Reality Bites

Reality Bites

Bush’s political capital can’t buy him support on the Iraq war and Social Security.


Even an Administration that denies reality sometimes has to confront it. And in recent days the Bush White House has run smack into assorted realities. So far the results have not been good for the Bush crowd.

On the two issues he has pressed most in his second term–the Iraq War and Social Security–George W. Bush has been challenged by Republicans eager for exit strategies for both. In mid-June two conservative House Republicans–Ron Paul and Walter Jones Jr.–joined two progressive House Democrats–Dennis Kucinich and Neil Abercrombie–to introduce legislation that would compel Bush to begin withdrawing US troops from Iraq by October 2006. This followed a decision in late May by five Republicans to join 123 Democrats in a vote that urged Bush to devise a withdrawal timetable. Congress is still far from an antiwar majority, but the GOP-controlled House International Relations Committee did vote 32 to 9 to call on the Bush Administration to produce a plan for Iraq that would allow the United States to reduce its number of troops there.

As the war proceeds with little indication of progress and the polls register more popular opposition, Republican members of Congress (with the next Congressional election fast approaching) have reason to be nervous and to seek distance from Bush, especially since the Administration continues to meet the bad news from Iraq with happy talk. Dick Cheney insists the insurgency is in its “last throes,” yet military officials predict years of a continued US presence. The Administration’s ever widening credibility gap is further cause for Republican unease. Senator Chuck Hagel, an influential Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, recently exploded, “It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we’re losing in Iraq.”

On Social Security, many Republicans have been unimpressed with–perhaps even frightened by–Bush’s leadership. The more he has talked up his plans for Social Security, the less popular his notions have become. Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans have so far failed to rally behind one Social Security proposal, arguing among themselves over privatized accounts and how to insure solvency. Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has been unable to steer the eleven Republicans on his panel toward a single plan. And House Speaker Dennis Hastert has indicated that he won’t proceed with a vote on a Social Security plan anytime soon–despite Bush’s wishes.

Every week there are more signs that Republicans are willing to buck Bush. When Bernie Sanders, the lone House Independent, introduced an amendment to reject a key provision of the Patriot Act, thirty-eight Republicans joined 199 Democrats to pass it. While it’s hardly a cause for rejoicing, House Republicans also defied Bush on the United Nations, rejecting a White House plea and pushing through a measure that would cut US funding for the UN by half unless it adopts several dozen specific reforms. And a number of Congressional Republicans have threatened to vote against the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which Bush wants.

After the last election, Bush, the choice of 51 percent of voters, claimed he had a wealth of political capital at his disposal. But his political capital could not buy him a less disastrous situation in Iraq or popular support for weakening Social Security or an end to stiff Democratic opposition to the troubled, and troubling, John Bolton nomination. And it can’t buy him the love of Republicans–particularly those facing re-election–who have started to fret over the political implications of his actions here and abroad. There’s a lesson here for the arrogant Bush crowd: Reality’s a bitch.

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