Start with Bush. Never at ease before the cameras, he now has the hunted blink and compulsive nasolabial twitch of the mad dictator, a cornered rat with nowhere left to run. Nixon looked the same in his last White House days, and so did Hitler, according to those present in the Führerbunker. As Hitler did before him, Bush raves on about imagined victories. Spare a thought for the First Lady, who has to endure his demented and possibly drunken harangues over supper. The word around Washington is that he’s drinking again. At this rate he’ll be shooting the dog and ordering the First Lady to take poison, which I’m sure she’ll have great pleasure in forwarding to her mother-in-law.
Certainly it’s hard to escape Bush’s voice. Every time I turn on the radio, there he is giving a press conference, or yet another bulletin on the great triumphs in Iraq (where the recent election produced utter defeat for the United States and total victory for Iran). There’s talk of a Bush bounce in the polls, though I tend to believe the usually reliable Zogby poll, which found on December 13 that after edging back up above 40 percent in November, Bush’s job approval rating was once again at 38 percent. I’m sure millions of Americans yearn to approve of Bush. He’s officially scheduled to be in the White House for another three years, and who wants a lemon in the garage that long? And indeed, the President does still have his die-hard fans, clustered in their places of worship in the remoter regions of the country. A mid-November poll by SurveyUSA found that in only seven states did Bush’s current approval rating even hover around 50 percent. These consisted of thinly populated states where sexual relations with livestock are still commonplace: Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi.
All the same, we’ve mishandled the situation. When Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and said, Mission accomplished, we all sneered. Wrong move. We should have applauded and said, Now leave! Same thing when there turned out to be no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We sneered again. We should have said, Great! America’s safe. Let’s quit while we’re ahead.
Now Bush is saying that the job will be done when Iraqis enjoy the democratic freedoms guaranteed Americans. We should say, They do! Bought news stories; secret surveillance of phone calls, e-mails and faxes; arrest without warrant; disappearances; torture–you’ve brought our democracies into sync. Call it a day, bring the troops home and then we can start impeaching you.
But who would do the impeaching? The Democrats have lost as much credibility as the President and the Republicans. Ever since the New York Times loitered a year late into print with its disclosure about the NSA spying program (only the latest in a sequence of unconstitutional infamies by that agency stretching back for decades, mostly against domestic political protesters), I’ve seen it argued that if the Times had gone with the story last year, Kerry might be President.
But if the Democrats had cared about the Constitution, they could have broken the story last year. Democratic Congressional leaders knew, because the whistleblowers from the NSA desperately tried to alert them, only to get the cold shoulder. Kerry’s prime advisers on such matters–Richard Clarke and Rand Beers–knew, because they’d previously been Bush’s top functionaries in the “war on terror.”
We’re heading into a year when the Democrats could be making hay by actually doing the right thing. If 2005 is a pointer, they never will. The latest evidence is that Rahm Emanuel, in charge of selecting Democratic Congressional candidates for 2006, is choosing millionaires and fence-straddlers on the war. He shunned Christine Cegelis, who nearly beat sixteen-termer Henry Hyde in 2004, and whom Illinois polls show to be a popular contender to succeed Hyde. But Cegelis has the disadvantage in Emanuel’s eyes of not being very rich and of agreeing with John Murtha on immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. So Emanuel picked Tammy Duckworth, who embodies the cynicism of the “Democratic strategists,” being a double-amputee woman Iraq veteran who is not from the district, has a hot-air position on the war and is thought to espouse a “pro-business/centrist platform.”
For years Democrats have been dreaming of having a bluff, no-nonsense type, preferably draped in medals, to lead them into political battle. They picked a clunker last year, in the form of Kerry, who had a glass jaw, six houses, a silly billionaire wife and an infinite capacity for talking out of both sides of his mouth. Along comes Murtha, once a Marine drill instructor at Parris Island, who is showing how to talk about the war, how to say it’s quitting time. And they flee him like a poisoned thing.
I watched Murtha put Bush away last Sunday. It was effortless.
WOLF BLITZER: Here’s what the President said this past week….He seemed to be addressing you specifically…
BUSH: Setting an artificial deadline would send the wrong message to our most important audience, our troops on the front line. It would tell them that America is abandoning the mission they are risking their lives to achieve and that the sacrifice of their comrades killed in this struggle has been in vain.
MURTHA: This is a real war; this is not a war of rhetoric. What the troops get disappointed [about] is they don’t have the equipment they need…. I found a shortage of 40,000 battle jackets that they didn’t have. That’s the thing that demoralizes them. And they know they’re targets. I was out at the hospital the other day, and I talked to a young woman whose husband had been to Iraq twice, wounded very badly, lying there in a hospital bed. She says, You know, he enlisted to fight for America, not for Iraq. The Iraqis have to do this themselves. That’s the answer to this whole situation.
So that’s it for 2005: no credibility for the President, or for the Democrats, or for the New York Times, which took a year to figure out whether the Constitution is worth fighting for. 2006 should be an exciting year. Let’s welcome it in.