Saturday, June 11, 2005

Politics as Unusual

President Bush's "clout appears to be ebbing," said Ron Hutcheson in The Philadelphia Inquirer. Pundits are still debating whether Republicans or Democrats got the best of the bipartisan compromise last week that averted a "showdown" over seven of President Bush's judicial nominees. But with the compromise guaranteeing that just three of the seven judges will be approved, it's clear who lost: The president himself. In his first term, Bush's popularity ratings reached a historic 90 percent, and there was virtually no program or policy he couldn't ram through a compliant Republican Congress. But just months into his second term, Bush's approval ratings have sunk into the 40s, with the public dismayed by his Social Security reform plans, his opposition to stem-cell research, and the Iraq war. With moderate Republicans defecting, the president may lack the power to reshape the U.S. Supreme Court or push through other critical elements of his agenda. Bush's second term, said presidential scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, is "looking like an hourglass with the sand running out."

But don't be so sure, said Carl Cannon in The Washington Post. In temporarily staving off all- out war over judicial nominees, seven Republican senators may have made a truce with seven Democrats, but Bush didn't. "He does not like the way Democrats talk about some of his nominees," most of whom are personal friends. Sooner or later, a fuming Bush will wreck the fragile, centrist compromise on judges by sending the Senate a new group of "ultraconservative" nominees. And when a Supreme Court vacancy or two opens, you can be sure that his picks will drive liberals up the wall.

Let's hope so, said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. In 2004, Americans elected a Republican Congress and a Republican president. But, thus far, Democratic obstructionists have tied up Social Security reform and John Bolton's nomination as U.N. ambassador, blocked several of Bush's appeals court nominees, and preserved their ability to filibuster his Supreme Court nominations. "For this we elected Republicans?"

It was almost inevitable, said Howard Fineman in Newsweek. Politics "moves in cycles," and Republicans have been ascendant for 25 years. Under George W. Bush, conservatism "reached its zenith," as he and 9/11 managed to forge the GOP’s libertarians, corporate interests, and evangelical Christians into a dominant coalition. But gaping holes have appeared in Bush's "Big Tent." Libertarians and corporate chieftains are dismayed by Bush's profligate budget deficits and his evangelism on abortion and other social issues. Evangelicals feel "betrayed" by the Republican party's unwillingness to wage political war against gay marriage and abortion. Moderates such as Sen. John McCain have seized the momentum. When we look back at this moment years hence, "will we see it as the moment when the tide of conservative Republicanism crested?"

Nothing wrong with a little political moderation, said John Avlon in The New York Sun. The "ideological elites" of the extreme right and extreme left prefer war to an uneasy peace. But most Americans are pragmatic centrists, and they're thoroughly sick of partisan bickering, especially when it nearly brings the government to a grinding halt. A new Harris poll says that 79 percent of Americans now favor moderate politicians, and more than 80 percent say we need more "who are willing to vote independently rather than strictly along party lines." That's why the 14 Senate moderates have emerged as a new force in Washington. But can the moderates prevail on a playing field titled toward the extremists? Only if the American public makes it clear that it, too, stands in the center.
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