An epic electoral reversal for the GOP in 2006 may be in the offing, but there is a larger game afoot. We are sliding back into the kind of ideological malaise endured during the late 1970s. The end days of the Carter administration saw skyrocketing gas prices, economic stagnation, the humiliating hostage crisis in Iran, the shock and disgust derived from the crimes of Watergate and the resignation of a sitting President, and let's not forget the lingering sting of a lost war in Vietnam. All of that balled together left the country at a loss. The belief that we were special took a furious beating, and only the superlative shyster salesmanship of Ronald Reagan was able to restore faith in the desiccated mythology.
Americans, by and large, have a fundamental need to feel like they are part of something great, above the fray and beyond the rest of the world. They are fed American exceptionalism with mother's milk, and will fight like rabid wolverines to avoid being forced to believe otherwise. Anyone mystified by the public support Bush has enjoyed until very recently, despite the endless litany of disasters that have befallen us, can look to this bone-deep need as the main reason for that support. It isn't just about 9/11. Americans need to feel good about America in the same way fish need water. Americans need to believe, and will thrash around like boated marlin if that belief is undercut. That belief serves as a kind of ideological Prozac, shoving bad thoughts to the background.
Iraq. Afghanistan. The continued freedom enjoyed by Osama bin Laden. Katrina. Abu Ghraib. Frist and insider stock trading. DeLay and a handful of indictments. Rove and Libby staring down the barrel of more indictments. Bush's approval ratings are plummeting, and the entire country is beginning to wilt under the depressing reality that we are, in fact, getting screwed with our pants on. Any conceits of moral authority being put forth by the White House and the Republican Party have been washed away in a flood of graft, death, lies and corruption. Our supply of Prozac is running short. The belief in American excellence so desperately necessary to the mental balance of the populace is being eroded by the hour, and there will be hell to pay because of it.