough to unseat him in three years. I find myself wondering if this fiasco with Bret Schundler could possibly qualify.
But now I realize that I've been making a huge mistake. Because the real lesson to be learned from the Bush years is that you can not assume good faith on the part of a man who has none.
Too many Democrats voted for the original Bush tax cuts, which gave him cover to cut even more in 2003. Too many Democrats voted for the Iraqi War resolution, which Bush abused by starting a war before weapons inspectors had finished their job. Too many Democrats negotiated with Bush on No Child Left Behind, which became quite possibly the largest unfunded mandate in American history (let alone an education abomination).
Now that pattern is repeating here in New Jersey. Cory Booker, a man who should be leading the loyal opposition as a presumptive gubernatorial candidate in 2013, stands next to Christie and supports his insane property tax cap that will decimate cities and towns like Newark. Steve Sweeney, who should be leading a forceful legislative defense of our towns, our schools, our taxpayers, and our public servants, poses side-by-side with the governor and abets him in pushing a tax cap that is even worse than the one the governor originally proposed.
I believe Booker and Sweeney are decent, honorable men who want to return the Democrats to power. But they have made a strategic blunder of epic proportions. They must learn the lesson of the Bush years: fight Christie early, fight him often, and don't assume he is as honorable as you are.
Even if they think a tax cap is good policy (I don't, because it does nothing to address the real cost drivers and regressive taxes that are killing this state), it is unacceptable for our Democratic leaders to campaign side-by-side with Christie on an issue where they are adamantly opposed by the Democratic base. It is unacceptable for him to set the terms of a cap. It is unacceptable to stand idly by while he mischaracterizes both Democratic positions and his own policies.
The only thing their bipartisan show will gain them is a swift kick in the teeth whenever it suits Christie's purposes. He has shown that he will throw even his closest allies under a school bus whenever it serves his political agenda or his ego.
Much better is the example set by Linda Stender and Loretta Weinberg. Don't back down; use everything you've got; stand on principle; allow Christie no easy wins; and don't assume he is a good faith actor, because he is not. And remember: it's not a cheap shot if it's true.
Had national Democrats stood on principle in Bush's first term, they would have had a much better chance of installing John Kerry in the White House. They would have had a much better chance of having a competent director of FEMA in place when Katrina made landfall. They could have presided over a faster withdrawal from Iraq. Many people quite literally died because the Democrats fell in line too easily behind Bush.
The stakes are smaller here in New Jersey, but the concept holds. Democrats should not allow our state's schools to be destroyed, our economy to be left in tatters, our middle-class homeowners to be taxed out of their homes, our AIDS patients left to die, our state's environment to be ravaged, our towns to be cut adrift, and our public servants to be vilified because we could muster up little better than a watery resistance to Christie's incompetence and incoherence.
This fiasco with Schundler was not Christie's Katrina. We can't wait for his Katrina; we must oppose him NOW. He has proven that he can't be trusted, and we must never, ever forget that.
We're the deciders!
ADDING: Deciminyan nails it: