PLEASANTON, CA. — Pity Laura Lane Welch Bush. A solid Democrat who placed her ideological values in a blind trust when she married into the Republican royal family, she now has been forced by the collapse of her husband’s political fortunes into the most sordid of circumstances. The bookish Bush, who has devoted her tenure as First Lady to the gentle pursuits of promoting literacy and trying to smooth the jagged edges of her beau’s administration, has now been put to the task of retaining Republican control of the House of Representatives. As the sole person closely associated with the Bush presidency who is still approved by a majority of Americans, she alone can be dispatched to states like California by the most political White House in American history. She alone can try to execute the most serious electoral repair job a presidential administration has had to engage in since newly-minted President Gerald Ford ventured onto the campaign trail in the Watergate year of 1974.
These cannot be happy days for the First Lady, who spent the day before her 60th birthday on Saturday in the political purgatory that had to make her wonder about the compromises she has made in her life.
If the First Lady’s campaigning merely required her to attend literary lunches with the more genteel members of the Grand Old Party’s congressional caucus — Iowa’s Jim Leach, Wisconsin’s Tom Petri and the like — the First Lady could swallow hard and comfort herself with the thought that after Tuesday she will never again have to pretend to like Republicans.
But the genteel Republicans aren’t the ones who are in deep trouble this year. It’s the thugs who are being dragged down by frustration with the failure of Congress to check and balance the Bush administration’s war making, by the revelations of the pay-to-play politics of disgraced House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their minions, and by their own particularly wretched records.
Watching Laura Bush go through the motions of supporting some of the most disreputable political bagmen of the age has been this election year’s least attractive experience, and on Friday things turned downright ugly — Pombo ugly.
In this northern California suburb, the First Lady gripped a podium and squeezing out a pained smile as she discussed the dubious merits of seven-term U.S. Rep. Richard Pombo, a Republican congressman who is so wrong on the issues and so ethically-compromised that, even in a district tailor-made to reelect Republicans, he is having trouble closing the deal. If Pombo loses, it will be exceptionally bad news for the Grand Old Party, as his defeat would signal that even the hard work of the partisan map drawers who have corrupted the redistricting process to assure the reelection of even the most malignant incumbents has been swept away by a wave of anger over Republican misrule and misdeeds.