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Bush Exhausts “Political Capital” – Time For Democrats To Speak Out

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Last November, President Bush celebrated a successful re-election campaign by telling reporters: “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

In barely a year, that political capital has been exhausted. While the Republicans still have the presidency and majorities in both houses of Congress, the party no longer has iron-clad control. It’s time for Democrats to speak out on behalf of an American majority, and become equal partners in Washington once again.

How did Bush fritter away his political capital? Let’s take a look back at the last year:

The president earned his capital by waging what Al Franken calls a campaign of “fear and smears.” Under the guiding hand of Senior White House Advisor Karl Rove, the Bush team was able to convince Americans that John Kerry (D-MA) was soft on terrorism, misleading the American people with their “wolves in the woods” advertising campaign, speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney, and the conservative noise machine. Kerry wanted to cut intelligence spending in the 1980s, the Bush spin team cried, conveniently forgetting that Arlen Specter (R-PA) proposed similar cuts in the Senate, and Porter Goss (R-FL) proposed deeper cuts in the House. Kerry got smeared. Goss got promoted to CIA chief.

After the election, Bush pushed a number of ideas, notably Social Security privatization. Americans were told that Republicans were the party of ideas, and Democrats were the “all-criticism, no-solutions” party. But this empty conservative spin was on its last legs.

As JABBS pointed out in June, the house of cards was falling. Republicans broke ranks on judicial filibusters and U.S. treatment of Guantanamo detainees. As Rove and others became further embroiled in Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the administration suddenly seemed to struggle with spin.

The wheels started coming off the bus — and Bush’s popularity sank to new lows — with the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Conservative Sens. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Trent Lott (R-MS) and Sam Brownback (R-KS) withheld their endorsements, while pundits like Bill Kristol called for Miers’ withdrawal. At the same time, there were other embarrassments, like the slow federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and the scripted teleconference between Bush and U.S. soldiers stationed in Tikrit, Iraq.

Soon thereafter, Fitzgerald indicted Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, while leaving open the possibility of future indictments against Rove and others in the administration. Some have suggested Cheney himself may be in trouble.

***

Yes, it’s only been a year. But then again, when you build a house of cards — a house built on fear-driven, smear-driven spin — you have to expect that house to fall.

President Nixon won re-election in 1972, in the midst of a war, with a unified party behind him. His electoral mandate was far greater than Bush’s. But Watergate overwhelmed the administration, and ultimately, members of Nixon’s own Republican Party told Nixon that the votes were there to impeach him. Nixon instead resigned.

President Reagan won re-election in 1984 in the same lopsided fashion as Nixon. But it wasn’t long after that the Iran-Contra Affair took center stage, and Reagan’s appointed commission, led by former Sen. John Tower (R-TX), uncovered wrongdoing in the administration and its National Security Council team. Reagan had lost the broad support of the American people, and his second term was ineffectual.

Bush doesn’t have to travel the same road.

Unlike Nixon and Reagan, Bush’s party has control over both Congressional houses — at least until November, 2006. Unless Plame-Gate becomes Watergate — with Republicans agreeing that impeachment is necessary — Bush’s presidency is safe.

But the balance of power has clearly shifted. Just as 14 moderate Senators — seven Democrats and seven Republicans — joined forces to sidestep the administration and its lackey, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), and preserve the filibuster, it’s time for Democrats to join their moderate Republican friends to speak out for the majority of Americans who want their government to work for them.

There are more than enough sane Republicans in the Senate. And even the fringe Republicans — like Santorum — are distancing themselves from the Bush spin machine and its ever-shrinking coattails. Bush’s popularity has never been lower, even among party faithful.

For conservatives, now is the time to move to the middle. For moderate Republicans, now is the time to make friends across the aisle.

Democrats have not led as legislators under Bush’s helm because they haven’t controlled the House or Senate — or the decision-making on what legislation is voted on and when. When Democrats have brought forth legislation, they have had two choices — find a Republican co-sponsor, or be ignored. Bush’s spin team has spent five years saying Democrats have “no ideas,” even though they knew better.

The ball remains in Bush’s court — the luxury of having majority rule in politics. But the rules of the game have clearly changed.

It’s time for the Democrats to be a unified party, and speak out for an American majority. The Bush spin team won’t have the “capital” to stop them.

