United, Not Divided -- Against Bush

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The Los Angeles Times

United, Not Divided -- Against Bush

by
Rosa Brooks

You know you've got a problem when only the Albanians welcome you with open arms — and even then you need to take your watch off to keep them from stealing it.

This is what it's come down to for President Bush, a duck so lame he's nearly quadriplegic. Six and a half years into his interminable presidency, the whole world is sick of him.

American presidents used to make triumphal tours of Europe, where they'd be greeted by enthusiastic crowds. Bush's European trips bring out crowds too, but they're usually calling enthusiastically for his indictment.

Last week's presidential tour featured lots of protest and precious little adulation. In the Czech Republic, demonstrators greeted Bush with signs reading "Bush number one terrorist." In Italy, where more than two dozen CIA agents face criminal trial for the illegal "rendition" of terror suspects, tens of thousands of anti-Bush protesters took to the streets. At the Vatican, the pope took Bush to task over the Iraq war. Only in Albania did Bush receive a rapturous welcome — though video footage led to speculation that in the celebration an Albanian Bush "fan" may have relieved the president of his watch.

White House spokesman Tony Snow denies that the president got fleeced by his admirers. But let's be honest: Even if Bush made it home with watch untouched, it's not clear that wild enthusiasm from the Albanian public is something he should feel pleased about.

After all, the last time the Albanians showed wild enthusiasm, it was for the fraudulent Ponzi schemes that nearly destroyed their national economy. In the mid-1990s, two-thirds of the Albanian population got suckered into investing in get-rich-quick "investment companies." Built on trickery and empty promises, the pyramid schemes finally collapsed, leaving a shattered economy, millions of betrayed citizens and a discredited government.

Kind of reminiscent of the Bush presidency, actually.

Bush didn't return from his European trip to a warm welcome here at home either. The political left doesn't like him — not that that's anything new. The political center doesn't like him either: A new NBC/Wall Street Journal report finds that only 29% of Americans approve of the job Bush is doing, the lowest level of his presidency. Even on the political right (where most of the 29% of Americans who aren't yet sick of him reside), many have developed an acute case of buyer's remorse.

The GOP's Republican primary candidates are competing to distance themselves from Bush, and more and more conservatives are in open revolt. Some, like economist Bruce Bartlett, fume at the explosion of government spending under Bush. Others, like Sen. Chuck Hagel and a growing cadre of Republican foreign policy experts, are appalled by Bush's mishandling of the Iraq war and other national security issues.

Others, such as Richard Viguerie (conservative direct-mail pioneer) and former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr (the House's lead prosecutor during the Clinton impeachment), are so angry at what they see as Bush's constitutional abuses that they've started channeling (and in Barr's case, joining) the ACLU. "Since 9/11," they assert, "the executive branch has chronically usurped legislative or judicial power and has repeatedly claimed that the president is the law. The constitutional grievances against the White House are chilling." Even the three harpies of far-right punditry — Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Laura Ingraham — have denounced Bush's favored immigration bill as soft on illegal immigrants.

Oh yes, then there are the courts. Last week, judges in two of the administration's military commissions announced that the commissions lacked jurisdiction to try Guantanamo detainees. This week, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals — one of the nation's most conservative courts — gave Bush another slap in the face, declaring that "the president lacks power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain" terror suspects in the United States.

Then there are the military and defense establishments, which are increasingly taking positions opposite those of the president. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates thinks Guantanamo should be closed. So does former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Uniformed officers complain openly that Bush has broken the back of the military. And no one, including the generals charged with overseeing military operations in Iraq, seems to think that Bush's "surge" is succeeding.

I could cite more examples of people fed up with Bush, but … why bother? These days, when you announce that the Bush presidency has been an epic flop, you face a sea of nodding heads.

Come to think of it, there is one thing for which we should all give the president credit. Bush famously promised to be a uniter, not a divider — and at long last, he may have managed to keep that promise. Though there's still much that divides us, the nation and the world are increasingly united on at least one issue: We're sick and tired of the presidency of George W. Bush.

rbrooks@latimescolumnists.com

© 2007 The Los Angeles Times

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