Sunday, July 08, 2007

Emperor Bush unnerves Republicans

by Andrew Sullivan

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There is no one to continue Bush’s legacy, or even defend it: no incumbent, and therefore no credible sense of continuity. You can blame the two-term limit if you wish. But the impact is the same: a president with historically weak political leverage.

It doesn’t help that none of the Republican candidates can bring himself to defend Bush’s legacy – on Iraq, on the spending binge, the failure of social security reform, the collapse of immigration reform, the implosion of the religious right or the handling of Iran and North Korea.

Bush’s response, moreover, appears to have been a lonely, surreal retreat into a bunker of curious balm. He has been inviting friendly intellectuals to lunch to buck himself up. He has watched as key aides and advisers have left, and he has found it very hard to replace them. And he gets to read charming anonymous quotes in the press like this one in The Washington Post last week from “a senior House Republican”: “Our members just wish this thing would be over. People are tired of him. There’s nobody there who can stand up to him and tell him, ‘Mr President, you’ve got to do this. You’re wrong on this.’ There’s no adult supervision. It’s like he’s oblivious. Maybe that’s a defence mechanism.”

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...In some ways the Libby commutation and the immigration stance struck Washington a little like Bush’s doomed nomination of his White House counsel, Harriet Miers, to the Supreme Court in 2005. With Dick Cheney’s view of the presidency as an extra-legal body able to ignore domestic and international law if it so wishes, this is working a few frayed nerves in the capital.

The only thing Washington loves less than a lame-duck president is a completely unpredictable lame-duck president. They are scared that he could do anything, without real consultation. The Libby decision was made just like the decision to authorise torture: it was done outside the normal channels of government, blindsiding key aides, and shocking the establishment. If he did this once – and he has done it many times – he could do it again. And so, for all his failure and polling dive, he retains the capacity for surprise. Which is the capacity for relevance.

This is all he’s got left. The mighty power of the presidency, a predilection for sudden action, and absolutely nothing to lose. This lame duck, in other words, could quack or fly without warning. And Washington, for all its increasingly open contempt for him, is rattled by the possibility. They don’t know what’s coming; but they know they’ll have to adjust.

In this, perhaps for the first time, even Republicans are having a familiar experience. They now know what it’s like to be a European with this president. And they are longing for it to be over.

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