I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A dying Presidency

(updated below)

George Bush's presidency is in deep trouble. He is vulnerable on every front, including within his own increasingly fractious party. While polls have long indicated that all Americans beyond his alarmingly loyal "base" have abandoned him, even that base is beginning to turn on him. None of his old tricks are working, and the new ones are backfiring.

As Taylor Marsh notes, a new poll by Rasmussen Reports (the polling outfit most trusted by Bush followers) was released today, and it contains not bad news, but panic-inducing news, for Bush and his followers:

For the first time ever, Americans have a slight preference for Democrats in Congress over the President on national security issues. Forty-three percent (43%) say they trust the Democrats more on this issue today while 41% prefer the President.

The preference for the opposition party is small, but the fact that Democrats are even competitive on the national security front is startling. In Election 2002, the President guided his party to regain control of the Senate based almost exclusively on the national security issue.

If Republicans don't have an electoral advantage on national security, what do they have? (To witness a little spastic panic from Bush followers, see here). And after two months of endless attacks on the President's lawless eavesdropping -- after which his approval ratings are pitifully low and Americans now distrust him even with regard to national security -- can we at least have those genius Democratic consultants stop announcing to the world that pursuing the NSA scandal will destroy the Democrats' electoral chances by making them look weak on national security?

And Rasmussen has very bad news for Bush followers beyond just this startling national security data. The lopsided disapproval of Bush by Americans which has long been reflected in every other poll is now reflected by Rasmussen as well:

Forty-four percent (44%) of American adults approve of the way George W. Bush is performing his role as President. Fifty-four percent (54%) disapprove.

Worse (for Bush followers), of the paltry 44% who approve of Bush's performance, only 23% strongly approve, as contrasted with the 38% who strongly disapprove. That means that not only do far more Americans disapprove of his performance than approve, but the disapproval is more intense and more strongly felt than is the approval.

At some point, won't it be difficult for Bush followers and their media allies to keep depicting Bush critics as fringe, deranged freaks, given that a solid majority of Americans are now Bush critics? And, as a corollary, won't it be equally difficult to continue to suggest that anyone who opposes Bush's policies on the war in Iraq or terrorism is a subversive and a traitor, given that this category, too, clearly includes a majority of Americans?

As the 2006 elections approach, Congressional Republicans are going to engage in increasingly strenuous efforts to show independence from this unpopular President by stepping up the attacks and defying the White House more and more. It won't work. The "Republican" brand has been marketed for the last five years as an indivisible, Bush-based product, and the only result which will come from their attempts to extricate themselves from the President to whose apron strings they have been so tightly attached is to increase even further the appearance of confusion, disarray and desperation.

There will be a temptation on the part of Democrats to simply sit back and watch all of this fratricide take place. And that would not be an unreasonable strategy. There is an old courtroom adage which advises that one ought to not get in the way when the other side is self-destructing. When one's adversary in a courtroom is digging himself a deeper and deeper hole with the judge, the last thing you want to do is interfere.

But now is not the time for passivity. Democrats need to step up the aggression now more than ever and take advantage of this wobbly, weakened President. Now is exactly when the Democrats need not fear anything. Americans have abandoned Bush. They no longer trust anything about him - not his integrity, his veracity or his competence. Not even his ability to protect them. And he will not even have Congressional Republicans to protect him, as they will be looking for ways to distance themselves as much as possible.

The absolute worst thing the Democrats could do now is follow the advice of the chronic loser Beltway consultants who excessively calculate every step and drain the life, principle and passion out of everything they touch. More than anything else, what accounted for Bush's popularity in the past (which is where his popularity lies) was the fact that he projected firm, resolute conviction about things that he espoused. It's time for Democrats to demonstrate that attribute as well. Taking an emphatic stand for the principle that the President does not have the right to break the law would be a good place to start.

UPDATE: The father of modern conservatism, William Buckley, may have been one of the people polled by Rasmussen. He announced today that our mission in Iraq has failed:

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. The same edition of the paper quotes a fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that “The bombing has completely demolished” what was being attempted — to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols. . . .

The accompanying postulate was that the invading American army would succeed in training Iraqi soldiers and policymkers to cope with insurgents bent on violence. This last did not happen. And the administration has, now, to cope with failure. . . . .

He will certainly face the current development as military leaders are expected to do: They are called upon to acknowledge a tactical setback, but to insist on the survival of strategic policies.

Yes, but within their own counsels, different plans have to be made. And the kernel here is the acknowledgment of defeat.

A few months ago, when Howard Dean said that he thought we would be unable to fulfill the mission in Iraq as Bush has described it, he was denounced as a traitor and Ronald Reagan's son urged that he be hanged -- literally. And yet, now we have William Buckley saying that our mission failed and it's time for Bush to acknowledge defeat. Will they hang him, too? Once we hang all the tratiors and subversives who have abandoned Bush, there sure won't be many people left.

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