This White House Be Saved?
April 29, 2003
By Martin Matheny
Remember where you were the day the statue fell in Baghdad.
It might prove to a historic moment in more ways than one.
Not only did it signal the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime,
it might also have foreshadowed the systematic unraveling
of the Bush administration.
It's too soon to tell, of course. With well over a year
until election 2004, Dubya isn't even close to entering the
kind of political tailspin that makes pundits salivate. But,
as the embedded reporters return to the land of Starbuck's
and infomercials, the media coverage is starting to pick up
on the Republicans' litany of foibles, faults, and fiascos.
The frightening part for the Bushies is that most of the
problems are coming from within. Taken by themselves, they're
minor events, little more than political oregano for a bland
news day. But, put them together, along with the others that
inevitably will happen in the next year and a half, and they
spell a definite hurdle for the White House, as American voters
shift back into domestic policy mode.
First of all, there's the new GOP polling memo by Bush's
pollster, Matthew Dowd. Intended to warn Republicans that
the President's poll numbers will probably soon prove to be
less than rosy, it also serves to lower expectations in the
media for the inevitable "horse race journalism" that will
follow the onset of primary season in 2004. The prediction
that the days of inflated approval ratings are coming to a
close does not bode well for Karl Rove and company, who plan
on using the spike in Bush's wartime numbers to push his domestic
Another issue coming to the forefront is the President's
rather overt scheme to reward certain well-placed corporate
donors with lucrative contracts to rebuild Iraq. The creation
of Halliburton-on-the-Euphrates is receiving more attention,
and outrage at these blatant tactics is growing faster than
the stock in Dick Cheney's blind trust.
However, the President's biggest problems are coming from
within. His handpicked Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist,
is not exactly the dealmaker that he was hyped to be. GOP
moderates like Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and George Voinovich (R-OH)
are bucking the party line and calling for a substantially
lower round of tax cuts. Many of them would prefer no tax
cut at all.
In a sure sign that the administration has gone too far
on restricting personal freedoms, even former Congressman
Bob Barr of Georgia has called the Justice Department out
on certain clauses of the Patriot Act. The most astonishing
thing about this is that Bob Barr, who has a reputation for
being slightly to the right of Barry Goldwater, has aligned
himself with the ACLU on this one. If this isn't a sign of
problems with the Bush White House, then it is a sign that
hell is about to freeze over. Either way, Bush, Rove, and
company should be worried.
Then you have the spate of bigoted remarks coming from Congressional
Republicans. Since the Trent Lott debacle, we've seen Barbara
Cubin (R-WY) imply that all African-Americans are drug addicts,
while praising the Aryan characteristics of her two sons.
We've also seen Rick Santorum (R-PA), the third highest-ranking
Republican in the Senate, equate homosexuality with incest,
adultery, and bestiality. In the days since his gaffe, Santorum
and the GOP spin-meisters have tried to blame CNN, John Kerry's
campaign manager, the United States Supreme Court, the Democrats
in general, and probably the man in the moon too. The only
ones that haven't been blamed are the man who said it and
the party that has taken a pass on reproving him for it. Needless
to say, the President's glowing endorsement of Mr. Santorum's
bigotry is not exactly compassionate, although it certainly
Finally, there is nothing the media loves more than a nice
"process story", where they can expose an inane and silly
mistake. Perhaps the best process story so far comes from
the GOP's transparent attempt to capitalize on September 11th
by holding their 2004 convention in New York City, and as
close to the anniversary of that infamous date as they could.
The problem is, President Bush is scheduled to accept the
nomination of his adoring party on September 2nd, 2004. Unfortunately,
that will be about two days too late to get on the ballot
in Alabama. With a Democratic majority in the State Legislature,
the chances of getting a later deadline in Alabama look about
as likely as, well, I was going to say as likely as Bob Barr
aligning with the ACLU, but let's just say, its highly unlikely.
So, can this White House be saved? Unfortunately, it can.
Most Americans are not thinking about November 2004 yet. There's
plenty of time for Dubya and the gang to run a damage control
drill, and keep new problems from coming up. But the next
Presidential election is not going to be decided by one huge
Watergate-style scandal. Smart Democrats are going to have
to pull down the wall of wartime invulnerability one brick
at a time. And for that strategy, this is good news.