Democrats are rightly disappointed that Francine Busby didn’t defeat former Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) to claim the seat once held by the disgraced and now imprisoned Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-Calif.).
It’s a solidly Republican district. But then, not many special elections are held with the former member of Congress already doing hard time in the slammer.
Yet whatever the success of the Democrats in exploiting it, we are still awash in signs that we’re deep into the baroque phase of the Bush GOP hegemony in Washington and across the land. Even before the voters get a chance to register their opinions on the matter, the uniform control the Bush White House has exercised over all three branches of government for going on four years has started to creak, shudder and crack at the seams.
Most notably, Hill barons rolled the president on the Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) raid. But it’s hardly the only example, and the White House’s pushback and effort to regain footing all has the feel of repeats and replays, the same ploys the White House has used again and again over the past six years, only now without the spark because the president is too unpopular to set the dark wheels in motion.
The president’s most cynical gambit has been his attempt to reignite the battle over gay marriage by calling once again for a constitutional amendment to ban it. The Bush clan has gotten a lot of mileage out of bashing gays, but at least in 2004 there was a little chronological logic to the effort. Massachusetts had legalized gay marriage. The mayor of San Francisco had begun issuing marriage licenses for gay couples. A fewer lower courts had weighed in on the question. There was real movement on the issue when the president decided to hoist his sail to these new winds blowing in the culture war.
Up until quite recently, however, the gay-marriage issue was relatively quiescent. Even the president’s partisans make little effort to conceal that the new effort was straight politics, an effort to rev up the base, or what we might call the Bush dead-enders.
Then there’s immigration.
Was a crackdown on illegals an issue for President Bush six years ago?
Two years ago?
Much more than two months ago?
Like Republican Pete Wilson back in his days as California governor, for President Bush illegal immigrant-bashing is the last refuge of scoundrels — and a gambit, like Wilson’s, that his party may rue for years into the future.
Not that there are no good arguments for limiting immigration or good people pushing to limit it. It’s just not the president’s issue. He’s an immigration-liberalization man, and always has been. Even today, he wants to be for both liberalization and crackdown. The storm that the reenergized immigration debate has triggered within the GOP is yet another sign of the president’s debilitating weakness.
The only angle the White House hasn’t tried yet lately is the thicket of terror alerts that seemed to come so fast and furious in the months leading up to the 2004 election, only to disappear without a trace once the president’s reelection was secured.
But maybe that’s coming too. On Tuesday, unnamed “U.S. officials” told CBS News that the arrest of more than a dozen Canadians in an abortive terror plot is “evidence that the U.S. will soon be hit again by a terrorist attack.”
“Privately,” the officials told CBS, “they’d be surprised if it didn’t come by the end of the year.”
Presumably, if the president doesn’t get back over 40 percent by the end of the summer, we should expect a return to the old litany of terror alerts and announcements. Perhaps the GOP majority on the Hill is the next front in the war on terrorism.
Much of this is old hat. We’ve seen it before in 2002 and 2004. But now it all has a feel of play-acting, going through the motions. It all has that “last days” feel.
For some time now, the ideology of the GOP hegemony has been reduced to one maxim and goal. Stay in power. Hold on. But even the passion for that goal doesn’t seem to be quite there.
Marshall is editor of talkingpointsmemo.com. His column appears in The Hill each week. E-mail: email@example.com
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