Bush on the edge

Posted: Oct 26, 2005 12:05 AM

President Bush is a lucky man. Seldom has a president found himself in more political trouble that he substantially has the power in his own hands to fix than does President Bush currently.
While the vagaries of the Iraq war are not likely to respond to any quick presidential actions, the president can promptly and dramatically reverse the growing alienation of his conservative base -- both in Washington and around the country.

 Those who claim that it is only Washington eggheads and activists who are disillusioned, misunderstand and underestimate the consequences of such Washington-based problems. The current Washington Republican negativity to President Bush is as a stone thrown into a lake -- it will ripple outward until it causes waves on the distant shores of the heartland.

 The problem is not merely with us obstreperous and self-important conservative columnists and pundits -- though even our unloved tribe can cause measurable damage.

 More importantly, the president is perilously close to duplicating the estrangement his father experienced from his congressional allies when G.H.W.Bush raised taxes in 1990. Just a year out from congressional elections, Republican congressmen and senators are in the process of making the practical judgment whether to distance themselves from the president to save their skins. I don't blame them. (After all, it's not as if he is currently championing their principles and policies domestically.)

 If they decide in the affirmative, their constituents will hear criticisms rather than support of the president for the next 12 months. The most dangerous time for any politician is not when his opponents say rude things about him, but when his own partymen do. They will start out respectfully disagreeing, but will build to more flagrant rhetoric as their Democratic Party opponents start raising and spending more money and start rising in the polls.

 The time for the president to bring his worried allies back into the fold is now -- and bold action is required.

 Of course no actions are without their dissents and downsides. But I believe four actions could rally the troops to a year of loyal and mostly principled partisan battle on behalf of their president.

 First, withdraw the unfortunate nomination of Miss Miers. Not only is there almost no enthusiasm for her nomination, I have never seen as much outright hostility and even anger at an appointment from a president's own party. Replace her with a highly qualified, full-blooded, proven conservative nominee (any number of his appointments to the courts of appeal will do).

 Then he can have a principled fight between conservatives and liberals (a debate that should break in his favor at least 60 percent to 40 percent nationally on the judicial issues), rather than the current idiotically unuseful fight between blind presidential loyalists and sighted presidential loyalists.

 Second, he should delay pushing for guest worker law changes -- and instead move full speed ahead with legislation and policies to secure the border. This must be more than symbolic actions and rhetoric. It should include serious proposals to dramatically render the borders non-porous.

 It should include tens of thousands more border guards, sensor technology, structures and stiff (i.e. criminal prison terms) employer sanctions against hiring illegals. When, as now, Democratic governors and Hillary Clinton have flanked a Republican president to the right on secure borders, it is manifest that both principle and political sense is not being exercised in the White House.

 Third, he should rally his base by fighting for serious budget cuts to offset the necessary increases in defense and disaster relief spending. While many congressional Republicans will not like this tough love, it will be good for them -- and for the national fisc.

 Fourth, political expediency requires him to get on the right side of gas prices. When the eye-popping third quarter oil company profits are announced -- he must jawbone the oil executives to start re-investing that money. If he doesn't, Republicans in Congress will. Regretfully (though incorrectly), even a majority of conservatives and Republicans around the country use the word price-gouging to describe current conditions.

 If the president were to make these four bold corrections, virtually his entire base would snap back to his side to do noble and fierce battle on his behalf. He would not only be substantially true to his party's principles, but he would move from about 40 percent to about 48 percent in the polls -- a critical increase.

 Oh, and one other thing. As I write this column, Washington is waiting "in hope or despair, depending on party affiliation -- for the special prosecutor to announce his indictment decisions. I truly hope that none of the president's aides have done anything to deserve criminal indictment. Some of them are my friends.

 But if any of their actions warrant criminal conviction, the president and his allies would be grievously ill-advised to minimize such criminal conduct or disparage the prosecutor. Perjury, if that is the charge, is a very serious felony. All the more so when committed by a person in high office.

 Neither the president nor conservatives generally should raise the Clinton defense. Any Republican who measures his integrity by the standards of Bill Clinton (and his disreputable apologists) is unfit for public office.

 If the worst happens, the president should make a clean break with such conduct -- and such people. He has three years left in his office. He owes it both to himself and to the country to take such actions as to make those years highly ethical and productive. The world is too dangerous for anything less.