Another Missed Opportunity
A day after the White House tried to spin its sh*tburger lunch yesterday as a constructive way forward to resolve the Dubai Ports mess of its own making, the Washington Post’s Peter Baker comes forward with an analysis that calls into question the amount of political capital Bush has left.
When President Bush and senior adviser Karl Rove mapped out plans for a political comeback in 2006, this was nowhere on the script. Suddenly, the collapse of a port-management deal neither even knew about a month ago has devastated the White House and raised questions about its ability to lead even fellow Republicans.
The bipartisan uprising in Congress in the face of a veto threat represented a singular defeat for Bush, who when it came to national security grew accustomed during his first five years in office to leading as he chose and having loyal lawmakers fall in line. Now, with his poll numbers in a political ditch, the port debacle has contributed to a perception of weakness that has liberated Republicans who once would never have dared cross Bush.
Stanley Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who produced a survey this week suggesting Bush's public standing has been hurt by the port issue, said it may be too late to repair the schism between Bush and congressional Republicans. "I don't know how you put the genie back in the bottle," he said. "After five years of unwavering loyalty to the president, they've demonstrated they'll break with the president to save their own skins."
The port deal has provided ammunition to Democrats who have begun making the case more broadly that Bush is in over his head. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) yesterday called the port situation a "case study in the administration's incompetence," and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said the administration "was clearly asleep at the switch" and "bungled the oversight of this deal."
Oh there we are: the dreaded "asleep at the switch" attack. What a damning condemnation.
And then, as is typical in these analyses, there is at least one designated GOP consultant/pollster whose turn it is to take a shot at the White House:
"He has no political capital," said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster. "Slowly but surely it's been unraveling. There's been a direct correlation between the trajectory of his approval numbers and the -- I don't want to call it disloyalty -- the independence on the part of the Republicans in Congress."
"I never thought we would see a day when anybody would get to the president's right on national security," Fabrizio said. "They may have made chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. If the Democrats had been able to use this, it would have been horrible, horrible."
And therein lies the rub. Sensing that they were being pushed to the left on their sole reason for reelection this fall by their Dear Leader’s ineptitude and fealty to the almighty dollar for Carlyle Group and Halliburton, Congressional Republicans turned against the party leadership and the White House out of self-preservation in an election year and were able to push Dubai Ports World to spin off this venture to, for all we knows, Halliburton, and call it a victory. And they were able to do it without the Democrats cracking through the media blockade to establish themselves to the right of the White House and congressional GOP on the issue of domestic safety and security. Not only did the Democrats not get on the weekend chat fests to establish the Democratic line on port safety, ownership, and homeland security spending, but the Democrats weren’t even able to show voters what the hell the Democrats would do differently, except criticize Bush once again for falling asleep at the switch.
Ask any voter after today what the Democrats stand for on homeland security and improving our border and port of entry security, and see what answer you get. What you will hear is that congressional Republicans killed the Dubai deal and Bush got a black eye, but you won’t hear that Democrats favor nationalizing our ports. You won’t hear that Democrats favor a drastic increase in spending to strengthen our Border Patrol, Customs Service, or Coast Guard. You won’t hear that the Democrats want all cargo containers inspected that come into this country. You won’t hear that the Democrats want the top bracket income tax cuts to be rescinded to pay for homeland security upgrades. And lastly, you won’t hear that Democrats want the National Guard to be returned home from Iraq immediately to perform what they were intended to do: protect the homeland.
Why? Because the Democrats never advocated any of these things at all. Instead, they simply attacked once again like a room full of cats, all walking their own way towards the nearest camera, without one script, all in their own self-interest. And once again, it was all because Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi weren’t willing to designate one or two telegenic members of their caucuses to act as point persons on this issue to put forward the critiques and offer the Democratic alternatives over and over again. Sure, Chuck Schumer got a lot of airtime, but what did he say? And there was nary a peep from Reid and Pelosi blasting Timmeh for not having a single Democrat on “Meet the GOP” to talk about this. Yet even Timmeh thinks that Bush might be road kill now after this, and admits that GOP incumbents are scared to death about November.
Look, the Democratic leadership is content to take a pass on the NSA spying issue because the consultants think it is a loser this fall and will make the party look weak on national security. But the only way that abdication of political opposition can be countenanced is if the Democrats seize their real opportunities to show voters that they can be trusted on national security when things like this Rovian screw-up fall into the collective Democratic laps.
And yet Reid and Pelosi still blew this, thinking once again that it was enough to criticize Bush for ineptitude, while missing the real opportunity, which was to go after the record of this administration, and more importantly for November, this GOP Congress for shortchanging homeland security. Did you hear a single Democrat go after the House and Senate GOP leadership for abdicating their responsibility to provide adequate resources for port security, border security, transit security, chemical and nuclear plant security, or for allowing the National Guard to be hollowed out for Iraq? Me neither. Instead, it seems that Reid and Pelosi are content to run on the Medicare drug fiasco, the culture of corruption, and hopefully on the rubber stamp Congress angles without showing voters what the Democrats can do better on national security.
Did a single Democrat ask aloud why it seemed the Congressional GOP leadership spent more time and fury stopping the Chinese from buying Unocal than they did in stopping foreign management of our ports of entry?
Bush may in fact have been hurt by this debacle, but the Democrats missed another opportunity to go after their real targets this November: the GOP incumbents in vulnerable districts who will now claim credit for stopping this deal, without being held accountable for their votes the last five years that placed private gain over public interest and national security.
This man, and his party are vulnerable right now. The AP poll out today shows an approval rating down to 37%, with only 74% of Republicans supporting Bush's job performance. His budget proposal got shot down by his own party yesterday in the Senate. There are votes to be had in November, but to do that, Democrats need to make a case and close the deal when they get these chances. No, I am not arguing that Reid and Pelosi put forward their own Contract now, because 1) Reid doesn't want a Contract; and 2) even if he did, it is too early to do so. But when these opportunities present themselves to show voters how you are different and better on national security than the GOP, you have to seize them before the GOP recovery effort in the media and its collective short-term memory kicks in. What would be remebered from this debacle would be a Democratic call for significant homeland security/port-of-entry funding increases, paid for through returning to Clinton-era upper income bracket tax rates as a shared sacrifice for the wealthy towards our national security. What would be remembered is a Democratic call for returning the Guard from Iraq to perform the job they are here for: domestic security. What would be remembered is a Democratic call for considering the nationalizing of our ports, and even for federal control of our international airports, rather than letting the shipping and airline industry and Corporate America dictate how much security can be afforded.
But voters will remember none of those things from this mess.