- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

Oh, the sky is dark. Listening to pundits predict the end of the Republican Party, of the Bush administration and of economic growth in America, one is tempted to just throw in the towel. Don’t. We are told Tom Delay’s indictment, Bill Frist’s sale of stock, FEMA’s missteps and the president’s poll ratings are a sure sign the Republican Party will be swept aside in favor of … what? There are no viable alternatives.

We are told the administration is on oxygen and the duck has gone lame ahead of schedule. We are told the economy is headed for a deep recession because September’s consumer spending took the greatest fall in four years. Whoa.

Let’s pull the nose up, and look around. First, while the long-anticipated indictment of a leading member of Congress is news, it is not the end of the Republican Party as we know it. Nor is Mr. Frist’s sale of stock, which was meant to clear the way for his presidential bid.

Never mind, turkey buzzards are hovering. So, here are a few heartening facts. In recent Gallup polls, both John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani polled 5 points higher in a hypothetical 2008 race against Democratic leader Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York. They both polled double digits ahead of any other comer, including John Kerry, whom they both outpaced by 13 points. While lots of time separates us from 2008, early headcounts do not favor a Democrat.

The midterm congressional elections will get nasty over response to Hurricane Katrina and progress in Iraq, but Republicans can be expected to retain control of both chambers. As progress is made in Iraq, troops will begin to come home mid-2006. Whether that number is 10,000, 50,000 or 100,000, there will be more service members home by Election Day 2006. This will also ease fiscal burdens from two years of emergency supplemental spending in Iraq.

Post-Katrina population movement will have stabilized, placing some people in new job markets and returning others to a booming construction market in New Orleans.

Responsible, moral leadership in Congress will still be valued. Forward movement on legislation from Social Security to tax cuts, immigration to incentive-driven environmental measures will be needed. If midterm elections are not a total wash (there is no reason to believe they will be under Speaker Dennis Hastert and balanced Republican Senate leadership) Mr. Bush gets another year to move legislation after November 2006.

Perhaps the most important point: While current crises place pressure on both the president and Republican leaders, there simply are no easy answers, no obvious “if only” solutions to be touted by Democrats. Like it or not, we live in those cursed “interesting times,” embroidered by vexing issues like global terror, hurricanes and gradual federal reorganization.

Economically, post-Katrina and post-Rita spending will likely usher in a substantial, if lagged, upsurge in jobs to Texas and Louisiana, rippling across industries affected by the massive reconstruction. Gas prices will ebb as refineries come back online, as our engagement in Middle East declines, and as car buying shifts toward more energy-efficient models. Durable goods orders will resume steady growth, together with the demand for new homes.

Consumer spending should recover from the August 2005 shock, returning to numbers more like July 2005, when consumer confidence climbed to its highest level in a year, retail sales “surged” and economists predicted “stronger growth” ahead. Demographics should continue buoying the powerful housing market, and — with some fiscal discipline in late 2005 — our nation’s stable fundamentals should reappear.

In short, take a breath. The sky is dark. Responsible leadership is needed and some fiscal realism, renewed White House-congressional cooperation, a balance between gushing federal handouts and core accountability. But the sky is not falling. Certainly not yet.

Robert Charles, former assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, 2003-2005, is president of the Charles Group in Gaithersburg, Md.

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