For one thing, the Democrats are perfectly capable of screwing things up even worse. For another, the White House's serial missteps of the past six years leave Americans vulnerable in ways that are not readily obvious but are pretty freaking diabolical, and I would much rather have the Bush legacy be mediocrity and not disaster.
No matter. We now have the specter (no, not you, Arlen) of Engineer George’s Mission Accomplished Express chuff chuffing ever faster down the track toward a crack up with an oncoming train, the Shit Happens Express. (More about that in a bit.)
Given this scenario, it is interesting in a voyeuristic sort of way to identify the Republicans who:
* Have jumped off the Mission Accomplished Express.
* Are undecided about whether to stay aboard.
* Are puffing on the last of their Jack Abramoff autographed stogies in the club car and show no intention of jumping.
There was just no way that this man with a frat boy smirk -- who had been propped up in everything he had done in life and still managed to pull off some stunning failures -- had the ability to drive the American locomotive into the 21st century. These are complex times and although he does not lack for smarts, Engineer George is a simpleton.
When I factored in Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle and Company, who would be stoking the firebox on the Mission Accomplished Express while George played engineer, the prospect of the coming years was downright terrifying. And that was before the 9/11 attacks.
Nevertheless, I was not prepared for the godawfulness of what has ensued, which is why the train wreck will be of such epic proportions:
* Failing to make good on a single campaign promise of consequence despite a compliant Congress and a post-9/11 mandate comparable to that given FDR after
* Pledging to reinvigorate the intelligence community to be able to meet the unprecedented challenges of the War on Terror, but instead presiding over a new generation of turf battles that have been led, in many cases, by hacks whose sole qualifications were their ties to the GOP power elite.
* Declaring an unprovoked war on a favorite pre-existing target of the Coal Car Cabal, thereby diverting resources from the real War on Terror and plunging the
into a quagmire that has cost nearly $300 billion, taken over 3,000 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and further destabilized the U.S. Middle East.
* Making a mockery of the separation of powers, fixating on secrecy to the point of obsession, and trying to rob Americans of their most fundamental civil liberties.
* Revealing that "compassionate conservatism" was merely a focus group-tested mantra through giveaways to the wealthy and attacks on the middle class, pandering to the religious right wing, and showing an appalling indifference to human suffering except when it could be used for political gain.
There may be a foretelling of things to come this week when the Senate votes on the first of a number of measures on
Then there’s the Watergate Precedent.
Beyond presidential wannabe Hagel, how many Republicans will try to avoid the third rail by not supporting Engineer George and might live to run another day?
How many Republicans will risk touching that third rail by supporting Engineer George and find their political future fried?
Dick Polman reminds us at American Debate that there has not been a mass defection of Republicans from a Republican president since 1974 when party faithful were riven by whether to continue supporting Richard Nixon as his impeachment drew closer:
"In the end, a delegation of Republicans, led by senators Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, trekked to Nixon’s office and told him that he had lost his party’s support, that the rank and file – forced to choose between loyalty to him, and loyalty to the ticked off folks back home – had chosen the latter."Engineer George is not facing impeachment, but guess what? Things are not nearly as simple this time around.
As Jacob Weisberg notes in a Slate essay, the stay on board-or-jump decision is not all that tough to make if you are a congressperson who faces re-election in 2008. People in "safe" districts stay on board. People who face tough re-election battles jump.
But it's a whole other bucket of coal if, like Hagel, you've got your eye on the White House. This is because your decision is predicated on being able to woo the conservative Republican base or be the last man standing after the other candidates fade.
I'll turn it over to Weisberg:
"This explains why the three candidates who face the most conservative skepticism—Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney—have all opted to endorse the surge idea. For McCain, it may be a matter of simple consistency. . . . But the value of support from the Bush-controlled party establishment isn't lost on McCain, either. Romney, who is attempting to be the favorite Mormon son of the party's evangelical base, wants even less daylight between himself and those on Karl Rove's speed dial. Giuliani, for his part, realizes that a Republican moderate cannot also be a Republican maverick.
" . . . There are two conservative presidential hopefuls, Sam Brownback of
and Chuck Hagel of Kansas , who have come out against Bush's surge. Their political calculus is more complicated still. Both Brownback and Hagel are second-tier candidates with limited national visibility. Their presidential opportunity arises only if those in the first tier falter. Thus, they need to differentiate themselves as strongly as possible.” Nebraska
Which brings us to the Shit Happens Express, the train hurtling down the track from the other direction.
Engineer George is frantically waving his bandana from the cab of the Mission Accomplished Express and leaning hard on the whistle, but the guys at the throttle of that other train include a rogues gallery that includes anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, a grab bag of Iraqi insurgents and
's ayatollahs. Iran
And they are paying him no mind.