Bush is now the embarrassing uncle the Republicans just can't hide
With the departure of Karl Rove, the stench of failure hangs over the president - and his party wants to ignore the smell
George Bush likes his sleep. While campaigning for the presidency in 2000 his prize possession was a feather pillow. On the night that Saddam Hussein was executed he went to bed at 9pm with strict orders not to be woken. When the then CIA director, George Tenet, tried to alert him to news of the first night's bombing of Iraq he was sent away. "He is the type of person who sleeps at 9.30pm after watching the domestic news," Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah told Okaz, a Saudi newspaper.Well that sounds about right.
So why is Karl really leaving?
Rove is leaving because there is nothing more for him to do; Bush is letting him go because he no longer has any use for him. His departure effectively marks the end of the Bush presidency - from hereon in Bush's tenure is about keeping the troops in Iraq and as many of his administration out of handcuffs as possible. Last week Fox News asked the neocon commentator Charles Krauthammer how much time Bush had to promote his agenda. "None," said Krauthammer. "It's over. There is no agenda."Of course there is one item on the agenda left. T postpone the inevitable ignominious withdrawal from Iraq until 2009.
The significant portion of his agenda that failed -
True, too, that the Iraq war is going badly. But then it has never been going well, and that has never seemed to bother him either. He has described himself as "the decider", but never "the contemplator". This too is his style.Yes, no matter how you long at it the Bush presidency has been a complete failure and it was inevitable that it would be.
In any case the Bush agenda was always more far-reaching than anything that can be accounted for by mere polls, war, or the loss of human life. The ultimate aim of his presidency was to realign American politics to cement a conservative electoral majority for a generation. The cornerstone of his domestic agenda was to build on the Republicans' traditional base of evangelists, southerners, white men and the wealthy, by winning over Catholics, married white women and a sizable minority of Latinos with a mixture of policies and pronouncements on immigration, homophobia, abortion and social security.
Bush did not create the partisan split in America; he inherited it, just as Al Gore would have if he had won the supreme court case in 2000. But while the split was broad (the difference was less than 5% in 13 states from New Mexico to New Hampshire), it was Bush who made it deep and rancorous.
For unlike Thatcher or Reagan he sought to achieve his ends not by exploiting division in order to forge a new, more rightwing consensus but rather to exploit new divisions in order to crush a growing consensus. The majority of the country was, for example, pro-choice and in favour of granting equal rights to gay couples in almost all areas. So the Bush administration chose to leverage gay marriage and late-term abortion - two issues that could act as a wedge - to rally his base. Crude in execution and majoritarian in impulse, it sought not to win over new converts but simply to mobilise dormant constituencies. His legacy will be rightwing policies - but not a more rightwing political culture.
So what do the Republicans do about that crazy uncle?
A sense of doom among Republicans is palpable. A growing number of Republican congressmen - most recently the former house speaker Dennis Hastert - have announced they are to retire, or are considering it. "Democrats will win the White House [and] hold their majority in the house and in the Senate in 2008," the retiring congressman Ray Lahood told the New York Times.The Bush cultists still own the Republican party. This presents a problem for Republicans. They can't distance themselves from Bush and win a primary and after the primaries it will be too late to distance themselves and win the election. The Republicans let the crazy uncle(s) in the door and it's now difficult to get rid of him(them).
There is even talk that Republicans might not invite Bush to their convention. "If they're smart, no," the Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio told Newsweek. "Especially if things don't change in Iraq, we'll have the problem the Democrats had in 1968 with Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. The question becomes: where do we hide the president?"
Well after the 2008 elections the Republican Party will have a chance to reinvent itself. There will always be 2010 and 2012.