Monday, August 29, 2005

Paul Mulshine: A trifecta of terrible prospects for the GOP

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Last year I pointed out that it might be better for the Republican Party if George W. Bush would follow the example of the prior Texan in the White House. I suggested he should announce that for the good of the country he would not seek another term.

Did he listen to me? Nope. And now look at the mess he's in. A mere eight months into his second term, Bush's approval rating has fallen to about what Lyndon Baines Johnson's was when he dropped out of the presidential race in 1968.

In both cases, the dismal poll numbers were the result of a bungled war. Like Bush, Johnson had a remarkable facility for domestic politics but was at the mercy of his advisers in the international arena. Also like Bush, Johnson was misled by technocrats who turned out to be nowhere near as sharp as they claimed to be. The parallel is amazing, right down to the eerie physical resemblance between Johnson's overconfident defense secretary, Robert McNamara, and Bush's overconfident defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

It is on the question of character that the parallel breaks down, however. Johnson agonized over the way his mistakes in Vietnam had shattered the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. "This war's upset the hell out of him," said one close associate the evening Johnson announced his intention not to run for re-election. "He really doesn't have his mind on politics." Bush, meanwhile, has yet to admit to even a minor technical error in Iraq, such as having no plan whatsoever for the post-invasion period.

As for politics, Bush's skills remain formidable but he is up against his own views in his 2000 campaign: "A generation shaped by Vietnam must remember the lessons of Vietnam," he said then. "When America uses force in the world, the cause must be just, the goal must be clear, and the victory must be overwhelming." As usual, he captured perfectly the deeply held feelings of the great mass of Americans.

Unfortunately for him, those feelings remain deeply held. The cause may be just in the instance of Iraq, but the goal remains vague and the victory has been underwhelming, to say the least. I don't do polling, but if the e-mail I receive is any indication, the only people still buying the Bush spin on the Iraq debacle are a handful of neoconservatives here in the East and a dwindling crowd of Rush Limbaugh listeners in the Heartland.

The great mass of Americans, meanwhile, are pragmatists. If the war had ended successfully in a year, any rationale would have been sufficient. But if it drags on, no rationale will do the trick.

The hope among the Bush crowd is that a vote this fall on the Iraqi constitution will cause glee among the American masses and a subsequent rebound in the polls for the president. I doubt it. I foresee an inexorable decline in the polls as Americans discover to their horror that, given the right to choose their leaders, Iraqis will choose the same sort of fundamentalist madmen that their neighbors in Iran tend to choose.

Meanwhile we can expect the usual round of violence in the runup to the elections. Worse, this is likely to come at a time when the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame case releases his indictments. If Patrick Fitzgerald wants to be a real SOB -- and that seems to be his sole purpose in life -- he could quite easily indict at least two of Bush's key advisers for violating their oaths concerning the handling of classified information.

Bush should have fired those people two years ago, but like another Republican president who had an unsuccessful second term, he chose to sweep a scandal under the rug until after his re-election. Fitzgerald is busy pulling that rug out from under him.

If that scenario is not bleak enough for you, consider oil prices. They could keep soaring as the winter heating season begins. It was the gas crisis of winter 1974 that set the sour mood for Richard Nixon's demise that summer. Imagine $4-a-gallon gasoline prices at the same time Bush remains bogged down in Iraq while fending off the Plame prosecution.

That's a worst-case scenario, a trifecta of terrible prospects for the GOP. But I am naturally pessimistic. Perhaps peace will come to Iraq, gas prices will drop back to two bucks a gallon and the special prosecutor will be hit by a bus.


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