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Richard Rorty, RIP

A brilliant, humane scholar. A public intellectual in the finest sense, and a profound influence on the way I think about politics, long-time Nation contributor Richard Rorty has died.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rorty a few years ago and wrote one of my earliest pieces about a debate he had with Jurgen Habermas here in Chicago. Rorty had an uncanny ability to stare into the post-modern abyss, in which nothing is grounded in the divine or universal, and yet somehow, some way, find a kind of practical empathy that could serve as a beacon in the face of nihilism, authoritarianism and cruelty.

He will be greatly, greatly missed.

No Confidence in GOP to Challenge Gonzales

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has for some weeks been calling for a vote of "no confidence" in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And it looks like he may get one – or, to be more precise, the start of a process that could lead to one -- on Monday.

But don't bet that the Senate will hold the scandal-plagued Gonzales to account.

In fact, the real issue will be holding senators to account.

A no confidence vote of the sort Schumer proposes lacks the authority, official or even symbolic, that attaches to such votes in parliamentary democracies.

All Schumer's vote would really do is force members of the senate to go beyond rhetoric and actually cast a vote that says they have lost faith in the ability of this attorney general to manage the Department of Justice or to deal honestly with Congress. That might be enough to shame Gonzales into quitting, but that's assuming that the attorney general can be shamed.

This does not mean that Schumer, the Judiciary Committee Democrat who has been most aggressive in going after the high crimes and misdemeanors of Gonzales, lacks sincerity.

He believes that, "We ought to be doing everything we can to get a new attorney general" – which is, of course, right.

And he is motivated by more than mere animus toward Gonzales. Schumer recognizes that, with the attorney general in full bunker mode and with top staffers and career attorneys quitting the DOJ at an unprecedented race, "No one is running the [Justice] Department."

The crisis created by Gonzales has spun out of control. Even conservative Republicans in the Senate recognize it, as they do the fact that only the departure of a lawless and dysfunctional attorney general will begin to set things right. "The bottom line is the only person who thinks the attorney general should remain attorney general is the president," say Schumer. "He's gotten virtually no support from even Republicans in the Senate, just a handful have supported him, six have called for him to step down, a dozen more have said very negative things about him."

Unfortunately, the petty partisanship that characterizes George Bush's Washington is all but certain to take the wind out of Schumer's no-confidence push. The White House is aggressively lobbying against it. And most of the Republicans who have criticized Gonzales -- including Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, who so pointedly told the attorney general to resign -- say they won't support Schumer's efforts to schedule a formal Senate vote on the question of whether the attorney general retains the respect of the chamber that approved his nomination to move from the White House to the Justice Department.

To schedule the no-confidence vote, Schumer will need the agreement of 60 senators to invoke cloture, which would limit debate and bringing the resolution to a vote. Getting to 60 votes in a Senate with 49 Republicans and a several White House-friendly "Democrats" is unlikely.

But the cloture vote will show where senators stand at a point when the Justice Department is in disarray. Do they want to fix things, or are they more interested in playing the political games of a White House that could care less about maintaining basic functioning within Justice?

If Republican senators who admit that Gonzales is a disaster were to do the right thing, this could be a turning point. Though a no-confidence vote carries no official sanction, if the Senate were to simply schedule such a vote, the attorney general would be forced to respond with something more than his usual doubletalk.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, has said that he thinks the response to the mere threat of a no-confidence vote would be a resignation. Referring to the prospect of "a forceful, historical statement" of no confidence, Specter says, "I think that if and when (Gonzales) sees that coming, that he would prefer to avoid that kind of an historical black mark."

Unfortunately, the signals at this point suggest that Republicans who have told Gonzales to leave will prevent the "forceful, historical statement" that is needed to prod the attorney general. As a result, the Senate and House Judiciary committees will be forced to continue the painstaking pursuit of the additional evidence – which the White House refuses to hand over – that will end Alberto Gonzales' reign of error. And the crisis at the Department of Justice will continue to metastasize.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Curbing Corporate America

Corporate and CEO profits are at an all-time high. The richest 1 percent in America posses the wealth of the bottom 95 percent combined. Companies deploy hundreds of lobbyists and spend millions of dollars courting members of Congress to win legislative favors. The presidential election in '08 promises to be the priciest in history, largely underwritten by big business and top dollar donors.

