Sunday, June 19, 2005

Monday's Must-Read

The analytical article that I predict will get the most "inside the Beltway" circulation tomorrow is Richard Stevenson's "Bush's Road Gets Rougher" in the New York Times. Stevenson quickly concludes that Bush's "political authority appears to be ebbing, both within his own party, where members of Congress are increasingly if sporadically going their own way, and among Democrats, who have discovered that they pay little or no price for defying him."

Some of Stevenson's conclusions are premature but I agree that "The cumulative effect of [the president's] difficulties in the last few months has been to pierce the sense of dominance that he sought to project after his re-election and to heighten concerns among Republicans in Congress that voters will hold them, as the party in power, responsible for failure to address the issues of most concern to the public."

Presidential historian Allan Lichtman gets the best analogy award: "Congress is like Wall Street - it operates on fear and greed. The Democrats don't fear [Bush] anymore, and they're getting greedy, because they think they can beat him. The attitude you see among Republicans in Congress is, my lifeboat first."

Another important paragraph is this one, in which Stevenson recognizes the limitations of his conclusions: "It is far too early to dismiss Mr. Bush as a lame duck. He remains exceedingly popular among Republicans, he has a skilled and aggressive political team around him, and he has had a way in the past of teasing full or partial victories from dire-looking situations. Even if he has to wheel and deal, he stands a good chance of signing an energy policy bill and a trade agreement with Central American nations this summer. But he has already had to postpone his next big initiative, an overhaul of the tax code. And barring some crisis that creates another rally-round-the-president effect, analysts said, Mr. Bush's best opportunity to drive the agenda may be past."

If that final phrase is true (and I think it's too early to say whether that's the case), it is entirely of the president's own doing. His scorched-earth, "my way or the highway" approach on everything from John Bolton to Social Security to Iraq to stem cells and beyond is what has not only made Democrats unwilling to capitulate to Administration demands, but has also driven away Republicans on issue after issue. A little good faith bipartisan compromise and open, honest discussion from the White House would go a long way toward cementing Bush's legacy as something other than a typical lame-duck second-termer.


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