Bush is on the ropes; can he recover?
Special to the Appeal
With his popularity ratings dropping below 40 percent and his Iraqi misadventure in disarray, President Bush and his remaining Republican allies are facing an uphill battle in this fall’s mid-term elections. Unless the president can turn things around before November, the GOP could lose control of Congress for the first time since 1994.
The clearest indication of the depth of Bush’s multiple problems is that many congressional Republicans are in open revolt against his policies, ranging from Iraq to immigration to his proposal to sell six busy East Coast ports to a company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Just last Wednesday, the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee voted 62-2 to block the ports proposal. And on Thursday, the Dubai-owned ports company defused a political firestorm by agreeing to fully transfer U.S. port operations to an American company. “The devil is in the details,” commented Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, reflecting the Democrats’ wait-and-see attitude.
The Bush administration has been politically tone deaf on the ports deal, which has damaged the president and his party as the 2006 political season gets underway. Recent polls show that voters opposed the deal by a nearly 4-1 ratio (66 to 17 percent) and 40 percent of them said it was a “major threat” to our national security. I agree and it’s amazing to me that an administration that has been so strong on terrorism could be so clueless on a vital national security issue. That’s why the GOP advantage over the Democrats on the terror issue has narrowed to five points, 45 to 40 percent.
Time’s Joe Klein dissected the president’s problems in a recent column titled “Bush’s Broken Political Antenna.” Klein said Bush’s responses to chaos at home and abroad have been “surreal.” “Public support for his policies is dwindling,” he wrote. “His own party is abandoning him; he seems naked, defenseless in the public square. Yet he has spent most of the past few weeks traveling the country, selling the vaporous ‘policies’ he proposed in his State of the Union address.”
“As the Dubai (ports) debate went nuclear,” Klein continued, “Bush was off trying to convince people that he was serious about developing alternative energy sources.” Go figure! Can this be the president whose top political adviser, Karl Rove, is widely credited with being the smartest person in government? But if Rove is so smart, how can Bush do and say so many dumb things? (Don’t answer that; I already know the answer).
I could ask similar questions about Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), considered by her most fervent admirers to be the smartest woman in the whole universe. As far as I’m concerned, however, we could banish Hillary and Rove to outer space, where they’d deserve each other.
Klein concluded his column by asserting that the Bush administration “has not only been arrogant and secretive toward the Democrats and the press, it has also demanded reflexive loyalty from Republicans on some very difficult issues …” As one top GOP strategist noted, the administration “doesn’t have (political) antennae. They just have a transmitter Ð and the party is beginning to tune them out.” As for me, I started tuning them out when they went into Iraq almost three years ago, and they’ve gone downhill ever since.
As I’ve written, I’m still looking for a Democrat I can support in 2008, one who is strong on defense and national security. In the meantime, we should ask Nevada congressional candidates Dawn Gibbons and Dean Heller where they stand on the Iraq War. And Sen. John Ensign, a conservative Republican, should re-examine his unconditional support for the war if he’s to withstand a challenge from liberal Democrat Jack Carter.
President Bush’s problems go well beyond Iraq and the Arab ports deal. There was his weak and uncoordinated response to Hurricane Katrina and before that the warrantless wiretap controversy, the indictment of Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff and the veep’s bungled handling of a hunting accident in which he shot a close friend in the face. And then there are ongoing GOP corruption scandals involving former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff and ex-Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who was sentenced to eight years in prison last week. So Bush and the Republicans are vulnerable as we enter this year’s election season.
In the final analysis, Iraq will be the defining issue of the Bush presidency. As the death toll mounts and that country teeters on the brink of civil war, the president must develop a bipartisan approach to Iraq by enunciating a viable exit strategy before the November elections. It’s fine to promote democracy but as Mideast scholar Robert Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post last week, “A despotic state that can protect (the average citizen) is more moral and far more useful than a democratic one that cannot.” He noted that the most stable countries in an unstable region “have tended to be those ruled by royal families whose longevity has conferred legitimacy” Ð hardly democratic, but effective in a violent part of the world beset by Islamic extremism.
If the Bush presidency were a prizefight, he’d be taking a pounding on the ropes in the late rounds. My question is whether he can recover and move back into the center of the political ring before he leaves office in January 2009. At this point, I’d bet against him. How about you?
— Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.