By Richard Reeves
WASHINGTON -- Even longtime critics of President Bush are surprised, even shocked, by the amount and the depth of Bush-bashing in this town.
The administration lies ... unconscionable ... irresponsible ... vindictive ... inept are the words used by one basher last week.
You have to understand that the people in this administration have no principles. ... (Bush) is not a responsible human being, said another.
The kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat (in Iraq), said a third.
The first of these bashers was Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist who served on the staffs of Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He has just written a bashing book titled Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.
The second was Andrew Sullivan, the talented conservative blogger, who added an odd conflation to the national debate by saying that Bush was a socialist and that he considered the Bush agenda to be plain old Christian fundamentalism.
The third, speaking from conservative Olympus, was William F. Buckley Jr. The title of his weekly column was It Didnt Work. The second paragraph began: One cant doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. ... The administration now has to cope with failure.
Rubbing salt in the wounds, Bartlett added: If Bush were running today against Bill Clinton, Id vote for Clinton.
I could print some criticisms from Democratic politicians, but they are just too mushy to matter. Only Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania had the guts of a Buckley, saying we had to face the fact that we failed. Now with luck, Republicans will supplant the press as the loyal opposition to the disastrous administration.
After Bush lost New Orleans and Baghdad, ran the nations budget and trade deficits to record levels, worked diligently in turning the United States of America into a police state using Soviet-style torture and disappearing, and stretched our military beyond its strengths and capabilities, the best the Democrats have been able to do is slap at his wrists over the contracting of some port work to friendly Arabs.
Ironically, Bush was right about the port contracts. No matter. Congressional Democrats, quickly joined by Republican demagogues, managed to confirm suspicions that Americans have launched a crusade against Islam and helped to build up people who have been saying that all along -- for instance, the government of Iran.
The result of all this could be Democratic victories in this years congressional elections. Maybe. But it will certainly mean that the White House will crank up fear as the favored Republican tactic until November. It might be said that the only thing Democrats have to fear in the few states and congressional districts actually in play is fear itself.
Republican candidates (and thinkers) have to decide whether to run with the Bush record, try to ignore it, or run against it. As one Republican pollster, Tony Fabrizio, told The Washington Post: He (Bush) has no political capital. Slowly but surely its been unraveling. Theres been ... a direct correlation between the trajectory of his approval numbers and the -- I dont want to call it disloyalty -- the independence on the part of the Republicans in Congress.
So the political table of 2006 has been set. Democrats will stand back, as they have since the trauma of Sept. 11, 2001, and hope that the Republicans will continue to self-destruct -- a time-honored strategy that works more often than not. The Republicans, still led by the White House, have to crank up the fear issue, which they will do, I suspect, by trying to turn attention to dangers in Latin America, trying to make President Hugh Chavez of Venezuela into the Osama bin Laden of his region and generation.
2005 Universal Press Syndicate