Whatever one thinks of Ralph Nader, his critique of how corporate America has come to dominate American politics seems more and more prescient. "The countervailing forces to corporate power have been in decline for the last 25 years," he says. Today Nader kicked off a three day conference on the subject of "Taming the Giant Corporation" at the regal Carnegie Institution in Washington.

The discussion couldn't come at a more pressing time. "There have never been as many exposes of corporate scandal in the progressive and mainstream media as there is today," Nader says. "And there has never been less impact to these disclosures."

The public certainly isn't satisfied with the status quo. In an April CBS News/Gallup poll, 59 percent of the public said life has gotten "worse" for middle-class Americans over the past ten years. Sixty-six percent believe that money and wealth "should be more evenly distributed" in America.

Yet there is often a disconnect between the views of the public and the actions of elected officials. Take the example of immigration reform, which failed to clear the Senate last night. Politicians and the media largely argue over whether the bill provides "amnesty" for illegal immigrants, while missing the larger point.

"What the immigration bill was really about was corporate America's ability to import low-skilled and high-skilled workers to keep wages down," says Warren Gunnels, a senior policy advisor to Bernie Sanders who spoke in the Senator's absence. High-skilled workers brought in on H-1B visas are paid, on average, $25,000 less per year than American workers, according to Gunnels. And last week, while Dell and IBM and Motorola and others claimed that they couldn't find Americans to take these jobs, those very companies laid off thousands of employees. So Sanders sponsored an amendment, along with Republican Charles Grassley of Iowa, to limit the number of H-1B visas to companies that are concurrently laying off workers. It never reached the floor.

In The Nation two years back Nader proposed "How to Curb Corporate Power." It should be required reading for the Congress.

Hillary vs. Labor, Round II

Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, is becoming a liability for her campaign. Following the publication of The Nation's article, Hillary Inc., the heads of two large unions wrote a letter to Clinton, first noted in the New York Times this week, expressing their displeasure that Penn's PR firm, Burson-Marsteller, was helping corporations block union organizing drives, including one their unions were involved in at Cintas, a highly profitable uniform and laundry supply company.

After the Times story, the two most important labor leaders in America--the AFL-CIO's John Sweeney and SEIU's Andy Stern--also contacted the Clinton campaign. According to AFL-CIO spokesman Steve Smith, "Sweeney had a conversation with the campaign and registered his concern about Mark Penn."

As a result, two days before Hillary is to speak before an AFL-CIO forum in Detroit, Penn is trying to draw separation from his company's anti-labor work, telling The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder that "he will cede all oversight responsibilities for his company's labor relations clients to other managers."

A few weeks back Penn told The Nation that he had "never personally participated in any antiunion activity." He said today, via email, that he is "sending a clear message that I have no role in this and as a matter of conscience will not."

Penn's statements raise the question: how does one recuse themselves from work they claim not to be doing?

"The logic of the question has considerable merit," says Harold Ickes, a longtime Clinton advisor and ambassador to organized labor. "Mark has told us that he is taking extra steps to assure people on the outside that he does not engage with clients that may be involved in controversial issues. The phrase 'Chinese wall' has been used."

Ickes predicts rival campaigns will use the anti-labor connection against Clinton. "You don't want to have attention deflected from the candidate," he says.

The Clinton camp believes it has put the matter to rest. "Mark is a extremely valued and vital member of our team and Hillary is pleased that he has not done this work in the past and will be recusing himself from any possible involvement in the future," says Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson.

Yet some labor officials hoped Penn would go much further, taking steps toward terminating B-M's "labor relations" division or at least ending the contract with Cintas. Neither will occur, nor is Penn taking a formal leave of absence from the company. He's also not distancing himself from the money the "labor relations" wing brings in and the other controversial clients B-M represents in the defense, pharmaceutical and energy industries and the Republican lobbyists he oversees.

