Will Congress Change Hands?(Reprinted from the issue of May 25, 2006)
Thomas Friedman of The New York Times writes, President Bush has slipped in one recent poll to a 29% approval rating. Frankly, I cant believe that. These polls cant possibly be accurate. I mean, really, ask yourself: How could there still be 29% of the people who still approve of this presidency?
Indeed. Bush has much to answer for, but we have to square his low poll ratings with the even lower ratings Congress is getting. In a time of prosperity, the country is in a remarkably foul mood about the way its being governed. So much for the idea that its the economy, stupid.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds 56% of respondents preferring to see the Democrats controlling Congress after this years elections.
Bush, who once boasted that he was a uniter, not a divider, cant seem to unite the voters, or even the Republicans, behind him anymore; Rush Limbaugh may talk as if Bushs critics are all liberals, but more and more of them are angry defectors from Bushs conservative base, upset about everything from immigration to the Iraq war to profligate spending. Others are just people of no particular philosophy.
Not long ago Limbaugh was crowing that conservatism had triumphed and that the voters had repudiated liberalism. Does he now think 71% of those voters are liberals? Or is it that Americans would overwhelmingly prefer even liberals with common sense to what the Republicans are giving them?
The Republicans have good reason to dread the coming elections; under Bushs leadership, they have wasted all the advantages they had gained since the Republican Revolution of 1994.
But this doesnt mean the Democrats inspire much enthusiasm, let alone lasting loyalty. Their current strength is only the fact that they arent Republicans, so they appear to offer immediate relief rather than a permanent cure. They have no idea how to define themselves; they can only snipe at Bush and make demagogic appeals to various discontents.
Bushs strategist Karl Rove is warning that a return to Democratic dominance would be even worse than continued GOP dominance, and he may be right (especially for those facing the danger of indictment or impeachment); but as a battle cry, this wont do. The Republicans need a better campaign theme than the memory of how bad their opponents used to be. The evils of the past were bad enough; the evils of the future may be even worse; but the evils of the present are the ones we really feel. In politics, thats what counts.
Still, both major parties have colluded to eliminate real competition, so most congressional seats may remain safe in spite of what the polls are telling us now. This is a democracy, but one in which, after all, the will of the people is kept well under control.
Bushs comprehensive five-point plan to deal with illegal immigration hasnt found many takers. The overwhelming public demand, voted down in the Senate (but commanding stubborn support in the House), is that the government secure our borders before it even thinks about granting citizenship to those already here or allowing more guest workers to enter the country. Conservatives are even more impassioned about this than the general public.
On the other hand, businessmen want cheap labor, and Bush has always hoped, since his Texas days, to welcome Hispanics into the Republican Party before the Democrats can grab them all. It looks as if thats now an idle daydream.
Bush cant seem to get anything quite right, and fate isnt giving him any breaks. At this point I wouldnt be surprised if one of his aides were found to be linked to Duke Universitys lacrosse team. Its been that kind of year.
He took another public-relations setback when USA Today reported that he had authorized the spooky National Security Agency to compile a secret superfile of billions of phone calls in this country. He confirmed this, but insisted that it was all legally done and scrupulously conducted; any wiretapping was approved by court order, and only suspected terrorists were targeted.
Even if this was all true, it didnt dispel the feeling that Big Brother is watching us. In the name of security, a huge and secretive government bureaucracy unknown to the Constitution turns out to be keeping us under surveillance without telling us. Maybe Bush and his people are exercising this power strictly by the book (whatever book that may be); but how can he guarantee that all his successors will do so? With the best will in the world, he cant.
That eerie power already exists, we are defenseless against it, and Bushs personal intentions are irrelevant. But he fails to grasp that the issue isnt just whether he means well. We are at the mercy of huge state bureaucracies never contemplated by the Founding Fathers and of authorities never granted by the Constitution. These are part of the executive branch and, theoretically, under the control of the president.
But like the Constitution itself, this is no more than a thin legal fiction.
Legacy of Distraction
A reader quite properly demands to know whether I was ever as critical of Bill Clintons use of presidential war powers, in Iraq and in the Balkans, as I have been of Bushs.
Im afraid the answer is all too seldom.
I can explain (but not excuse) this dereliction by recalling that war didnt seem a pressing matter during the Clinton years; he seemed a product of the Vietnam era who had too much sense to repeat that experience. Actually, the only part he was averse to was the political cost of getting American soldiers killed. He didnt mind killing foreigners with bombs and lethal economic sanctions.
So Clintons ironic legacy is that he is more notorious for his lesser sins of lust and lying than for the tens of thousands of deaths he caused. And when he lied about the girl he sneaked into the Oval Office, his entire cabinet vouched for his honor; but not one of them resigned when the truth came out.
He was like a stage-magician who keeps you watching his right hand to distract you from what his left hand is doing. His sins distracted us from his crimes. I fell for it along with almost everyone else.
At present, I once observed, the U.S. Constitution poses no serious threat to our form of government. I see no reason to revise this judgment SOBRANS. If you have not seen my monthly newsletter yet, give my office a call at 800-513-5053 and request a free sample, or better yet, subscribe for two years for just $85. New subscribers get two gifts with their subscription. More details can be found at the Subscription page of my website.
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the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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