***

This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • Nancy

    The biggest problem is that the Democratic party has not pulled itself together to either formulate new ideas or even to mount an attack against the GOP failures. My God, they’ve been handed the GOP on a platter with all that’s been going on in the past year, and they STILL can’t find either the spine, the voice, or the will; they remind me of the Gary Larsen cartoon about the boneless chicken ranch. Nobody is stopping them from coming up with a platform, with ideas, with working alternatives, even with a concerted attack plan – but … nothing. Nada. Total vaccuum. I have never been so disgusted with a political party in my life.

    I got a call a few nights ago from the DNC panhandling for contributions. I hung up on them. I’ll give them my support – but I expect them to have earned it. And in the last year or two, they haven’t earned squat. The least I expect is some backbone & some initiative, and they haven’t shown either.

  • http://flvoter.blogspot.com FL Voter

    Agreed, 100%. It’s really not even an issue of dems vs republicans, it’s more of sane politicians vs. partisans. With the announcement of Bush nominating Alito to the SCOTUS today, Bush thinks that this will energize his base and distract people from all the scandal.

    Wrong.

  • Nancy

    I don’t know; he might succeed; the MSM has the attention span of a not-too-bright gnat, and the public take all their cues from the MSM….

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Nancy, can the Democrats “formulate new ideas” when GOP committee heads won’t give their proposals the time of day?

    I’m reminded of Rep. Sessenbrenner of Wisconsin, who cut short a hearing, preventing Rep. Nadler of New York to ask questions.

  • Baronius

    The danger of immersing yourself in day-to-day politics is the lack of perspective it can bring. In 20 years, October 2005 may well be seen as the crowning achievement in the Bush Administration: the month that Iraq voted for their new constitution.

    The “crushing defeat” of Miers reminds me of other losses that, at the time, were considered definitive: Tower (GHW Bush), Baird (Clinton), and the guy whose name I can’t remember who was supposed to replace Ridge in DHS. The press, trying to generate a story line, is talking about Bush’s attempt to salvage the remainder of his presidency. In all likelihood, there will be a half-dozen Amazing Turnarounds and Unprecedented Failures before this term is over.

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Baronius, it’s rare when a president’s approval rating drops to 38-39%. Even among Republicans, his approval rating has dropped to 75% — compared with 92% of self-described Republicans who voted for his re-election.

    You may think this is just part of an up-and-down cycle. But the number of key Republicans who have distanced themselves from this president has grown — and quickly. When I wrote about Mel Martinez and Charles Grassley and the seven Republicans in the “gang of 14″ back in June, a lot of conservatives touted overall party unity, and said I was over-reaching.

    But how can you argue with the internal disputes between Congressional Republicans and the White House on Miers, Bolton, Guantanamo, Iraq, spiraling budget deficits, Social Security privatization, embryonic stem cell research, and other topics?

    I mean, you have guys like Frist, Santorum, Lott, McCain, Graham, Voinovich, Hagel, Martinez. Warner and Grassley all distancing themselves on one or more key second-term agenda items of Bush. That’s not an insignificant group.

  • Nancy

    Trent Lott is (understandably) having the time of his life playing “gotcha” with those in his party who threw him to the wolves & disowned him a few years ago – namely BushCo., Frist, et al. You can practically see him chortling with barely-suppressed glee as he vaguely wonders for the sake of the MSM whether it’s a good thing for Rove to be keeping his position – and certainly not to be making policy decisions. Ooooo…stick that knife in and TURN, Baby! Must feel good to the poor fella after all the crap his own put him thru. Sanctimonious Santorum, however, is a true bellwether: when a suckup maggot like that starts backing away, you know you’re persona non grata. If Santorum’s any indication, Bush is in deep doo-doo. Rats can always sense a sinking ship.

  • Baronius

    David, I agree with many of your points.

    About half the senators you mentioned are trying to position themselves for presidential runs. Others are just responding to a change in the breeze. And a good portion of the intraparty fighting was over Miers. Now that Alito has been nominated, the differences have been resolved, and the hurt feelings should go away…never, because this is Washington we’re talking about.

    But you’re right that there are big issues on the table, and that no second term goes well. Except Eisenhauer, if memory serves. There are always second-string Cabinet officials and tell-all books from the first term. Washington faced rebellion, Roosevelt tried to stack the Supreme Court, Clinton got impeached. As you aptly discussed, Nixon and Reagan had rough second terms too.

    I don’t think I’d say that the rules have changed, though. Maybe that the rules of the second term are now in place.

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