Penn's "recusal" must thus be seen as a classic case of PR spin; a phony gesture that fails to address the underlying problems or the reasons prominent labor leaders are upset with Clinton's campaign.

California: Iraq War Referendum Advances

California voters could become the first in the U.S. to formally demand that U.S. troops be pulled out of Iraq.

By a 2 to 1 margin on Wednesday, the state senate voted to place a referendum on troop withdrawal on the February 5 primary ballot. Numerous townships and cities throughout the country have already voted for withdrawal -- but this is the first time the question would ever be put up statewide. And in this case, in the most populous state in the country.

The measure written by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata and passed 23-11 along sharp party lines. The bill now moves to the Assembly where it is likely to win approval and then must be signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. So far the governor has taken no position on the matter -- but his signature on the bill could set off a firestorm inside the GOP.

"That war is costing California dearly," said Perata, D-Oakland. "We have contributed the lives and blood of more than 340 Californians. Not a week goes by on this (Senate) floor when a member, Republican or Democrat, stands up to memorialize a fallen soldier, sometimes as young as 18 years old."

A Field Poll in April found that 72 percent of California registered voters disapprove of Bush's handling of the Iraq war and 59 percent felt there should be a specific timetable for the withdrawal of troops.

 

Frustrated With Bush and the Democrats

Only one in five American voters believe the United States is heading in the right direction, and the overwhelming majority of them have lost confidence in President Bush to right the country's course.

Unfortunately for Democrats, the voters appear to be in the process of losing confidence in the opposition party to do much better than Bush.

According to the latest Associated Press/Ipsos poll, a mere 21 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. was on the right track.

Bush's approval rating, which had trended modestly upward earlier in the spring, fell back to the all-time low for AP/Ipsos surveys: 32 percent. And the number of Americans who expressed satisfaction with president's handling of the Iraq War is at just 28 percent.

That's bad news for Republicans, but it is not particularly good news for Democrats.

Americans are actually more dissatisfied with the direction of the country than they are with the president.

Translation: The Democrats who are in charge of the Congress have not created a sense that they are turning things around.

In fact, with their failure to effectively challenge Bush's management of the war in Iraq, their struggling with issues such as health care and immigration, and their inability so far to hold Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to account, Congressional Democrats are starting to look to a lot of Americans like part of the problem.

Congress still gets higher marks than Bush -- 39 percent approval in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, 35 percent approval in last month's AP/Ipsos survey. But the numbers have declined as it has become clear that Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are unwilling to hold their ground in confrontations with Bush regarding the war and a host of other issues. And the messy, often confusing and increasingly bitter debate over immigration reform won't help.

What's happening is that the Democrats in Congress, who as recently as April maintained a dramatic approval rating advantage over Bush -- 24 percent better in ABC/Washington Post polling -- have essentially lost their advantage.

Why are Democrats falling in the public esteem? According to a smart analysis by ABC News Polling Unit director Gary Langer, "In terms of their overall approval rating, the damage is almost entirely among people who strongly oppose the war in Iraq. In this group 69 percent approved of the Democrats in April, but just 54 percent still approve now -- a likely effect of the Democrats' failure to push a withdrawal timetable through Congress."

There is no evidence to suggest that the decline in Democratic fortunes will benefit Republicans. And Democrats still do a good deal better than the GOP when voters are forced to choose between the two parties. But the dual-disenchantment factor ought not be underestimated.

The intensity of enthusiasm for the Democrats is dwindling. And the decision of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to give Bush a blank check to pursue his war of whim is a big factor in the shift.

Rather than accepting the mandate of the voters to stand in opposition to the Bush-Cheney administration, Pelosi and Reid have in the eyes of a growing number of Americans made Democrats the partners of the president and vice president.

Defenders of Democratic leaders argue that this is an unavoidable circumstance because of divisions within the ranks of the party's House and Senate caucuses.

But that excuse does not appear to be cutting it with voters. Nor does the suggestion that pushing for a bring-the-troops-home time line will identify the Democrats as being weak on national defense; 53 percent of those interviewed for the Washington Post-ABC News poll -- a new high -- said they do not believe that the war has contributed to the long-term security of the United States.

