The Next President of the United States

The American people are rejecting the Bush Administration by ever-increasing percentages. That may be good news -- for the GOP. As leading Democrats stumble toward a mythical "center" in search of votes, one smart Senator is showing how a conservative Republican can win in '08. Meet the next President of the United States: Chuck Hagel.

Call it Bush Fatigue, and it's driven by two factors. The first is a widespread perception that Iraq was a mistake. Only 44% of Americans think we did the right thing by invading, yet leading Democrats still refuse to argue against the rationale for war. The second is the growing understanding that the Administration is rife with incompetence and cronyism. Democrats are waiting for this issue to turn voters their way, but incompetence and cronyism are behaviors, not policy positions. A candidate from either party can claim he'll do better.

Which brings us to Chuck Hagel. A staunch conservative, he's a media-savvy former broadcaster, a decorated Vietnam veteran with an entrepreneurial background. Despite his right-wing background and his past loyalty to the Bush crowd, he's been bashing their management of the war for some time now. He never hesitates to point out to reporters that this makes him a "maverick." And, as a former businessman, he can present himself as the honest and competent "CEO President" we were promised with Bush.

Following Bill Clinton's lead, none of the top Democratic candidates seem to be brave and honest enough to say what the American people already know: the war was a mistake sold on lies. Faced with two candidates who say that the only problem with Iraq is poor management, who are the voters going to trust: the armchair quarterback or the decorated veteran? And who inspires more confidence on the competence question: the ex-CEO "straight-shooter" with a logically consistent position, or the career politician from the "I-voted-for-it-before-I ..." crowd?

Chuck Hagel's conservative enough to make it through the reactionary hazing of the GOP primaries, yet able to stake out a position as an anti-Bush. The Democrats seem to be deluding themselves again into thinking that events will do for them what they can't do for themselves. While they wait expectantly, one Republican senator is walking down the road to the White House.

If Hagel's the Ghost of Presidents Future, Democrats may echo Ebenezer Scrooge's question: "Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" The answer's in their hands.