Tuesday, June 05, 2007

He who shall not be named

The Republican White House hopefuls are due back in the limelight tonight, debating this time in New Hampshire, and it’s a good bet that few of them will make even a passing reference to the lame-duck Republican president whose performance failures have become a drag on their 2008 political prospects.

Let’s set the stage by bringing in some outside voices. Start with this quote:

“What I came in time to believe is that the great shortcoming of this White House, the great thing it is missing, is simple wisdom. Just wisdom – a sense that they didn’t invent history, that this moment is not all there is, that man has lived a long time and there are things that are true of him…that personal loyalty is not a good enough reason to put anyone in charge of anything, that the way it works in politics is a friend becomes a loyalist becomes a hack, and actually at this point in history we don’t need hacks.”

That’s the verdict on George W. Bush, courtesy of famed Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan, who worked for Ronald Reagan and the senior George Bush, and who worked for the son in 2004. She wrote at length last week about his “incompetence” and
“the depth of the mishandling and misjudgments of Iraq,” but you get the idea.

Actually, Noonan is particularly incensed about President Bush’s shoddy treatment of his conservative critics. Many members of the increasingly fragile GOP coalition have strongly attacked Bush’s path-to-citizenship immigration bill, and, in response, he has impugned their patriotism. Last week, Bush said that opponents of his immigration bill “don’t want to do what’s right for America.” Bush surrogates have intimated the same thing.

Noonan is nonplused: “Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens? And often, though not exclusively, (of) concerned conservatives?” My response to that is: Welcome to the club, Peggy. For years, Bush and his surrogates have suggested that they alone have a monopoly on the national interest, and that those who disagree with them are ipso facto threats to the national interest. (Bush, referring to his Senate Democratic critics in 2002, said that they were “not interested in the security of the American people.”) It’s only now, apparently, that Noonan and other mainstream Republicans have fully come to appreciate the Bush team’s signature arrogance.

But enough about Noonan. Here’s another prominent voice, from this past weekend, addressing Bush’s record on competence:

“I don’t think that (Bush) drives implementation or looks at the reality (of what) he’s trying to implement…And I think that’s why you ended up with ‘Brownie, you’re doing a great job,’ when it was obvious to the entire country at Katrina that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had collapsed and was not capable of doing any job at that point.” And the same problems plague the Iraq war: “Now, you look at the ruthlessness, the aggressiveness, the energy that we put into that war, and here we are 5.5 years after 9/11, and the fact is I would argue we’re losing the war around the world with Islamist extremists and they are, in fact, gaining ground.”

That’s the verdict on Bush, courtesy of…Newt Gingrich, speaking on Fox News. He’s urging the ’08 candidates (and himself as well, perhaps) to “confront the reality” that Bush has become the GOP’s Jimmy Carter, in terms of national unpopularity. He thinks that the ’08 candidates should separate themselves from Bush by running against his record – not by dissing Bush personally, but by campaigning “in favor of radically changing Washington and radically changing government.”

(Incidentally, let’s repeat the last part of that Gingrich quote: “I would argue we’re losing the war around the world with Islamist extremists…” How come nobody at the Republican National Committee, or at the Bush White House, is assailing his comment about America “losing”? If Harry Reid or Michael Moore had said such a thing, one can only imagine what the GOP message machine would be saying today.)

But enough on Gingrich. Let’s bring in one final voice, somebody who wishes that the GOP candidates would stop already with their invocations of Reagan:

“We feel, If only we had another Ronald Reagan! If only we could find a consistent small-government tax-cutter who is also sincerely and consistently socially conservative! If only we could find a candidate who exudes both strength and good cheer, traditionalism and optimism! And so we demand from our candidates ever more fervent declarations of fealty to an ideology that interests an ever-dwindling proportion of the public. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but those hopes are delusions. In every way we can measure, the voting public is moving away from the kind of conservatism we know as Reaganism.” And unless GOP candidates recognize this, and instead offer something "fresh and compelling,” doom awaits them: “All the stars are lined up for a horrible Republican defeat in 2008.”

That’s the political forecast, courtesy of David Frum…the conservative commentator and ex-Bush speechwriter who helped coin the term “axis of evil.”

No wonder the ’08 GOP hopefuls are struggling to pluck the right chords. Can they somehow talk about a new Republican future, without implicitly dissing He Who Shall Not Be Named? That’s their task again tonight. They have no other option. As GOP analyst Rich Galen reportedly said the other day about Bush, “There is an exhaustion. People are tired of defending him.”