It is said that the problem with contemporary policymaking is that too many politicians "read the polls." But perhaps the problem is that Democrats aren't reading the polls closely enough.

The voters are sending a message, and it is every bit as powerful as the one they tried to send when Democrats were given control of Congress last fall.

If Congressional Democrats don't get this message, and adjust their approach on Iraq appropriately, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could soon find themselves pulling even with Bush in the disapproval sweepstakes.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

Bush in "Fantasyland"

Last month's failed missile defense test was categorized as a "No Test" by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The target missile didn't fly into range of the interceptor so it was never launched.

Even though it was deemed a "No Test" by the MDA, an agency spokesman nevertheless claimed that the results of "the failed test underscored the need of the US to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar station in the Czech Republic as a defense against potential missile attack from Iran…. It showed that any missiles that Iran launched could similarly go astray and land in Europe even if Europe was not Iran's target."

Huh?

Welcome to what Joseph Cirincione – senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of the new book, Bomb Scare – calls, "This week's episode of President Bush in Fantasyland."

"President Bush is rushing to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist," Cirincione says. "Iran is at least 5 to 10 years away from the capability to build a nuclear weapon and at least that far from having a missile that could hit Europe let alone the US. And anti-missile systems are still nowhere near working despite $150 billion spent since the 1983 Star Wars program started and years of phony tests staged to demonstrate ‘progress' and ‘success.'"

None of this has stopped Bush from continuing to tout his Czech Republic and Poland-based "proposed missile defense system designed to thwart a possible nuclear attack from Iran." Adding to the irony (and the outrage) is the fact that while Bush continues to frame the weapons system as indispensable to democracy – "This is aimed at a country like Iran… so they couldn't blackmail the free world" – the people of the Czech Republic and Poland continue to oppose the plans (as I initially reported here). Recent polls show that over 60 percent of Czechs are opposed and only 25 percent of Poles support the missile defense plan.

The mayor of the Czech village of Trokavec where the radar site would be located recently held a referendum and 71 of 72 votes were cast against the plan. The mayor of Stitov, Vaclav Hudec, and "most of" his village's 58 residents "are bitterly opposed" to the radar site. Hudec wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd outlining the opposition of "nearly two dozen" Czech mayors to the missile defense plan.

"This is a crisis of our own making," Cirincione says. "President Bush so fervently believes in something that doesn't exist that he jeopardizes – again – our real security interests. The fact is the Czechs don't want the radar, the Europeans don't trust his explanations and deplore his unilateralism, the Congress has already cut the funds on purely programmatic grounds. This was a dumb idea before, now it is yet another foreign policy disaster."

All of this for a system Cirincione says isn't important to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who view these programs as "expensive pet rocks."

"The Joint Chiefs were happy to cut this budget as soon as Presidents Reagan and Bush left office," he says. "In 1993 they formally wrote President Clinton and recommended spending only $2.8 billion with $2.3 billion of that devoted to short-range defenses." (We currently spend in the range of $10 billion per year.)

And while many in the mainstream media swallow the Bush Administration talking points on Russian President Vladimir Putin as if once again being spoon-fed pre-war intelligence, other experts on arms control and foreign policy suggest Putin has real reason to worry about the Bush Administration's moves.

In The Rise of US Nuclear Primacy, published in Foreign Affairs last year, Keir A. Liber and Daryl G. Press wrote: "… the sort of missile defenses that the United States might plausibly deploy would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one – as an adjunct to a US first-strike capability, not as a stand-alone shield. If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with a tiny surviving arsenal – if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile-defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes…"

Cirincione adds that he thinks Putin's response is a "clever gambit."

"There is a reason Russians are the best chess players – they know how to read the board and exploit their opportunities," he says. "President Putin thinks the US policies represent a new imperialism. Now, he sees President Bush trying to build permanent military bases on Russia's borders. Putin isn't afraid of 10 interceptors but he has to worry about what comes next – any Russian leader would. He doesn't believe President Bush and many Europeans don't either. This issue feeds into the mistrust of America that Europeans feel on a host of Bush Administration policies from global warming to Iraq."

