Conservatives were near ecstatic last November when President Bush won handily and the Republicans strengthened their hold in Congress. Hopes were high that little could stop the implementation of a true conservative agenda, one that featured supply-side economic reform, investor-owned Social Security reform, serious budget restraint, large-scale energy deregulation, legal-abuse-curbing tort reform, and the confirmation of pro-business, pro-life judicial nominees.
But the hoped-for domestic-reform agenda has gone nowhere. Five months into Bush's new term, the president and the American people are witnessing a cycle of self-flagellation in pursuit of endless process debate inside the U.S. Senate.
The potential for high-minded policy reforms to fix entitlements and spur growth and prosperity has degenerated into a hopeless morass of name-calling, scandal-mongering, political-bludgeoning and relationship-breaking over the seemingly simple issue of giving the president's judicial nominees an up-or-down vote. Think of it as a new reality show called "Nomination." Problem is, America doesn't want to watch.
According to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress, while only 33 percent approve. Democrats receive a 47 percent approval rating while Republicans get only 40 percent. These are the worst polling data for the GOP since the eve of the Gingrich revolution of 1994.
It is not, however, a perfect poll. The party-labeling sample includes 41 percent Democrats and only 36 percent Republicans. After recent elections, any good pollster would prefer something closer to an even split. Still, 57 percent of Americans believe the president has different priorities than the nation, 55 percent think Republicans are out of line, and 48 percent say the Democrats have the wrong agenda.
The single biggest problem facing Americans today seems to be rising gasoline prices, with jobs and the economy following suit. Yet seldom does Bush even talk about energy. Another key issue of discontent is immigration. The president seems to want more of it, while the public clearly wants less. The threat of terrorism looms large here, as does the (unproven) threat of job losses to illegal immigrants. My hunch is mainstream America would like to see at least a temporary cap on immigrants, along with much stronger border controls.