He looked uncharacteristically dejected as he approached the lectern, fiddling with papers as he talked and avoiding the sort of winking eye contact he often makes with reporters. And then President Bush did something he almost never does: He admitted defeat.I have often wondered how Bush kept up his spirits during these last few years in office. The president and his administration seemed so confident, and their agenda marked an era of incredible ambition and confidence in American power and values. But things are falling apart. It's indeed fascinating to see how conservatives are jumping ship left and right, no doubt because the Iraq war has turned out to be more difficult than most had expected. Now this administration's certainly in lame duck territory, if it hadn't been already. We'll see more journalistic commentary on the collapse of the GOP, and the Democrats will be arguing that a new era of liberal, left-of-center politics has arrived.
"A lot of us worked hard to see if we couldn't find a common ground," he said an hour after his immigration plan died on Capitol Hill. "It didn't work."
It was, in the end, simply a statement of reality after the Senate buried his proposal to overhaul immigration laws. But for a president who makes a point of never giving in, even when he loses, it was a striking moment, underscoring the depth of his political travails. It took almost two years before Bush acknowledged, just months ago, that his effort to reshape Social Security had failed. Now he has surrendered in what was probably his last chance of securing a legacy-making second-term domestic victory.
The desultory appearance in a college hallway here after a speech on Iraq may have marked the death of ambition in Bush's legislative agenda. The paradigm shift that senior adviser Karl Rove saw after the 2004 election has now proved illusory. The Ownership Society that Bush promised to build in 2005 is rarely mentioned these days. Even the hope-against-hope optimism of finding bipartisan common ground after the 2006 elections has officially evaporated.
"Sand is flowing out of the hourglass," said Fred I. Greenstein, a Princeton University scholar on the presidency, who was struck by the gloomy tone of Bush's televised statement. "He looked much less like the kid on the cover of Mad magazine without a care. . . . He looked very angry and almost having difficulty getting the sentences out. That seems to me to contrast with some of the early stages" of his presidency.
I've blogged a lot on immigration, and I supported the recent Senate reform effort. The issue's one of the biggest policy challenges facing the country, and I don't think delay will make things any better.