Viewpoint: Bush’s make-believe world begins to crumble

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Four out of five Americans, including 70 percent of Republicans, believe we will see more widespread civil war in Iraq. Additionally, nearly 70 percent of our citizens say the country is on the wrong track.

The AP reports that GOP legislators are scurrying to distance themselves from President Bush on a number of issues; things like the port security deal, budget excesses, eavesdropping and immigration. They obviously are trying to get some insurance for the fall elections and, for some, better positioning in 2008 for the presidential election.

Americans are losing their fondness for the King from Crawford. The house Bush built is beginning to collapse. A recent survey puts Bush’s overall performance rating at just 37 percent, the lowest yet in his presidency.

Among Republicans, the president’s job approval rating plunged from 82 percent in February to 74 percent. White males were the largest group to veer away from the Bush camp.

Looking at some of the issues and how voters see Bush’s performance on each—his rating dropped from 39 percent to 36 percent on domestic affairs, and he is down from 47 percent to 43 percent on foreign policy and the “war on terror.” On the economy and Iraq, his ratings remained close to 40 percent. The numbers come from a poll by AP/Ipsos that questioned 1,000 Americans. It also found that fewer Americans now see Bush as likable, honest, strong and dependable than they did right after his re-election campaign.

All of that and the president’s actions on several issues have left Republican congressmen more and more nervous that Bush’s mistakes and his animosity-provoking behavior may tar them as well.

AP political writer, Ron Fournier, said two-thirds of Americans do not like the way the Republican-led Congress has been performing. A whopping 53 percent of Republicans low-rate Congress as well.

Fournier reported that when those polled were asked who ought to control Congress, the outcome was Democrats, 47-36 percent. He said that doesn’t automatically mean the GOP will lose in November because voters will be dealing with local candidates rather than Congress in its entirety.

Republican consultant Terry Nelson appealed for party unity. “When issues like the internal Republican debate over the ports dominates the news,” he said, “it puts us another day away from all of us figuring out what policies we need to win.”

The Financial Times writes of the great concern in Washington that the president has been so weakened by recent political setbacks that he will truly be a lame duck and ineffectual chief executive from here out.

Despite the policy wreckage crashing around him, Bush is stubbornly clinging to the same course. As a result, he has tumbled down farther and faster than any second-term president since Richard Nixon during Watergate.

Bush told a meeting of newspaper publishers in Washington: “You have to believe in certain principles and beliefs. And you can’t let the public opinion polls and focus groups cause you to abandon what you believe and become the reason for making decisions.”

One little-noticed setback last week was when federal courts ordered the administration to release the names and histories of all those being held at Guantanamo Bay, which revealed most of the prisoners were ordinary people with no link to terrorism. The Pentagon also announced it was closing Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The hubris exhibited by the administration in the past few months has largely evaporated now. Only nine months ago, Vice President Dick Cheney declared the Iraq insurgency was in its “last throes.” Even Donald Rumsfeld now admits the possibility of full-scale civil war in Iraq, and the neo-con architects of that war say it was a mistake.

The White House intends to launch a public relations campaign to try to prop up support for the Iraq fight, but it appears it will be unlikely to change public and congressional opinion on that issue.

Neo-con icon William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard and a strong pro-war spokesman, warned: “The Bush administration leads the West. If the West seems to be on its heels, it is because the administration seems to be on its heels.”

Ira Eisenberg, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, was moved to wonder in print “Where have all the conservatives gone?” Eisenberg said: “I’m old enough to remember when real conservatives valued freedom over security, and stood for strictly limited government, fiscal discipline, the sanctity of constitutional checks and balances and the rule of law over obeisance to power.”

So where and when did all these neo-cons emerge? Eisenberg explains: “It was under President Ronald Reagan’s bleary stewardship that real conservatives were largely displaced in the upper ranks of government by an aggressive new breed of so-called neoconservatives, whose ideology was neither new nor authentically conservative, but an artifact of the Cold War.

“The founding philosophers of neoconservatism—Norman Podhoretz and Irving Kristol—drew their youthful inspiration from Leon Trotsky, a radical communist whose doctrine of perpetual revolution was too extreme even for the Soviet Union’s ruling Stalinists, who exiled and eventually assassinated him.”

Eisenberg added that the central belief of the neocon crowd is the idea of inherent powers on the part of the president. That buzzard has come home to roost.

Fantasy is so much fun, but reality has a way of smacking us upside the head when we least expect it. Fasten your life jackets, ladies and gentlemen, the Ship of State is taking on water fast.

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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