It’s been a bad year for the Republican Party thus far. The war in Iraq is out of hand and unwinnable. Even the optimists, the “stay the course” Bush supporters, have switched from tall-tales of outright victory lying just around the corner to the tragic rhetoric of Iraqization and “peace with honor.”
The Justice Department is investigating the lobbyist Jack Abramhoff and everyone else in Washington whom he has come within arm’s length, including officials in the Bush administration and up on Capitol Hill, both elected and un-elected. In fact, the White House official in charge of government procurement, David Safavian, has been arrested and charged with lying to investigators and obstructing a federal inquiry in relation to the Abramhoff case (he resigned shortly before his arrest), while federal investigators have traveled to England to investigate fact-finding junkets attended by Reps. Tom DeLay and Bob Ney, and paid for by Abramhoff.
Senate majority leader Bill Frist is under fire for a questionable stock sale.
Aforementioned Rep. Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, has been indicted twice in a week for allegedly violating Texas election laws.
Topping it all off, of course, is the inept response of the federal government to the Hurricane Katrina disaster last month. Not only did Americans die needlessly along the Gulf Coast, due in part to political ideology and general governmental incompetence, but the disaster also brought into the public consciousness the crony politics that has been the norm in Washington under the Bush administration. The latest evidence of this was yesterday’s nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to fill Sandra Day O’Connors Supreme Court seat.
In a bizarre twist, however, Democrats appear largely ecstatic that President Bush didn’t throw an arch-conservative ideologue to the Hill for confirmation, in the vein of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas, while many in the president’s base are angered for the same reason. Pushed to the rear is the president’s continued insistence on contributing to the careers of his courtiers.
Also lost in the quagmire that is Republican stewardship of the United States, are some successes. Despite the misgivings of twenty-two Democratic Senators (a huge number in the history of the Senate to vote against a Supreme Court nominee), and not taking into account any political motives, the Senate confirmed an intelligent and qualified jurist to sit at the head of the Supreme Court in John Roberts. Only time will tell whether he resides within the ideological or pragmatic spectrum of conservatism, and whether he is concerned with pursuing an agenda or interpreting the law.
In foreign affairs, despite the debacle in Iraq, and continued hostility from the wider Middle East (as evidenced by Karen Hughes’s disastrous public affairs journey to the region), the Bush administration made ground in its nuclear dealings with North Korea, while at the same time losing some ground with an intractable Iran.
Indeed, were it not for the conflict being waged in Iraq, it could well be easy to point out the Bush administration’s foreign policy as its saving grace. A pushy agenda, yes, and one that has its share of failures, but generally it has been far from the public eye. In more deft hands, such a record could help to ease the perception that the administration and the Republican Party at large have been carrying out dreadful policies in Washington. Policies that seem designed to do nothing more than perpetuate power.
Conservatives are genuinely becoming concerned that their leaders have lost their way, that the lure of power has corrupted them just as it did the Democrats over a decade ago. Liberals are delighting in watching avowed enemies get singed by the bright light of day.
But before liberals and the Democrats get their hopes up, before they begin dreaming of reclaiming Congress and thus wrapping President Bush’s second term agenda in a blanket of nay votes, they must remember that control of Congress didn’t just land in the Republican’s laps. It was the result of decades of preparation.
The conservative movement had by no means been lying in wait, not with Reagan and George H.W. Bush as presidents, but the moment when they could seize legislative power had not ripened until the presidency of Bill Clinton. It was then that the strategists in the Republican Party unleashed a vast reserve of conservative thinking and rock-solid party unanimity to take the House and Senate in one fell swoop in the elections of 1994.
At this point, the Democrats seem caught by surprise. Who could have thought that the Republicans would be teetering so near the brink after only eleven years? Obviously, not the Democrats. More on this later.