One of my late grandfather’s treasured possessions in the last years of his life was the Joey Adams Joke Book. It must have come out circa 1965, because it had a full complement of Goldwater jokes and Grandpa died in 1969.
At that time the Soviet Union was at its peak and I remember loving this joke. An American and a Russian were comparing notes about their societies. “Our country is so free,” said the American. “I can march right into the White House and tell President Johnson he is an idiot.” The Russian doesn’t blink. “Same here,” he answers. “I can march right into the Kremlin and tell Premier Brezhnev that President Johnson is an idiot.”
This is a perfect description of the political landscape in contemporary Washington over, say, the last twenty years. When a Democrat President wants to send a strong message to the people that he means business he marches down to Capitol Hill and tells the Republicans they are idiots. When a Republican President wants to send a strong message to the people that he means business he marches down to Capitol Hill and… tells the Republicans they are idiots.
So George W. Bush went to Albania where he is a hero with three stamps issued in his honor and a street named after him. The crowd thronged him with adoration. Some steel entered his spine. He decided he had been too passive at home. It was time to flex his muscles. To twist some arms. Show them who was boss. Be a man. A real man. A man’s man. A Texas kind of man. Armed with this new courage and resolve, he strode into the OK Corral at high noon. Then he shot his loyal sidekicks in the back.
Republicans may grumble about Bush, sometimes more loudly, sometimes more quietly, but when it comes to real fealty, they have been there. Their skin is being flayed and filleted over the Iraq War, they have lost their majority in both houses of Congress, they are being outflanked by Democrats in every area of popularity and fundraising, they are barely clinging to a life raft in hopes the troop surge will miraculously turn Iraq manageable.
Then an awful immigration sellout gets dumped on their table, full of everything the far left wants short of openly open borders. If it passes and is popular, Republicans will get no credit. If it passes and is unpopular, they will get blame. Their constituents are burning up the phone lines, angry at the bill in at least 3-to-1 proportions. The President, who has decided this bill is “good for America”, will now try to humiliate them into toeing his line. “I pray thee, mark me, that a brother could be so perfidious!” (Shakespeare, The Tempest)
You know what? I could swallow this sort of behavior, really I could, if I had seen it once, just once, turned against Democrats on some issue other than the war. I would like to have heard Bush say that the “campaign reform” bill was bad for America. Instead, he signed it and it made political campaigns drastically worse, with much dirtier money and influence coming in through the “527 loophole”. Somehow only the Republicans, when failing to dance to the Democrats’ tune on new entitlements, are tarred as putting narrow interests and biases above the welfare of the nation. Bull-oney!
I’m all for renewed presidential swagger in large doses. Nothing could be more riveting theater than Bush coming forward with an authentic Republican agenda and going to the American People to ram it down the throats of the Democrat Congress. You would see a pride among conservatives they have not shown, or even felt, since Reagan. Why not go for it? Dig deep and risk everything on a powerful agenda. Instead there is not one active legislative initiative from the White House at this time! All the bravado about Social Security reform and fundamentally altering the budget process has long been locked in the vault of the memory bank. So the only way to show muscle is to shoehorn Republicans into a Democrat straitjacket. In Texas they have a name for this kind of judgment; it is called “trading Sammy Sosa to the Cubs.”
Jay Leno joked the other night that Scooter Libby got off easy for a friend of Dick Cheney; his last friend got shot in the face. Hey, if I must get shot by a friend, the least I would expect is he doesn’t get me in the back.