Repub politicians still in Bush's pocket, but conservatives getting restless

Wednesday, March 08, 2006 at 04:53 PM

Two stories in today's news pretty well demonstrate the state of Republican allegence to Mr. Bush.  In one, it's obvious that Bush, although he's lost the ability to keep the Republicans in Washington in total lock step, still has enough clout to make them whimper "okay, Georgie" as to domestic spying.  But in the other, it appears that Bush's hold on unelected Republican conservatives may be tenuous, indeed, from the reported roasting he took at a forum sponsored by the Cato Institute.

In the spying story, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence simply caved:
Senate Republicans yesterday rejected a full inquiry of the domestic spying program that was secretly authorized by President Bush, but they said they would push to impose new limits on the administration's ability to eavesdrop on Americans' phone calls and e-mail messages without a warrant.

The Republicans also created a subcommittee of seven senators who will have access to "more details" of the wiretapping program in the future.

Before you get too excited about those "new limits"---

Republican leaders said they would act soon to limit unauthorized government surveillance of a terrorism suspect to an initial period of 45 days.

Then, the administration would have to get clearance from a special national security court or certify to the new subcommittee that seeking a court warrant would jeopardize national security.

And I'd just bet that the Bush administration, known throughout the planet as willing to attest to anything that helps it get its way, would never falsely "certify...that seeking a warrant would jeopardize national security."  It isn't like they've ever lied/exaggerated/distorted before on ssues affecting national security, right?

Who needs an investigation when a good cover story will do the trick?  I agree with the opinion of Bruce Fein, former Reagan administration lawyer who said "The White House could just decide not to tell them everything, and there's no sanction.  And the president can still claim that he has inherent power to conduct surveillance."

On the non-elected front, however, Mr. President didn't fare nearly as well, as described by Dana Milbank:

True, the small-government libertarians represented by Cato have always been the odd men out of the Bush coalition. But the standing-room-only forum yesterday, where just a single questioner offered even a tepid defense of the president, underscored some deep disillusionment among conservatives over Bush's big-spending answer to Medicare and Hurricane Katrina, his vast claims of executive power, and his handling of postwar Iraq.

[Bruce] Bartlett, who lost his job at the free-market National Center for Policy Analysis because of his book [Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy], said that if conservatives were honest, more would join his complaint. "They're reticent to address the issues that I've raised for fear that they might have to agree with them," he told the group. "And a lot of Washington think tanks and groups of that sort, they know that this White House is very vindictive."

Andrew Sullivan said of Bush and his crowd:

You have to understand the people in this administration have no principles. Any principles that get in the way of the electoral map have to be dispensed with.

Take the two stories together, and add in the extremely low polling numbers that George & Dick now pull.  Doesn't it look like the elected Republicans are falling several steps behind the tide of public opinion?  If so, why?  Is it just another case of "inside the beltway" folks underestimating the concerns of those outside the beltway?  Or are the federally elected officials simply afraid to join the exodus from the president's side, out of fear that the fire-breathing, two headed George-Karl monster might yet find a way to singe their butts if they start to run away?

I vote for the latter explanation.  These Senators know that the biggest of the big money is still riding the Bush gravy train of tax cuts, war contracts, reconstruction contracts, disappearing environmental regulations, and invisible regulatory agencies.

What we can seriously begin to hope for is that the corporate Bush backers will continue to whip the Senators and Representatives into line, while the ordinary voters drift ever further away, toward the 2006 elections.

I can hope.