The backdrop to all this, of course, is the Iraq War. The government of the United States presented to the world intelligence that turned out to be wrong; insisted we were making steady progress in the guerrilla war when, by the end of 2006, we were facing catastrophe; and has still managed only fitful progress against an enemy whose main weapon is home-made bombs. This casts a pall over our public life, augmented by Hurricane Katrina's devastation, corruption in Congress, paranoiac ranting on the left and incompetence in high places (see Attorney General Alberto Gonzales).
In these conditions, it's a political boon to have a distance from government. The best thing that might have happened to Republicans lately is their loss of Congress, which means that Democrats have gone from attacking a spectacularly unpopular Congress to running a spectacularly unpopular Congress. Congratulations!
The low regard for the federal government is fueling the candidacy of outsider Rudy Giuliani. It replicates the circumstances of his first election as New York City mayor, when he took over a supposedly ungovernable city. Now, the ungovernable city is 200 miles south, in Washington, D.C. Although she lacks Giuliani's executive experience, Sen. Hillary Clinton similarly benefits from her self-described "responsibility gene" and from seeming the most competent of the Democratic candidates.
Whoever is elected in 2008 won't build a majestic dam, but will have to work to dispel the Age of Cynicism.