Malcolm Gladwell in his 2000 book The Tipping Point discussed in rapturous detail the mysterious ways in which change occurs, noting that 'ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease.' All it takes sometimes to spark great change, he explained, is a small, seemingly inconsequential action, as when the New York City crime rate plummeted after the city started removing graffiti from the subways. For those of us who despair at the current course of American politics, it's helpful to understand the power of such events to change our world. We offer here a few potential 'tipping points' to watch for in the coming months that could lead to a big shift in America's political landscape.
The U.S. Housing Bubble Bursts
The Federal Reserve continues to lower interest rates in an effort to steady an economy that increasingly relies on new housing starts and mass mortgage refinancing for its anemic growth. But some economists suggest that the real estate market, like the stock market during the dot-com frenzy, is dangerously overvalued. If that bubble bursts, Bush's economic plans will collapse, and millions of middle-class voters will be clamoring for political change.
The 9/11 Commission Calls for Public Hearings
The great untold news story since 9/11 has been the Bush administration's unwillingness to release documents and public testimony that raise serious questions about warnings the president may have received prior to the attacks and his reponse once they had been launched. Some members of Congress are calling for public hearings on the matter, a move that could threaten Bush and his political agenda.
Maverick Arizona senator John McCain, who clearly likes the limelight, as he showed in his serious challenge to Bush during the 2000 Republican primaries, could decide to run as an independent against a weakening Bush and an underdog Democrat, thus splitting the Republican vote as Perot did in 1992 and throwing the election to a Democrat.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist is rumored to be contemplating retirement, though Bush partisans are pushing for him to wait until after the 2004 election. They fear congressional debate over his replacement would surely dominate the political agenda during a time when the Bush campaign would rather focus on the war on terror. In appointing one of Rehnquist's ideological allies, the fiercely right-wing Antonin Scalia or the baggage-laden Clarence Thomas, as chief justice, Bush would stir controversy. Appointing a more moderate member of the court would dampen the enthusiasm of his conservative base.
Tony Blair Falls
The British Parliament has been raking Prime Minister Tony Blair over the coals about alleged manipulation of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. If Blair is forced out by his fellow Labor Party members (as Margaret Thatcher was by Conservative legislators in 1990), Bush's international support for continued military adventurism is virtually eliminated and U.S. credibility on the world stage is significantly crippled. Blair's demise (and the new information that comes out because of it) may also embolden congressional Democrats and some moderate Republicans to call for public hearings on Weaponsgate, a move that would place the Bush electoral machine on the defensive.
The Liberated Afghani Government Collapses
The reconstruction of Afghanistan dropped out of the news as soon as events heated up in Iraq, but recent reports point to an escalating guerrilla war between returning Taliban loyalists and U.S.-backed military forces. This could spell doom for the government of U.S.-installed leader Hamid Karzai, which is essentially powerless outside Kabul already. A takeover in Kabul would throw increased scrutiny on Bush's misadventure in Iraq at a time when American body counts there continue to mount.
Michael Moore Tells All
Popular movies sometimes exert a profound effect on politics (Nixon watched Patton the night before he invaded Cambodia in 1970), so the recent news that Hollywood powermeisters Miramax Films has agreed to distribute Michael Moore's next film, Fahrenheit 911, could prove significant. Moore, who won an Academy Award for Bowling for Columbine promises to probe deeply into the relationship between the Bush and bin Laden families in his new movie, the results of which could shift how a chunk of the electorate views the president.
Craig Cox is executive editor of Utne.