So why is the Bush administration imposing this sucker of a weapons system that nobody wants on an already inflamed relationship with Russia? Why risk sparking a renewed nuclear arms race?

"Politics drives this deployment decision," Cirincione says. "Bush Administration officials are trying to lock in the program before they leave office. They are trying to build bases they hope the next president will find impossible to shut down."

Thank you, Mr. Bush. One more relic from your Fantasyland we could do without.

UPDATE: Today, Putin stated that he would not object if the radar-based system wereplaced in Azerbaijan instead of the Czech Republic. He didn't commenton the issue of the interceptors being placed in Poland.

Putin noted, "… as soon as a country, for instance,Iran, carries out its first test of its long-range missile… Three tofive years will be necessary… until the system is operational. Thistime is fairly enough to deploy any ABM system. Therefore, no matterhow long our talks are going on, we will never be late…. I'm gratefulto the President of the United States for a constructive dialoguetoday."

"Brilliant move by Putin," Cirincione said in an e-mail. "He isbasically doing to President Bush what Bush is trying to do to theEuropeans on global warming: offer a counter proposal that appears tobe constructive but has the effect of delaying the entire process andmoving it in a completely different direction. Moving the radar toAzerbaijan both solves some of the Russian military concerns--as theradar will not be able to track Russian ICBMs from that site--andRussian geostrategic concerns by placing any radar in a country muchmore in their sphere of influence…. Better, the talks about where tosite the radar will take months. Putin could well play out the clockon Bush's presidency. But how can President Bush refuse to talk? Isn'tPutin doing exactly what President Bush had asked--that is, talk aboutcooperating on anti-missile systems? If he does refuse, he will lookeven more the aggressor, eroding what is left of hisadministration's credibility. President Bush has fallen neatly intoPutin's trap. They may have to invent a new name for this gambit."

Surgeon General Nominee's Gay Fascination

Bush's nominee for surgeon general, Dr. James Holsinger, has come under fire this week for his anti-gay politics (first documented by Bible Belt Blogger Frank Lockwood). By day Holsinger teaches health sciences at the University of Kentucky where he was chancellor of the Chandler Medical Center. By night, however, the good doctor is a bible-thumping Reverend with a degree in biblical studies from Asbury Theological Seminary and a seeming fascination of antipathy towards homosexuals.

Holsinger founded the Hope Springs Community Church, a "recovery ministry" that caters to alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts and those seeking to "walk out of that [homosexual] lifestyle," according to its pastor Rev. David Calhoun. When not busy endorsing ex-gay conversion therapy, Holsinger served on the highest court of the United Methodist Church where he voted to remove a lesbian pastor from her position.

And today, the Human Rights Campaign released a document Holsinger authored in 1991 as a member of the United Methodist Church's Committee to Study Homosexuality. Titled Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality, Holsinger's religious tract-cum-scientific paper is a fascinating window into the perverse imagination of homophobia. In essence, Holsinger argues that male-female "reproductive systems are fully complementary" because "anatomically the vagina is designed to receive the penis." The remainder of his paper is a graphic account of the "delicate" rectum which is "incapable" of "protection" if "objects that are large, sharp, or pointed are inserted" into it. From there Holsinger continues to discuss what he imagines are the pains (and pleasures?) of anal sex, from "fist fornication" and "sphincter injuries" to "lacerations," "perforations" and "deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism."

Sharp objects! Deaths seen in connection with anal eroticism! Gadzooks! Now, I've been around the block one or ten times, and I don't know any gay men who have put scissors up their ass, much less died from it. Of course, the barely mentioned but palpably anxious context in which Holsinger connects "death" with "anal eroticism" is the AIDS epidemic. And it should come as no surprise that his paper was part of a larger, pseudo-medical, moral discourse in which gay men's mode of sex (and by extension gay men) were blamed for AIDS - the death we deserved, the sexual suicide we courted.

The flip side of Dr. Holsinger's lurid speculation is the dangerous presumption that because heterosexual sex is "natural," it is safe -- safe from HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases and the trauma and injury that Holsinger seems so feverishly eager to attribute to gay anal sex. We now know, tragically and beyond any possible doubt, that heterosexual sex is not safe unless one practices it as such. And no amount of wishing and praying by our next Surgeon General on the "complementarity of the human sexes" will make it so.

