The Zeitgeist Checklist

The Zeitgeist Checklist

What Washington is talking about this week.

North Korea: The Bush administration is relieved that North Korea’s long-range missile misfired in a Fourth of July test, but it still backs a Japanese U.N. Security Council resolution to punish Kim Jong-il. The Chinese and Russian judges give the resolution low scores, putting the issue, along with Iran, into another classic U.N. stalemate. This time, Bush is eager to avoid a confrontation; pre-emption is messier when the other guy has nukes.

Iraq: The drip-drip-drip of allegations about atrocities by U.S. troops continues—and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wants to rethink the immunity given American soldiers. Maliki isn’t mollified by U.S. charges filed against a former Army private in a rape-and-murder case; he plans to open his own probe. Meanwhile, violence spreads in the region: Israel invades Gaza and calls airstrikes in response to Palestinian rocket attacks and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.

Mexico: In blatant imitation of the U.S. political system, Mexicans hold their own disputed presidential election, and the script is familiar. The conservative, Felipe Calderón, wins the official count, but the leftist candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, refuses to concede and vows a court fight. The dispute appears headed for the Mexican equivalent of the Supreme Court (and a 5-4 decision?). Fortunately, the next president doesn’t take office until Dec. 1, which gives Katherine Harris plenty of time to straighten things out.

Enron: The Jack Abramoff and Valerie Plame scandals have (temporarily) dropped from the Zeitgeist because of a lull in the action. But Enron re-emerges as Kenneth Lay, awaiting sentencing for fraud and conspiracy, suffers a fatal heart attack. The White House eulogizes “Kenny Boy” by reminding everybody that he was only an “acquaintance” of Bush and not a “friend.” At least Lay’s lawyers can now ask the court to erase his conviction.

Immigration: House Republicans, determined to defeat the “guest worker” program favored by Bush and the Senate, start “field hearings” to try to prove that the Senate plan would be a boon to terrorists. The Senate judiciary committee retaliates with a pro-guest-worker hearing in Philadelphia. Bush goes to Dunkin’ Donuts. Nobody’s terribly optimistic about agreement on an immigration bill this year although everybody professes to want one.

Economy: Oil prices reach new records, which means gasoline prices—one of the biggest drags on Bush’s approval rating—are sure to follow. The high fuel prices are worrying employers, who issued profit warnings and hired fewer workers in June than Wall Street had expected. “Good news,” Bush says of the jobs report.

Democrats: Bush and the Republicans might be undone by Iraq, North Korea, and gas prices, but the opposition party is doing its best to self-destruct. In New Jersey, a shutdown of the state government by Democrats could sink appointed Sen. Bob Menendez’s prospects in November. In Connecticut, beleaguered Sen. Joseph Lieberman threatens to run as an independent if he’s beaten by an anti-war candidate in the Democratic primary.

Culture wars: Top courts in Georgia and New York rule against gay marriage. The Georgia court reinstates a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, while New York rules that gay marriage is illegal. But the legal victories for religious conservatives could be a political burden: It’s difficult to campaign against activist judges if the activist judges have done what you want.

Space: Bush, playing Yankee Doodle Dandy, celebrates his 60th birthday two days early, on the Fourth of July. NASA chooses the same patriotic day to return the space shuttle to orbit—and mercifully it has better luck than the North Koreans. Washington anxiously watches Discovery’s 12-day mission: Another mishap would doom the entire shuttle program.

Soccer: The World Cup must be terribly dispiriting to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. After an all-Old-Europe semifinal round, it’s de Villepin’s France against Prodi’s Italy in Sunday’s final.

The Zeitgeist Checklist also appears in the Washington Post’s Outlook section.