Thursday, November 03, 2005

Decline in the Fall

[[P O L I T I C S]] * There was plenty of talk by progressives during the 2004 U.S. presidential election about portraying George W. Bush as a phony--someone who talks big but acts small-mindedly, whose promises are rarely fulfilled according to expectations, and whose character trappings (the bogus ranch, the arrogant strut, the “Mission Accomplished” flight suit, the Pattonesque promise to “stay the course” in Iraq, the obsessive exercising) have been choreographed to conceal his lack of backbone and self-confidence. Anyone who’s been paying attention over the last five dismal years knows that Bush is anything but the decisive, honest, clear-eyed commander in chief his handlers want voters to see. However, the gullible American press has pretty much ignored the story of how easily the prez can be “rolled” by a Vladimir Putin, an Ariel Sharon, or even the wild-eyed extremists within his own Republican Party. At least until now.

In an article titled “President Pushover,” Washington Post political columnist David S. Broder, considered by many to be the dean of the D.C. press corps, writes:
Under other circumstances, President Bush’s choice of Judge Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court would have been seen as a bold move by a strong president with a clear policy objective. By choosing a man of superior intellectual heft and an indelible record of conservative views on major social issues, Bush would have been challenging his critics on the Democratic side to test their arguments in an arena where everything favored him: a Republican Senate.

But after the fiasco of the
Harriet Miers nomination and the other reversals of recent days and weeks, the Alito nomination inevitably looks like a defensive move, a lunge for the lifeboat by an embattled president to secure what is left of his political base. Instead of a consistent and principled approach to major decision making, Bush’s efforts look like off-balance grabs for whatever policy rationales he can find. The president’s opponents are emboldened by this performance, and his fellow partisans must increasingly wonder if they can afford to march to his command.
Broder goes on to maintain that in light of Bush’s willingness to dump White House counsel Miers, without even a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee, much less an up-or-down vote in the full Senate, “there is no plausible way the White House can insist that every major judicial nominee deserves such a vote.” The GOP had made its insistence on those yea-or-nay votes the rationale behind the “nuclear option,” an anti-democratic rule change that would ban the filibustering of judicial nominees. But Bush’s pathetic folding on Miers in the face of opposition from conservatives who were skeptical of her determination to overturn Roe v. Wade and dismissive of her qualifications for the Supreme Court seat, leaves Democrats--who object to Alito’s stands on abortion, the personal possession of machine guns, and other matters--as well as hyper-religious Republicans--who may take issue with Alito’s defense of sodomy--with precedent to go ahead and filibuster this judge’s nomination under current rules.

The success of conservatives in torpedoing the Miers nomination, opines Broder, sends the message “that this president is surprisingly easy to roll.
He came out of his election victory proclaiming that Social Security reform was his No. 1 priority. For six months he stumped the country trying to sell his ideas--and failed. In retrospect, even Republicans said he misjudged the temper of the public by emphasizing privatization over solvency as the chief goal. He tried to isolate senior citizens from the battle, only to see them in the front lines. And he managed to unite the Democrats in opposition--something their own leaders rarely can manage.

Next came Hurricane Katrina, which showed the whole country a case study in mismanagement by a White House supposedly under Harvard Business School-level discipline. Bush’s first decision post-Katrina was to suspend the law guaranteeing prevailing wages for reconstruction work. But that decision too was
quickly reversed, in the face of pressure from Democrats, moderate Republicans and even the supposedly enfeebled labor movement.

And then came the Miers fiasco, with the dagger held by the president’s staunchest allies. It made a shambles of any consistent claim that Bush employs serious principles in picking judges. A system that veers from an accomplished and studiously nonideological John Roberts to a marginally credentialed and often confused-sounding Harriet Miers to an intellectual and experienced Samuel Alito with pronounced ideological views is no system at all.
To hear Broder, who has so often apologized for Bush’s numbskull moves in the past, finally conceding the prez’s manifest weaknesses, is fairly remarkable. But the columnist is coming to this realization later than the “solid majority of Americans,” 55 percent, “who now judge Bush’s presidency to be a failure,” according to a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll. And his disappointment with Bush is merely consistent with the prez’s declining favor among almost all segments of the U.S. population. The latest CBS News poll finds Bush’s job approval rating plunging to 35 percent, “the lowest point ever.” (With only 31 percent of Americans describing themselves as conservatives, the prez may be close to bottoming out in disapproval, but you never know.) His erosion of support has been particularly acute among independents, only 28 percent of whom have a favorable opinion of Bush (compared with 41 percent who said the same thing last January). As CBS notes, “The only recent president lower at this point in their second term was Richard Nixon.” Dubya’s sole consolation might be that he remains more popular than Dick Cheney, whose chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, resigned last week following his indictment in the Plamegate scandal. Only 19 percent of Americans admit to a favorable opinion of Cheney; that’s down from 28 percent in January 2005. And a whopping 68 percent of respondents in the CBS poll contend that the United States is headed in the wrong direction, compared with a meager 27 percent who say it’s headed in the right direction.

While Bush may be a phony in numerous respects, it seems he’s turning out to be a genuine disaster in so many others.

ADDENDUM I: In addition to the news about Bush’s plummeting job approval rating, the CBS News poll found that--contrary to the spin mounted by some of the prez’s backers--Americans think the CIA leak scandal is a very big deal, indeed. Here’s how respondents rated the significance of Plamegate, compared with how they have viewed scandals--authentic and overblown--from the recent past:

CIA Leak
Great importance: 51 percent
Some importance: 35 percent
Little/no importance: 12 percent

Great importance: 41 percent
Some importance: 21 percent
Little/no importance: 37 percent

Great importance: 20 percent
Some importance: 29 percent
Little/no importance: 45 percent

Great importance: 48 percent
Some importance: 33 percent
Little/no importance: 19 percent

Great importance: 53 percent
Some importance: 25 percent
Little/no importance: 22 percent

ADDENDUM II: “For the first time in his presidency, a majority of Americans question the integrity of President Bush, and growing doubts about his leadership have left him with record negative ratings on the economy, Iraq and even the war on terrorism, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.” Read on.

READ MORE:Worst ... Support ... Ever,” by Steve Benen (The Carpetbagger Report); “Bush’s Bunker Strategy,” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “Will Dems by the Remedy for the President’s Second Termitus?” by Byron Williams (The Huffington Post); “Deliverance for Democrats?” by Todd Gitlin (Salon); “Faith and Fraud,” by Jonathan Schell (The Nation); “Bush Allies Say He’s Lost His Way,” by Ron Fornier (AP); “Bush’s Rebound,” by Peter Daou (Salon); “Alito Reaction Is Mixed,” by Taegan Goddard (Political Wire); “Karl Rove’s Dying Dream: So Much for the Permanent Republican Majority,” by Jacob Weisberg (Slate); “God and Caesar in America,” by Gary Hart (The Huffington Post).

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