What If…

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.

McCain Runs

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.

Rehnquist Retires

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.

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