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The road not traveled

Sure it's easier sitting in the cheap seats, center field, and critiquing the administration, those guys who are in the thick of it, doing the heavy lifting. But because the stakes are so high, because raging fires are burning internationally and domestically, getting it right becomes hugely important. Regrettably, the group occupying the White House has devolved into the gang that can't shoot straight. This crowd of neocons has done real damage to America, our place in the world, and the fallout from their policies (or lack of same) will ripple ever outward for years to come.

Perhaps it's unfair to focus on one particular moment which occurred recently at the G-8 Conference in Europe, but it seemed so distressingly typical. A table had been set for the world leaders, and President Bush was one of the first seated. Others were still milling about in discussion. Prime Minister Blair was standing to Bush's left, leaning forward. They were discussing the nascent war between Hezbollah and Israel. Before Bush said anything, he took a bite of a roll and while chewing, leaned back and made a comment to Blair about the United Nation's Kofi Anan, a comment that ended with an expletive. Bush reportedly said that he wished that Anan would take care of this **** and call Syria. The conversation was picked up by an open microphone, unbeknownst to the two men.

It was an inane, unhelpful comment, not because of the blue language, but because of its lack of content. But then Bush seems all too often out of his depth, chillingly so at times, considering the possible consequences. Sitting at a conference table, surrounded by his cabinet, or slouching at a podium, he seems pained &

his smile forced, the jokes lame, his words an indication of either a lack of understanding or an overriding disinterest in what is before him. If pushed at a press conference, he often bristles and looks for a change of subject. To watch these psycho dramas is immensely difficult, made more so when standing next to Bush is a world leader, poised and articulate (Blair, for example), the contrast startling.

But it isn't just the pundits from the cheap seats taking hypercritical potshots at this administration, lamenting what is now passing for governance. Americans are watching and clearly concerned, wondering how much damage can be done by this White House before this second term is finally completed.

A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, conducted from July 21-24, found that nearly two-thirds of the public don't believe life for their children's generation will be better than it has been for them; nearly 60 percent are doubtful that the Iraq war will come to a successful conclusion; among those who believe our country is on the wrong track, 80 percent say it's part of a long term trend. Only 12 percent think the problems are short-term.

According to the numbers, America's pessimism is increasing as violence escalates in Iraq (some 100 civilians die each day), the war between Hezbollah and Israel threatens to be increasingly violent and protracted, and domestic issues (where to being?) continue to be unresolved. Forty-five percent approve of Bush's handling of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict thus far, and 53 percent said they believe the conflict will likely lead to a major Middle East war involving other countries.

Only 27 percent think the country is headed in the right direction and over the last year President Bush's job approval has hovered below 40 percent with just 34 percent approving his handling of Iraq.

Few presidents have been offered a more momentous opportunity (free of reelection considerations) to step forward and propose that we view our place in the world from an entirely new perspective. The urgency is great; a crossroad's moment is upon us. And yet, there seems to be an abiding vacuum at the top, a lack of imagination, and an inability to assess situations clearly &

absent the neocon's wish list which has proven to be a flight of disastrous fancy, or pandering to a narrow religious base.

To watch this slide toward ignominy is disconcerting, frustrating and ultimately sad.

Meanwhile, America is desperate for leadership, for men and women of stature, of intellect, of robust curiosity, possessing the breadth and depth to grasp complex ideas and the ability to seize the moment. It matters not a wit if they are Republican or Democrat. What matters is that they possess the courage to speak the truth. To think and act boldly and humanely. To restore the checks and balances of our democracy. To honor the Constitution and its carefully crafted limitations of executive power. That may be then; but this is now. And so we watch the months slip by, and there's nothing to be done but wait. Wait until November. Wait until 2008. Wait while the opportunities to act become sclerotic, and events take shape without us.