Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Republican Crack-Up

The Republican Crack-Up
By David Moberg
In These Times

Wednesday 28 December 2005
Bush's bad year has created a political vacuum. Who will fill it?

Shortly after his reelection, George Bush bragged that he had bags full of political capital for his second term. But Bush both miscounted the political coins in his pocket and blew his wad on some bad gambles, such as the war in Iraq and Social Security privatization. Then he lost more with the bad luck, largely of his own making, of a botched response ot Hurricane Katrina

By late November [FC], he was less popular than Clinton, Reagan or Eisenhower was at any point in their second terms, with his approval ratings down in the mid-30 percents. On the two leading issues for voters - the war in Iraq and the economy - his ratings were even worse.

And despite hard-core loyalty from the Republican base, there are signs of disaffection from both moderates and the party's far right, including anti-government budget-cutters and anti-immigrant militants. Cracks have even emerged in the previously impregnable Republican Congressional political machine over both scandals and strategy. "The hopeful sign is that on all kinds of fronts where Republicans hoped to be united and victorious, they're now defensive and disunited," says Roger Hickey, co-director of the progressive advocacy group Campaign for America's Future (CAF).

Crucial Missteps

Bush's annus horribilus was partly the result of fundamentally flawed policies playing themselves out. It also reflected the breakdown of a duplicitous strategy to push through policies that a majority of Americans never supported and often misunderstood, as political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson argue in their recent book, Off Center. But it also resulted from the grassroots pressure of progressives and - when they finally sensed Bush's weakness - some better-late-than-never political discipline from Democrats.

There were two turning points. First, his disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina reinforced a view of Bush as out of touch with ordinary people and undermined his claim to elementary competence. With American poverty and governmental inadequacy so flagrantly on display, Republicans had to indefinitely postpone the vote on one of their favorite causes - permanent repeal of the estate tax.

Then, the 2,000th death of American soldiers in Iraq crystallized Americans' frustration with a war that a growing majority thinks should not have been fought - and that Bush misled them into supporting. Bush is losing support on the war not only from the left and center - most notably, in the resounding call for withdrawal from traditionally hawkish Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) - but also from his right. Two-thirds of self-described conservative Republicans told Washington Post pollsters they had doubts about the war.....