The Man Without A Country
Befitting a man who was entering the chamber of a suddenly co-equal branch of government, George W. Bush began his 2007 SOTU last night with gracious words to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. His tone was absent much of the usual swagger, but his message on domestic issues was timid and five years too late, and his pleadings on Iraq were saddled by past failures and lies, and a lack of support from even his own party. He is a stumbling man grasping for a hand of assistance.
In the aftermath of 9/11, this president could have pushed through a major realignment of our energy policies under the banner of shared sacrifice, if he was so enlightened, rather than the defective proposal he made last night. Now, with Iraq dragging down his presidency, he wants to work with Democrats on energy independence as thousands of our troops die for oil; he wants to work with Democrats on expanding health insurance coverage through more tax breaks while the number of uninsured has hit new highs in a supposedly good economy; and he wants to work with Democrats on immigration reform when his own party has been the biggest obstacle. Yet he crafted these proposals in isolation, and dodged any proposals on entitlement reform while offering a health proposal that is a middle class tax increase, and faces a Congress he no longer controls and an American public he can no longer bamboozle.
I am glad to hear that the Democratic House leadership has extended, and the White House has accepted an invitation for Bush to address the House Democratic caucus retreat next week in Virginia, and Rahm Emanuel said all the right things about what that visit and last night’s rhetoric may portend for bipartisan action on energy, health, and immigration policy. But as Senator Jim Webb’s excellent Democratic response showed last night, the fate of this president rests on what happens in Iraq the next 3-4 months and what Bush does in response. All the Johnny-come-lately overtures on domestic policy from Bush won’t matter because Iraq is the albatross around the necks of this president and his party. As Howard Fineman notes, Bush wants Democratic company on his Slim Pickens payload ride downward, but he will find the ride a solitary one.
I was struck by the difference in analysis last night between MSNBC and the panel on the “Charlie Rose” show on PBS. As usual, Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough on MSBNC paid more attention to how confident Bush looked and how he gave a great speech in a difficult time, in other words they slobbered about style over political reality. But over on PBS, Charlie Rose’s panel of seasoned journalists and Washington operatives paid more attention to the political realities of a president six years into an administration prosecuting a disastrous war that has split his party, who is about to lose votes this week on bipartisan nonbinding resolutions against his foreign policy. All agreed that the domestic initiatives Bush put forward will be forgotten soon, replaced with the ongoing focus and hearings about Iraq, while the Congress waits to see if the surge works and if the dysfunctional Iraqis do their part. But according to Charlie Cook, with 2008 approaching for nearly two dozen vulnerable GOP senators, Bush is finished as a major force.
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