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Stu Takes a Midsummer Night’s Break From American Politics

For 10 days, I heard little or nothing about American politics. Yes, I caught a bit of news on the BBC and CNN International broadcasts, but most of it was about business or the current conundrum facing the European Union. [IMGCAP(1)]

Nothing about the Ohio gubernatorial contest, Sen. Rick Santorum’s (R-Pa.) future, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “wider” playing field or even President Bush’s Social Security agenda.

And not a single person even mentioned Bush’s Iraq policy or the energy bill to me for 10 days. Of course, during most of that time I was with people who spoke only Slovak or Polish or Rusyn (look it up), so I guess my lack of political conversation was more a matter of logistics than interest.

Still, taking a break from politics can be a relief, even for you junkies out there. I didn’t think about, read or hear about blogging even once in 10 days, and for that I am most grateful.

If you are looking to recharge your batteries and cut yourself off from America, forget the Caribbean or Western Europe or one of those other obvious destinations where they have high-quality toilet paper. Instead, try eastern Slovakia. They have much better locally made red wine than you could ever imagine, and after enough red wine, the toilet paper doesn’t seem to matter much anyway.

But please, please, think twice (no, three times) before you fly Czech Air or Continental or any of the so-called Sky Team. They aren’t really a team. In fact, they are the anti-team — they don’t seem to have a clue what each other is doing.

As an aside, if you do have to fly one of them, be sure to take a carry-on bag with enough clothing and toiletries to keep you presentable for at least a couple of days until those crazy folks at the Sky Team figure out what they’ve done with your bags or why they cancelled your tickets for no reason.

OK, so I did check the Internet twice, but mostly to see how my fantasy baseball teams were doing. And I saw stories about shark attacks and murders, and more murders and all of that stuff. But mostly I saw real people raking real hay and piling it into real haystacks. And since I don’t speak Slovak or Polish or Rusyn (have you looked it up yet?), I still don’t know what the heck they do with all of those piles of hay, since I hardly saw any animals that might consume hay.

Anyway, on my return, after 10 days of being out of circulation, virtually nothing had changed in the political and campaign world. Everything was where I had left it.

I returned to the same second-guessing of the administration’s handling of the war in Iraq, the same talk about Social Security and the same “puzzling” questions about the president’s falling job approval ratings.

“Exactly why is Mr. Bush’s job approval down?” asks the reporter quizzically. Apparently, that reporter hasn’t watched his or her own news programs recently. Bad news tends to produce bad poll numbers for sitting presidents. It’s pretty simple.

Until the president opts to change his tune on Social Security or a dramatic event occurs in Iraq, it’s hard to see things changing in those important areas. Voters are focused on the negative — just as they were when I left town — and they are likely to remain that way until they get a heavy dose of good news.

Of course, Friday’s announcement by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor obviously guarantees a new phase in the Bush presidency, interjecting social issues into the public discussion and mobilizing both conservative and liberal groups as they support or oppose the president’s eventual nominee to fill the court vacancy.

The vacancy creates a challenge for Bush, but it also gives him a terrific opportunity to change the national debate, which hasn’t been favorable for Republicans. An appealing choice could, quite possibly, force Democrats to choose from unappealing options — either by fighting the president (and risking looking like partisan obstructionists) or by allowing his nominee to be confirmed and angering core Democratic constituencies itching for a fight.

So if you are wondering whether this is a good time to get out of town and spend a couple of weeks at the beach, at the lake or roaming around northeastern Slovakia, you might want to put them on hold. O’Connor’s announcement means that the dog days of summer will be far, far hotter — and far more politically important than they looked just a few days ago.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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