The GOP's Broken Hammer

The photo on page 3 of The Washington Times was a metaphor for the Bush administration and the Republican Party.

It is a shot of the most powerful vice president in history, hunched over, gazing down, as he slowly mounts the steps of the White House, with the aid of a cane. But where Dick Cheney is recuperating smoothly from knee surgery, the administration appears in need of resuscitation.

The words of Claudius again come to mind: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions."

The charge by District Attorney Ronnie Earle of Travis County, Texas, that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay engaged in a "criminal conspiracy" may be a shot in the back from a partisan prosecutor. But that does not alter history.

Tom DeLay, the most powerful Republican in Congress, is the first House leader in a century to be indicted. And given The Hammer’s previous problems — three citations from the House ethics committee and reports of miles of first- class travel courtesy of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff — it is hard to see how DeLay recovers his luster or his power.

This same week, the ranking Senate Republican, Majority Leader Bill Frist, came under SEC investigation for his fortuitous sale, out of his blind trust, of his block of stock in Hospital Corporation of America, days before the shares sank on news of a bad earnings report. Frist claims he sold the stock to clear his portfolio of any potential conflict of interest, should he declare for president. But other Frist family members, who are presumably not declaring for higher office, also appear to have dumped HCA shares.

The Frist case is a simple but deadly serious one. Did he and his family, as insiders, use privileged information to unload their HCA shares on an unsuspecting public that took a bath when the HCA stock tanked?

Frist denies it. Thus, his integrity, credibility and career are all on the line. He will need a clean bill of health from U.S. investigators to remain viable as a presidential candidate. And even a clean bill of health will not stop cynical snickers that, by divine intervention, Frist’s blind trust miraculously recovered its sight — just in time to save him a small fortune.

A bedeviled Bush did not need this grief. His own White House already has ethics clouds swirling above: the investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA covert asset; the procurement chief at the White House, David Safavian, having just been collared in a land deal involving Abramoff; and charges of cronyism in naming "Brownie" and the boys to run FEMA.

Now, we learn that Ms. Julie Myers, 36, niece of Gen. Myers and currently betrothed to the chief of staff to Homeland Security’s Michael Chertoff, is to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is housed inside Homeland Security. All in the family.

Ethics clouds, cronyism, nepotism aside, Bush’s approval is at 40 percent. Social Security reform seems dead. Disapproval of Bush as a war leader is now two-to-one, and half the nation believes Iraq to have been a mistake and we ought to get out.

Pile on top of this the daily beating the president gets for Katrina, gas prices at $3.00 a gallon, Americans about to get the first bills for home heating oil, consumer confidence plunging to a two-year low, Bush’s refusal to deal with the border crisis and a GOP rebellion over spending, and you have the ingredients of a party uprising and a political tsunami in 2006.

All the news is not bad. The nomination of John Roberts as chief justice could, if supported by one or two more conservative jurists, be a crown jewel in the Bush legacy. And though Rita and Katrina hammered the Gulf Coast, threw the budget back into deep deficit and may knock a point off of GDP, tax revenues have been soaring at record rates.

Nor is Bush alone in encountering second-term turbulence. Nixon had Watergate. Carter did not get a second term. Reagan was knocked off stride by Iran-Contra. Bush I did not get a second term. Clinton got impeached. Yet, no taint of personal scandal has directly touched this president.

Moreover, if the Republican Party looks like the New York Yankees in disarray, the Democrats look like they have a mortal lock on the league cellar. On the war, the economy, the Supreme Court, they have nothing to offer but negativity.

The left seems to be as unhappy with its leaders as the right is becoming, and there is no third party out there, and no primaries in which to pick new leaders for two-and-a-half years.

Houston, we have a problem.


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