Saturday, June 02, 2007

President Bush and the Republican Crackup

Peggy Noonan's Saturday Wall Street Journal essay provides an interesting analysis of President Bush's decaying relationship with the GOP's base. Noonan argues that the administration's attitude toward the Republican base, when facing party criticism, has been, well, "too bad." On immigration the administration's feelings toward party voters is even more disdainful, particularly with the passage of last week's Bush-backed Senate comprehensive reform proposal:

For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome. You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in? Too bad! You don't like expanding governmental authority and power? Too bad. You think the war was wrong or is wrong? Too bad.

But on immigration it has changed from "Too bad" to "You're bad."

The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic--they "don't want to do what's right for America." His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, "We're gonna tell the bigots to shut up." On Fox last weekend he vowed to "push back." Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want "mass deportation." Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are "anti-immigrant" and suggested they suffer from "rage" and "national chauvinism."

Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens? And often, though not exclusively, concerned conservatives? It is odd, but it is of a piece with, or a variation on, the "Too bad" governing style. And it is one that has, day by day for at least the past three years, been tearing apart the conservative movement.

I suspect the White House and its allies have turned to name calling because they're defensive, and they're defensive because they know they have produced a big and indecipherable mess of a bill--one that is literally bigger than the Bible, though as someone noted last week, at least we actually had a few years to read the Bible. The White House and its supporters seem to be marshalling not facts but only sentiments, and self-aggrandizing ones at that. They make a call to emotions--this is, always and on every issue, the administration's default position--but not, I think, to seriously influence the debate.

They are trying to lay down markers for history. Having lost the support of most of the country, they are looking to another horizon. The story they would like written in the future is this: Faced with the gathering forces of ethnocentric darkness, a hardy and heroic crew stood firm and held high a candle in the wind. It will make a good chapter. Would that it were true!
Read the whole thing. Noonan goes on to make a major point in that the Bush presidential dynasty (Bush 41 and Bush 43) has squandered the Republican Party's promise coming out the Reagan presidency of the 1980s. I don't disagree with Noonan's argument. Although it is helpful to know Noonan's own administrative allegiances to President Reagan, as she was one of Reagan's speechwriters in an earlier phase of her career.

Also, for some contrast,
President Bush made the conservative case for the comprehensive immigration reform proposal in an interview yesterday with Kimberly Strassel in the Wall Street Journal (I think the president defends the legislation fairly well, but check it out for yourself).

But wait! While we're on the topic, don't forget all the discussion among the media cognoscenti on Time Magazine's recent cover story on the Republican crackup, "
How the Right Went Wrong." It's a great piece of journalism. The article quotes longstanding conservative direct-mail guru, Richard Viguerie, who argues that the GOP might as well write-off the 2008 election:

"I'm not focusing on 2008," Viguerie says. "Realistically, it will probably take until the year 2016" before the movement regains anything resembling its former glory.
Of particular media interest for the Time story was the photoshopped cover portrait of Ronald Reagan with a tear gleaming down his right cheek. Peggy Noonan even weighed in with her own two cents on the issue (she likes recall the magical Reagan moments, one can surmise).

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