Here's a big reason why Republicans and conservatives have grown more frustrated with the Bush administration over the past six months: When the White House is criticized, it lashes back by pinning pejorative labels on the critics. Last fall, when Bush allies assailed high court nominee Harriet Miers as singularly unqualified to wear a robe, they were dismissed as sexists. And now, as Bush allies assail the port deal with the United Arab Emirates, they are being tagged as anti-Arab racists.
Bush said today, in a Cabinet meeting, that people didn't seem to mind when a British firm was running the affected U.S. ports, but now seem upset that an Arab company will be taking over. The same point was made yesterday by Bush press secretary Scott McClellan: "it sends a terrible message" that an Arab country "should be held to a different standard."
But Bush's disgruntled friends don't like being called racists. One prominent conservative website, spectator.org, argued yesterday that a different standard is revelent in this case, given the fact that the UAE "has a history of terrorist citizens and princes who go hunting with bin Laden, not to mention being officially sworn to destroy Israel." Ditto this, in paragraphs seven and eight. Ditto this piece in the conservative Washington Times, which features several disgruntled Bush administration security officials (neither of whom wanted their names used) airing their concerns about potential port vulnerabilities under UAE management.
The danger, in the Bush regime's ongoing impulse to label, is that the White House risks worsening its relations with restive Republican allies at a time when the national mood doesn't auger well for a healthy GOP performance in the '06 elections.
By the way, I think that perhaps the most revealing remark thus far has been uttered by Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, when he said the other day that security concerns must be "balanced" against the imperatives of global commerce. No wonder the GOP is divided over this port deal: politically, it pits corporate free-traders against national-security hawks.