Thursday, September 22, 2005

Bush Nears Tipping Point

There is a lot of hand wringing going on over in the GOP about President Bush's abysmal poll numbers, which are at the lowest point in his entire presidency. So, why are they so low?

There is, as with any president, an entrenched group that despises Bush and will never look favorably on anything he does. The problem for the president is that there is increasing disquiet among middle-of-the-road voters and among people who would usually be predisposed to favor Bush.

These are the people who (naively or not) took President Bush at his word when he ran on a platform of compassionate conservatism and fiscal responsibility. They take the war in Iraq and the problem of terrorism seriously. Unfortunately for them, the Bush administration doesn't seem to take much of anything seriously.

This is the administration, after all, that failed to adequately plan for a post-war Iraq and refused to provide enough troops to do the job. With each passing month, the shadow cast by that failure looms larger and is harder to ignore.

Some fiscal conservatives balked at the President's plan to go ahead with massive tax cuts even after the economic climate that made those cuts possible was obliterated by the post-9/11 recession. It turns out that these tax cuts were only a hint of the profligacy that was to come. Now that the budget deficit is enormous and cash is literally hemorrhaging out of the national coffers because of Iraq and Katrina (and, soon, Rita), the conservative establishment in this country is finally waking up to the disaster that the Bush administration has been for their ideals. Some brave conservatives, like Andrew Sullivan, have been sounding the alarm all along. Maybe now people will listen.

There's no question that Hurricane Katrina has a lot to do with the changing perceptions of President Bush. Budget wonks are freaking out about where the $200-odd-billion in disaster relief money is going to come from. It's getting so bad the there are Republicans in Congress actually willing to stand up and vote against legislation that Bush supports. It may sound pathetically inconsequential, but it wouldn't have happened a few months ago.

Beyond that, Katrina provided yet another opportunity to see how out of touch the president is. The lackadaisical federal response to the disaster made the Bush administration look impotent (or worse) and the subsequent scandal over the appointment of the utterly unqualified Michael Brown to head FEMA made it look incompetent if not callous.

After all of this controversy, one would think that the Bush administration would have learned their lesson, but it's business as usual at the White House. In his speeches, Bush always hits hard on the importance of taking threats to American security seriously. When it comes time to put that rhetoric into action, however, the president reveals how little he actually cares. At issue right now is his nomination of Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which is under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.

Myers, a 36-year-old lawyer with little immigration or customs experience, has been tapped to head an agency with more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion that is charged with stopping drug and weapons smuggling, human trafficking and illegal exports. The ICE is also America's primary defense against terrorists who have managed to sneak into the U.S. illegally. Bush is offering all of this to a woman who barely meets the legal requirements to hold the job and has never helmed a major bureaucracy before.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: "Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married [Department of Homeland Security Director Michael] Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday."

To their credit, many right-wing pundits have flipped out over this latest example of Bush's untimely cronyism. Michelle Malkin wrote a withering piece about it on her blog, calling the nomination a "monumental political and policy blunder" and a "bad joke." The editors of the National Review have written an editorial calling on Bush to withdraw the nomination.

It only stands to reason that Bush would value connections over qualifications when it comes to advancement in his administration because that's the only life he's ever known. Every job Bush has ever held—including his current one—has been given to him because of who he knows and he therefore understands nothing about earning a position through hard work and experience. Perhaps the conservative backlash will finally break him out of this protective bubble. It might be interesting to see what, if anything, is inside.

Of course, it bears mentioning that the conservative outcry against Bush is too little, too late. The abandonment of his supposed core principles has been obvious since the very beginning, but people in the GOP are only emboldened to criticize the president once he no longer has to stand for election. There's more than a whiff of political expediency in the air as politicians distance themselves from an increasingly unpopular president, hoping to minimize whatever damage there might be to their own political futures.

But the fact remains that the once-monolithic Republican party is starting to crack under the pressure of its leader's incompetence and the rest of the county is catching on fast. Maybe the right question isn't why Bush's poll numbers are so low, but why they're so high.
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