The pendulum has swung, the Republican revolution is over, and every day the list of battered and retreating combatants continues to grow. This was a big week: Former House Speaker Denny Hastert and former GOP House Conference Chair Deborah Pryce announced their retirements. And, of course, "boy genius" and Friend-in-Chief Karl Rove, the general who was to consolidate all the Revolution's gains into a singular enduring triumph, cried uncle and announced that he, too, would leave the White House for the warmth of more time with his family.
Rove leaves before Labor Day, before the Petraeus report, before the president's new strategy in Iraq has had a chance to work, and before the Great GOP Realignment.
Exeunt Hastert, Pryce, and Rove.
There are a vast number of bumper stickers that celebrate the end of the Bush presidency -- "01-20-09: Bush's Last Day" or "01-20-09: End Of An Error" -- and the glee with which these stickers are displayed is completely at odds with the deep frustration out of which they initially came.
The collapse of Bushism is all the more remarkable for the veneer of invincibility in which it once cloaked itself, and the fear and timidity it once inspired in Democrats.
And in retrospect, I can look back and pinpoint the beginning of the end. The guesses and gambles with which the administration approached Iraq, and its mind-numbing lethargy and incompetence on Katrina are the depth charges that blew the façade apart. But it was Social Security that started the fire.
In the summer of 2005 Rick Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, was thinking about his own re-election campaign just over a year away. The president had been re-elected and had boasted about his intention to spend his newly earned political capital. Santorum, a two-term incumbent, hitched his wagon to that star and went on the road to sell and defend Bush's Social Security reform plan. But at one event at Drexel University in Philadelphia, he got hammered and, for all his certainty and bluster, came away looking like a loser.
It was the fist sign in my mind that Santorum might not get re-elected, that the president might get hammed on his Social Security plan, that the president might be in over his head, and that the whole gig might be up. The arrogance that the administration brought to its Social Security reform effort and the firm rebuff it suffered provided the first outlines of how the administration and its allies in Congress would eventually collapse under their own folly.
Santorum, of course, became one of the most conspicuous casualties last November when he lost his re-election bid by 18 points, the largest loss margin for a Senate incumbent in a generation, since George McGovern lost to James Abdnor by 19 points in the Reagan rout of 1980.
This week the man who so convincingly beat Santorum was doing his own summer swing through Philadelphia, discussing the ongoing failures of the administration.
Bob Casey, Jr., is just back from Iraq and talking about the heroism of the troops and the need to change course. He reminds people often that with more than 170 Pennsylvanians killed in Iraq, his state has suffered the third-highest casualty rate in Operation Iraqi Freedom -- sounds quaint, doesn’t it? "No American troops in history have performed better or more heroically," Casey said.
This is what you’d expect from a politician with a reputation for quiet caution that has sometimes made him seem invisible, especially in a class of freshmen that includes such outsized personalities as Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders.
But clearly George W. Bush and the failures of his administration have gotten under Casey's skin, and the quiet man from Scranton has found his voice.
"Every time you say stay the course, somebody pays the price," he says. He leans back in his chair and pulls his hands to his chest, his fingertips almost touching as if to hold the issue at the right distance. "The threshold question before the American people -- this week, after the Petraeus-Crocker report, six month ago -- is: 'Should the Bush policy remain in effect?’" Casey said. "... And I answer that question the same as I did six months ago. No, we need a change."
Whatever else he expects from the September progress reports, Casey expects that they will come with a "point of view" that reflects the administration thinking on Iraq. "This administration is very disciplined at keeping to the party line," he said, and of the upcoming progress reports: "Regardless of what they say, we need a change in direction."
My suspicion is that as things get worse in Iraq, more and more Republicans will simply head toward the exits.
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