Friday, October 06, 2006

Foley-watchers, remember that thing overseas? Costs us $2 billion a week? Oh, yeah

The Mark Foley firestorm has diverted attention this week away from a fairly important story with major political implications. If memory serves, it’s that ongoing matter in Iraq.

While Americans were busy reading Foley’s exchanges with underage boys (including the kid who interrupted the congressman’s reverie to say that his mom was yelling for him), 13 American soldiers were killed over a span of three days, the worst three-day mark since the war began.

And while we were all riveted on what House Speaker Dennis Hastert knew and when he knew it or should have known it, the Bob Woodward book about the struggling Bush war team picked up a major endorsement from someone with no links to liberals or George Soros or “Defeatocrats.” This would be Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan and Bush speechwriter.

She writes today on the conservative Wall Street Journal opinion page that “it is a good book. It may be a great one. It is serious, densely, even exhaustively, reported, and a real contribution to history in that it gives history what it most requires, first-person testimony.” She endorses the book’s depiction of President Bush as a “vain and intensely limited man,” accepts its reportage that Bush and his people are mired in “a state of unknowingness” about factual reality in Iraq, and then she twists the knife by contending that the administration hawks have screwed things up in part because none of them have actually served in war:

“I have come to give greater credence to the importance, in the age of terror, among our leaders, of having served in the military. For you need personal experience that you absorbed deep down in your bones, or a kind of imaginative wisdom that tells you even though you were never there what war is like, what invasion is, what building a foreign nation entails.”

It should also be noted today that, while we were all watching the Foley affair, Americans were telling the pollsters that the president’s 9/11 anniversary bounce was over. In the latest Associated Press-IPSOS survey, likely voters said (by 44 to 42 percent) that they now trust Democrats over Republicans to fight terrorism effectively, and that (by 45 to 43 percent) they trust the Democrats to more effectively protect the country. And that sentiment was measured before Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia returned from Iraq and warned yesterday that Congress may need to buck Bush and forge a solution of its own – in his words, make “bold decisions” after weighing all options - if the violence is not reversed within the next 60 to 90 days. Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a former Navy secretary under Richard Nixon, is a barometer of the increasingly restive Republican sentiment.

All this demonstrates why the GOP is hamstrung at the moment. It can’t change the subject from Foley to Iraq, for obvious reasons. And it can’t change the subject from Iraq to the domestic realm, because the Foley scandal is dominant there. And if it tries to dismiss the Foley scandal as a liberal/Democratic/gay/Soros conspiracy, there are now plenty of prominent conservative voices who recognize the GOP leaders’ culpability – and perceive the serious political dangers, on the eve of the ’06 elections.

Consider Myrna Blyth, an author who considers herself a scourge of liberalism. She writes today on the National Review website that the “security moms” of 2004, the married women with children who voted for President Bush, have become the outraged moms of 2006:

What were those guys thinking? That is what every woman I’ve spoken to has said about the Foley mess…Unlike the discussions about the war, this is a very simple story to understand. Most of us don’t know what to do about Iraq or Iran or North Korea. There can be plenty of debate about how to handle these enormous challenges. But we do know how we should act if we were told about someone sending inappropriate messages to a teenager and we were in a position to do something about it. We would ask many more, and tougher, questions than these Congressmen say they did. And we would act to protect the kid and any other youngster whom that overly friendly guy might be tempted to bother. It has nothing to do with politics or policy, but just common sense. And the fact that the Republican leaders didn’t show enough concern, and some basic common sense, is what is most troubling of all.”

The exodus of these women could spell doom at the polls. Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia, one of our most detail-oriented political junkies, today has a new comprehensive rundown of the GOP’s deepening woes, here. No doubt it will be interesting to see what Tom Reynolds, one of the House GOP leaders currently on the hot seat, has to say when he defends himself this Sunday morning on ABC’s This Week; he’s the guy who, as director of the ’06 Republican campaign effort, persuaded Mark Foley to run for re-election even though evidence of Foley’s pursuit of underage House pages had already surfaced. That could be a cringe-worthy interview.

But for the moment, at least, the cringe-worthy award goes to whoever wrote the editorial yesterday in The Hill, a serious newspaper that covers Congress. Charting the various conflicting statements that Hastert and House Majority Leader John Boehner have issued about the Foley scandal, the editorial writer concludes with this gift to Leno and Letterman:

“Hastert and Boehner need to get on the same page or Republican troubles will continue to mount.”