An Overplayed Hand

When you are in power one of the hardest lessons is learning to say, “Enough!” As Bush said shortly after his election last year, “I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.” He, like the four new Republican senators and the handful of new Republican congressmen, read way more into their electoral victory than was evidenced by the facts.

Bush, for example, claimed, “I’ve got the will of the people” when in fact he scraped by with a bare majority: 51 percent to 48 percent. 51 percent is not a mandate. In electoral votes, it was 286-252, the closest electoral college result in modern American history, despite running against the most liberal member of the U.S. Senate. 60 percent, maybe, is a mandate. 51 percent is not.

What about those new Republican senators? Democratic incumbent and former minority leader Daschle lost to Thune in South Dakota, a very red state, by two points. In Florida, Martinez wins by two points too. North Carolina: Burr wins by five. Republicans did better in the Deep South, winning decisively in Georgia, Oklahoma, Louisiana (after a runoff election), Oklahoma and South Carolina. But there were also some Democratic surprises. While Obama’s victory in Illinois was not in doubt, gathering 70% of the vote is stunning. And the red state of Colorado appears to be trending blue, picking mainstream Ken Salazar over Peter Coors by four points.

So the 2004 election was essentially about getting the power without really having the mandate. A more astute party would use the opportunity to cement their power through moderate choices. But instead the President in specific and the party in general have dramatically overplayed their hands.

Seizing the reins of power must be addictive. It must be hard to think clearly when you can get pretty much what you want. Not much else can explain the stunningly bad choices made by the Republicans lately, and their inability to grasp the seriousness of the situation. By about a three to one margin Americans are appalled by the attempts by the President and Congress to intervene in Terri Schiavo’s case. Today’s Washington Post-ABC News Poll is one of many that should tell Republicans they are in serious trouble. Bush’s approval rating is at 47%. Only with the war on terrorism does he gets more approval than disapproval. (This still surprises me, based on how badly it was bungled.) On his handling of social security he has 64% disapproval. When asked which party better represents voters’ personal values Democrats lead Republicans by nine points.

When asked whether the Senate should “go nuclear” (changing Senate filibuster rules to make it easier to confirm Bush’s judges) 66 percent oppose the change and only 26% approve. Clearly majority leader Bill Frist isn’t paying much attention to polls. Instead he is courting Christian conservative voters, wackos like this guy:

Putting more evangelicals on the court will mean rulings more in tune with the religious convictions of churchgoers, said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

“We are not asking for persons merely to be moral,” Mohler said. “We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Meanwhile, over in the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Tom Delay puts in a new Ethics committee chairman who is his personal friend and tries to change the rules to make it harder to kick him out of power. He finds nothing wrong with his numerous ethical problems, despite being thrice admonished by his own Ethics Committee and despite this Washington Post article, which demonstrated that his 2000 trip to London was paid for by lobbyists. What an irony that “The Hammer” Delay was one of the boatload of Republican congressmen elected in 1994 in the Gingrich revolution. It was Gingrich’s Contract with America that promised term limits. That clearly failed to materialize. The Contract also promised lots of other things including reining in a government: “too big, too intrusive, and too easy with the public’s money.” And here we are with a government far more grandiose than any Republican could conceive in 1994. But most ironic of all, the Contract called for “restoring the faith and trust of the American people in their government.”

Instead we get tyrannical politicians nominated for the United Nations, extremists judges renominated for the federal courts, and anti-citizen legislation like the new bankruptcy law that screws the average American yet does nothing to require that creditors stop handing out credit cards like they were candy.

My sense is that Republicans have dramatically overplayed their hand. Rather than representing mainstream values they have shown they demonstrate extreme values. It is clear that they pander to corporate interests, not the people’s interests.

And the irony is I find myself cheering them on. Keep up the good work. Keep denying your ethical violations, Tom Delay. Keep chatting with Christian Conservatives like the weird Tony Perkins at the so-called Family Research Council, Bill Frist. And yes by all means try your “nuclear option”. This time the Democrats won’t be seen as obstructionists. Instead it will be clear which party is really outside of the mainstream and which party really stands for the average American. And thank you George W. Bush for nominating some of the most controversial people in the Republican Party for your top posts. By all means keep pressing for “personal” social security accounts. With every out of the mainstream move the opposition grows and ordinary Americans rethink their choices. They can see the Republican reality at last and it is not pretty.

Republican cannot see it, but the handwriting is already on the wall.

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