About a year ago, to paraphrase one of the great Ethel‘s signature songs, everything seemed to be coming up roses, this time for the GOP. Despite tens of millions of dollars spent distorting his record and trying to defeat him, despite an MSM engaged in similar endeavors, the president won reelection comfortably while our party picked up seats in both houses of Congress. The economy continued to grow while the successful elections in Iraq on January 30, 2005, were a sign of success that even the naysayers, try though they might, couldn’t deny. And the president’s approval ratings were well above 50%.
Some conservative blogs were forecasting GOP gains in the House and Senate in the 2006 elections, then nearly two years away. Perhaps, it was because of the sense of overconfidence — as well as the bitter 2004 elections that the president, as Fred Barnes put it last month “ wanted to soften the partisan edge of his image and be more statesmanlike.” After an acrimonious campaign, the president intended to focus of governing and decided to eschew divisive rhetoric.
But, as yesterday’s Senate vote to close debate on the nomination of Judge Samuel A. AlitoJr., to the Supreme Court showed, some Democrats would rather attack him, his policies and his nominees than put forward policies of their own and work with him and try to effect compromises on a number of issues. Those twenty-five Democrats behaved yesterday — as many of them had all last year — as if they were still campaigning against him and the voters’ verdict in November 2004 meant nothing.
While the president put forward a positive agenda, the Democrats continued to campaign against him. He proposed Social Security reforms; they accused him of lying about pre-Iraq war intelligence. He turned away from such divisive issues as the constitutional amendment barring gay marriage; Democrats accused him of racism in his response to Hurricane Katrina. By last fall, with his poll number tumbling, he must have realized that (again to quote Barnes) that his “nonpolitical strategy was a failure. Democrats picked up on none of his overtures.” So, after Senators (as well as bloggers and columnists) questioned his choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, he needed a bold move in order to change his fortunes.
Like King Theoden hunkered down in the Keep at Helm’s Deep, the president rallied his troops by tapping Sam Alito for the Supreme Court. A few days later, on Veteran’s Day, after enduring months of unanswered accusations that he lied us into war, he again went on the offensive, with a speech responding to those dishonest critics and defending his decision. George W. Bush always seems to do better when he’s down.
Perhaps had he not been so complacent at the outset of 2005, the year might not have been as rough for him. Given what he learned last year, expect him to stay on the offensive this year, beginning tonight in his State of the Union address. With a bold vision — and some positive policy proposals, the president will make clear that he intends to build on the success of the Alito nomination. If the president, the Administration, Congressional Republicans and the party faithful follow through on a strong speech with unrelenting efforts throughout the year, 2006 could prove to be a good year not only for him, but also for our party.
The president should be grateful that Howard Dean, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi lead the Democratic opposition to his efforts. For, instead of countering his proposals with a positive agenda of their own, these Democratic leaders have focused instead on obstructing them. Instead of offering policies to address our nationa’s myriad woes (that is, the woes that they lament), they have accused Republicans of creating a “culture of corruption” in Washington. Instead of addressing the legal arguments and national security concerns of the National Security Agency (NSA) program to eavesdrop on the international communications of suspected terrorists, Democratic leaders contemplate impeachment hearings.
Some Democrats believe that lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s guilty pleas were the silver bullet they needed to defeat Republicans. But, the media — and the liberal blogosphere — is more interested in this scandal than the American people. Not only did it appear that officials from both parties were recipients of Abramoff’s ill-gotten largesse, but so far not a single Republican officeholder has been indicted. Noting that fewer than one in five Americans were following the story, John McIntyre of Real Clear Politics wrote that instead of being a silver bullet for Democrats, “Abramoff might end up being the narcotic that lulls them into a false sense of confidence and pulls them back from making the type of aggressive move that would put them in the position for a big election day” (via Powerline).
Perhaps, Democrats are pinning their hopes on Abramoff because another scandal, Watergate, netted their party a huge increase in House and Senate seats in 1974. Because of Nixon’s wrongdoing, it seems Democrats believe scandal, not ideas, is the best way to defeat Republicans.
What makes less sense, however, is their focus on the president’s defensible (on legal as well as national security grounds) of the NSA eavesdropping program. Although a number of leading Democrats have suggested the president violated the law, an overwhelming majority of Americans, including over 40 percent of Democrats support the program. By attacking the president on this, the Democrats make themselves appear even less serious on national security while reminding voters of one of the president’s strengths — where he polls well even when his other numbers are down.
If the Democrats were serious about governing, they would not challenge the president’s leadership on the War on Terror and would instead acknowledge his accomplishments there and thus make the issue a moot point in the 2006 congressional elections. Voters would not be worried that a Democratic Congress would undermine the president’s national security agenda, believing their representatives would support him there, while putting their efforts into a domestic agenda.
But, leading Democrats, their cheerleaders in the MSM and their scolds on the left-wing blogs, are so intent on attacking President Bush that they refuse to acknowledge that he was concerned with protecting our fellow citizens when he authorized the NSA program. And if the president offers a positive agenda tomorrow, the Democrats’ unrelenting attacks on this — and other programs — would stand in sharp contrast to the president’s leadership and could become the greatest boon for his party this fall.
As some Democrats ponder impeachment, John Fund (writing earlier this month in OpinionJournal’s Political Diary (available by subscription)) recalls how “the issue flopped for Republicans in the 1998 mid-term elections. . . . in part because voters felt Republicans were spending too much time attacking [then-President Clinton] rather than addressing other issues.” That year, despite predictions of GOP gains in the House and Senate, Republicans were the first out-of-power party to lose seats in a mid-term election in over seventy years.
A “smart insider” noted the potential similarity between 2006 and 1998 to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing that by focusing on scandal, Democrats “will repeat all of Republicans 1998 mistakes, but Republicans are on an earlier road to recovery than Clinton was at this point in January 1998.”
That road to recovery began when the president tapped Judge Alito to fill the seat of Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court. Provided President Bush follows through on the success of that appointment with an aggressive agenda, remaining on the offensive and answering Democratic accusations, he could help his own party build on its electoral successes in 2002 and 2004. His efforts in the past three months have shown him to be a determined leader, capable of such follow-through.
If the Democrats continue to focus on scandal without offering a positive agenda of their own, the American people will seee them as they saw Republicans in 1998, a party focused more on attacking the president than in offering solutions to the nation’s problems. Provided the GOP offers a positive agenda, Americans should once again recognize the GOP as a party capable of governing and will likely renew the GOP lease on the Capitol. It wouldn’t hurt if House Republicans elected new leadership on Thursday.
If President Bush, following in the footsteps of the greatest Republican of the last century, focuses on our hopes and strengths rather than our doubts and fears, things could once again come up roses big time for the GOP.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
UP-UP-UPDATE: Echoing one of the points I made in this post, Glenn Reynolds (AKA Instapundit) notes that while the Abramoff scandal is “primarily” a Republican one, “the more the Democrats try to pretend it’s nothing but, the worse they look. They can’t seem to help overplaying their hand every time.” Now, as Glenn himself might say, read the whole thing!