A few years after Dr. Holsinger wrote his little brief against male-male anal sex, then Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders suggested, at a UN Conference on AIDS, that masturbation might be taught to young people as a mode of reducing sexual risk. On this point she was absolutely correct, but for even daring to mention the M-word, she was lampooned by the Christian right and eventually asked to resign by a cowardly Bill Clinton who, in retrospect, might have paid more attention to Dr. Elders and spent less time inserting foreign objects into inappropriate places.

But no matter. The doctor who gave sound, clinical medical advice was fired, while the doctor who engaged in wild, graphic and unsubstantiated fantasies about gay sex will most likely assume the helm as "America's chief health educator." And you wonder why we have a health care crisis in this country.

GOP to Bush: Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate was, for the most part, a polite affair. Candidates frequently spoke of how much they agreed with their opponents. They acknowledged that, despite differences on issues as fundamental as abortion rights, they would back one another against any Democrat in November, 2OO8. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took the wind out of his mild criticisms of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Senator John McCain when he kept referring to his fellow front runners as "my friend."

But the candidates did not go entirely soft when it came to taking partisan potshots.

There was one Republican who suffered a trashing: George W. Bush.

When the candidates were asked how they would "use" the outgoing president in their administrations, the responses were breathtaking.

Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, an outspoken foe of the Bush administration's immigration policies, told the story of a call he got from White House political czar Karl Rove during a dust-up on the issue several years ago. Tancredo said an angry Rove told him to "never darken the door of the White House."

"I've been so disappointed in the president in so many ways," said Trancredo, who complained about the administration's immigration, education and prescription-drug policies before asserting that, "As president, I would have to tell George Bush exactly the same thing that Karl Rove told me"

Yikes.

That's not a policy difference. That's hate.

But even the Republicans who supposedly like Bush played the president's failures for laughs.

What may have been the best line of the night came when first-term Bush Cabinet member Tommy Thompson referenced his former boss's lack of diplomatic skills in his reply to the what-do-you-do-with-Bush question.

"I would certainly not send him to the United Nations," said Thompson.

Speaking of the Bush administration, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services told the Republican-leaning crowd at the debate in the first primary state of New Hampshire: "We went to Washington to change Washington. Washington changed us."

At least Thompson said "we."

The other candidates were less generous.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Bush "bungled Katrina," suggesting that not just the president but the Republican Party "lost credibility" when White House failed to respond quickly or effectively when a deadly hurricane struck New Orleans in 2005.

Running down a long list of Bush administration failures, Huckabee said of the mid-term election thumping the party took in 2006: "We didn't do what we were hired to do and the people fired us. The Republican Party as a whole deserved to get beat."

McCain agreed. "We let spending get out of control," he said of the Bush years. "We presided over the largest increase in the size of government since [Democratic President Lyndon Johnson's] Great Society. And our constituents and our Republican [backers] became dispirited and disenchanted."

What of Bush's signature issue: the Iraq invasion and occupation?

Both McCain and Romney said the commander-in-chief blew it early on.

"I think we were under-prepared and under-planned for what came after we knocked down Saddam Hussein," explained Romney.

McCain, who made the amazing admission that he voted to authorize Bush to attack Iraq without reading the National Intelligence Estimate of risks associated with the invasion, said, "This war was very badly mismanaged for a long time."

The crowd at New Hampshire's St. Anselm College, which was made up of Republicans and independents who said they expected to vote Republican in next January's presidential primary, repeatedly applauded the banging on Bush.

Even Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a favorite target of the other candidates at the last GOP debate, received a remarkably warm response when he scored the current administration for adopting a policy of preemptive war making.

"We in the past have always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid of somebody," he said. "But now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war -- we have rejected the just war theory of Christianity," the anti-war congressman said of a president who regularly references his Christianity.

"We have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights."

The audience burst into applause for the Republican who was bashing Bush before Bush bashing was cool.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"