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Republicans Can't Run From Bush Now

By John Yewell

The Republican midterm election strategy -- to run from Bush by localizing issues and candidates -- has one essential flaw: Republicans themselves have spent the last five years nationalizing Congress.

Its success depends on voters forgetting, in the face of Democratic reminders, the discipline of which Republicans themselves have long boasted.

Democrats may be rudderless and messageless, but they are not opponentless. The Republican Party has voted in lock-step for the policies that have brought us, like it or not, to this point in history.

Theirs is the opposite of the Democrats' problem. Whereas the party of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi lacks unity, Republicans have too much. Not once during their relentless, roughshod march over the opposition in pursuit of their agenda have Republicans drawn friendly fire from the White House in the form of a veto.

Now they want you to believe that's not how it happened.

It's all about individualism now. Democratic attempts to lump them together and make the Republican Party itself the issue is, they sniff, simply unfair.


They may find it hard to convince people that collective action doesn't engender collective responsibility. If things were going well they'd damn sure be claiming collective credit.

And yet, with polls going down as relentlessly as gas prices rise, what choice do Republicans have? Like a string of climbers pulling each other, one after another, over the cliff, they are desperately trying to separate and save themselves.

An April 27 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll painted a picture of that
cliff: only 24 percent of the American public now thinks the country is headed in the right direction. That's the question through which the public reveals its collective assessment of the party in power -- and that's the lowest level posted in nine years of records on pollingreport.com.

Amazingly, things may get worse.

The San Diego Union Tribune and the Wall Street Journal reported in the last week that defense contractor Brent Wilkes, disgraced former congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham's alleged co-conspirator, kept suites in the Watergate Hotel (of all places) where lawmakers -- no one knows how many -- were brought in hooker-equipped limos to "relax."

As for the president, whose agenda -- especially, of course, Iraq -- got Republicans into this pickle, things are hardly better.

Tuesday a USA TODAY/Gallup poll pegged Bush's job approval rating at 34 percent, two points below its previous low. CBS, Fox and CNN all put the president in the 32-33 percent range. What will happen if Karl Rove is soon indicted in the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame?

In an irony-laden note, MSNBC reported Monday that at the time Plame's cover was blown she was monitoring the Iranian nuclear program.

Not only did her outing harm that effort, according to reporter David Shuster's sources, but the Iraq war has since constrained U.S. leverage in dealing with the growing Iranian nuclear threat. All this starts with Bush's insistence on pursuing the bogus Iraqi nuclear threat revealed by Plame's husband Joe Wilson, for which she was punished.

With or without Bush as an effective campaigner, the Republican Party still has a friend in the gerrymandered congressional map. But the coalition they've been trying to hold together for years is unraveling fast.

On Monday the libertarian Cato Institute, once a reliable partner in the Republican juggernaut, published a report, "Powersurge," which details Bush's "relentless push for power." And they find fault with the rubber-stamp Congress now trying to distance itself from the president.

"The Bush administration's view of executive power," wrote study authors Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch, both well-known, and rabid, anti-Clintonistas, "amounts to the view that, in time of war, the president is the law, and no treaty, no statute, no coordinate branch of the U.S. government can stand in the president's way."

According to Boston Globe report last Sunday by Charlie Savage, this has led to Bush purposefully to break as many as 750 laws -- while Congress looked the other way -- in the belief that he has the inherent right as president to ignore them. That, says Cato, is a fundamental violation of his oath of office.

Come November high gas prices may be the least of anyone's worries. But if George Bush is still kryptonite, and congressional Republicans are seen as his lackeys, it makes one wonder if it wouldn't be in their best interest to impeach Bush themselves -- not just for high crimes and misdemeanors, but in order to set themselves free.

Write John Yewell at jyewell@mac.com.

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