Karen Tumulty and Mike Allen write in Time that President Bush is looking for a new groove.
White House strategists believe they have ended the slide in Bush’s approval ratings, which lately have been topping 40% again. “It’s time for the Bush comeback story!” one coached TIME for this article. “The perfect storm has receded. We have better news in Iraq, oil prices are down, and Katrina has kind of fallen off the radar screen in terms of public concern.”
With that last sentence in mind, let’s crash ahead to the next paragraph:
The plan is to make January a critical month in what the President’s aides hope will be a turning-point year. The White House expects a quick victory on Bush’s Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, and the State of the Union speech will nod to big goals. But when it comes to fresh and concrete ideas, the list of what Bush will actually try to accomplish in 2006 is so modest that one bewildered Republican adviser calls it “an insult to incrementalism.”
He needs big goals? How about getting out of Iraq, finding alternative fuel sources, and rebuilding New Orleans?
White House advisers tell TIME that the agenda for 2006 is in flux and that senior aide Karl Rove is still cooking up ideas. But the initiatives they have settled on sound more like Clinton’s brand of small-bore governance: computerizing medical records; making it easier for workers to take their health benefits with them when they leave a job and–an idea that captured Bush’s imagination in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina–giving a boost to Catholic and other private schools as an alternative for inner-city children. While Bush still hopes to sign an immigration bill by summer and plans to talk a lot about the subject next year, his program to offer temporary legal status to illegal immigrant workers remains a tough sell with the conservatives in Congress.
I guess a manned Mars landing is off the table.
However improbable the odds at this point or modest his short-term goals, aides say, Bush still subscribes to Rove’s long-held dream that his will be the transformational presidency that lays the groundwork for a Republican majority that can endure, as Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition did, for a half-century or more. Once he gets past the midterm elections, Bush plans to introduce a concept that, if anything, is even more ambitious than his failed Social Security plan: a grand overhaul that would include not only that program but Medicare and Medicaid as well.
Well, let’s see — FDR left behind a legacy of programs and accomplishments that enormously improved the standard of living of most Americans. GWB will leave behind a legacy of devastation that will enormously undermine the standard of living of most Americans. Yeah, I see the connection.
If Bush is truly looking for a challenge, I say cleaning up his own messes ought to be Job One. It’s going to be Job One for the next several administrations; might as well get started now.
Bush is not the only politician in America looking for a raison d’Ãªtre. Ron Fournier writes for the Associated Press that Democrats are trying out campaign themes for ’06 and ’08.
Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has commissioned confidential polling and analysis that suggest candidates in 2006 and 2008 should frame their policies â€” and attacks on Republicans â€” around the context of community.
It seems to be the emerging message from a party that has been bereft of one.
Yet “this is not a new theme,” writes Fournier, who needs to make up his mind.
Fournier provides quotes from prominent Democrats. John Edwards:
“There is a hunger in America, a hunger for a sense of national community, a hunger for something big and important and inspirational that they all can be involved in,” Edwards, the party’s 2004 vice presidential nominee, told delegates at a weekend convention of Florida Democrats.
Gov. Tom Vilsack:
“What’s happening in this country is we’re losing our sense of common purpose,” Vilsack told Florida Democrats. “We’re losing a sense of community.” …
… “When we work together, when rely on one another, when we care about one another we remove the fear of sharing,” Vilsack said. “I believe the current administration and its polices is eroding the sense of community. This country’s two great things â€” the self-reliant individual supported by community â€” is what made the American dream … possible.”
Sen. Barack Obama:
Equating the GOP agenda for Social Security, public school vouchers and Medicare with “social Darwinsim,” Obama said the key to the nation’s success is striking a balance between individual and collective responsibility.
“It has to do with individuals,” he said, “but it also has to do with community.”
Not bad, but I’d like to see a little more old-time, fire-in-the-belly populism. I think people have grown weary of slogans and empty rhetoric, and they’re going to want to hear specifically and concretely how a Democratic approach to governance will differ from the Republican one.
Meanwhile, the original it-takes-a-village girl, Hillary Clinton, is attempting to tip-toe to the nomination so as not to be caught actually taking a stand anywhere. Dan Balz writes in the Washington Post,
At a time when politicians in both parties have eagerly sought public forums to debate the war in Iraq, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has kept in the shadows.
Clinton has stayed steadfastly on a centrist path, criticizing President Bush but refusing to embrace the early troop withdrawal options that are gaining rapid favor in her party. …
… Faced with rising pressure to join the intensifying debate over an exit strategy and Bush’s policies, the politician many think will seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2008 chose as her medium a 1,600-word letter outlining her views, recently e-mailed to constituents and supporters.
In the e-mail, Clinton took responsibility for her vote for the 2002 resolution authorizing Bush to go to war, while leaving open whether she would have opposed it, given what is now known about faulty intelligence and mismanagement by the administration. She pummeled Bush for his conduct of the war itself but left murky how long she believes U.S. forces should stay in Iraq. As she told Kentucky Democrats earlier this month, “I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit, and I reject an open timetable that has no ending attached to it.”
Pathetic. And pretty much why Democrats lost control of government, in a nutshell.