Sunday, September 11, 2005

There Goes the Base

Lee Iacocca once said in business, as in life, you either lead, follow, or get out of the way.

President Bush -- and a number of federal officials -- have chosen time and again to follow. They follow public opinion and sentiment so closely that they appear to be ahead of it. When we need to be reassured, to feel powerful, as in much of the last four years, that's always worked for them.

But now the bottom's fallen out -- literally -- as the GOP's base gets the heck out of the way. Astonishing money quote from Newsweek:

And only 28 percent of Americans say they are “satisfied with the way things are going” in the country, down from 36 percent in August and 46 percent in December, after the president’s re-election. This is another record low and two points below the satisfaction level recorded immediately after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal came to light. Fully two-thirds of Americans are not satisfied with the direction of the country.

Wild guess: that 28 percent consists almost entirely of Christianist activists, people making over $200,000 a year, and employees of Fox News Channel.

The law-and-order Republicans, the classic conservatives, the hawkish conservatives, the -- dare I say it -- fiscal conservatives: They're in that other two-thirds.

This is a hugely important development, and very, very bad for the president. He's the only Republican not facing election in 2006 or 2008. It's also bad for the GOP's congressional leaders, who have to try to hold on to both houses in another year at the same time that many of them are planning to run to replace Bush.

Here's the conundrum: All those loyal GOPers not in the 28 percent are not gonna want to vote for a Democrat -- and certainly not Mrs. Bill Clinton. But the strategy from Frist to Romney to Allen to Brownback has been appealing to the Christianists. They are the ones who don't want to admit that something in our government (let alone their party) is horribly broken and needs to be fixed, because that would compromise the power they've been waiting for for decades. Not just since the Reagan administration, but since Goldwater led the movement into the wilderness have they been waiting for this moment.

This is how extraordinarily the world has turned: They've reached the highest power imaginable in their grandest designs, and the best they could do to replace Rehnquist is John Roberts. Roberts is surely no Scalia or Thomas. If he's ideologically similar to Rehnquist, then the nom is a wash. If, however, he is even slightly to Rehnquist's left, he'll break up the Rehnquist-Thomas-Scalia triumvirate and be instrumental in bringing the court back to the center.

I really don't understand why my friends on the left are so up in arms over Roberts, especially now. Moving Roberts from replacing O'Connor to replacing Rehnquist is a sign of Bush's uncertainty and weakness. The only thing they're sure of is that they can get Roberts through the Senate, and they can't take another hit right now.

With Roberts replacing Rehnquist, the stakes are upped massively for O'Connor's replacement. There will be huge pressure -- particularly from Republican women -- for another woman. The president may well pick his friend and co-architect of the White House's torture policy, Alberto Gonzales. If he picks Gonzales or someone like Priscilla Owen, the tides have shifted so much now that a Borking may not only be deserved, but actually possible.

Before Katrina, Republican moderates and mavericks (conservatives like John McCain and Lindsey Graham) never hesitated to flex their political muscle. Now they may be the GOP's best hope, and our government's as well, as that party will have total control until at least January 2007.

Hopefully it won't take nearly that long for us to get our act together.


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