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The Republican Mystery

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By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The truly astonishing thing about the latest scandals besetting the Bush administration is that they stem from actions the administration took after the November elections, when Democratic control of Congress was a fait accompli.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' hour-long meeting on sacking federal prosecutors took place after the election. The subsequent sacking took place after the election. The videoconference between leaders of the General Services Administration and Karl Rove's deputy about how to help Republican candidates in 2008, according to people who attended the meeting, took place Jan. 26 this year.

During last year's congressional campaigns, Republicans spent a good deal of time and money predicting that if the Democrats won, Congress would become one big partisan fishing expedition led by zealots such as Henry Waxman. The Republicans' message didn't really impress the public, and apparently it didn't reach the president and his underlings, either. Since the election, they have continued merrily along with their mission to politicize every governmental function and agency as if their allies still controlled Congress, as if the election hadn't happened.

Clearly, they had grown accustomed to the Congress of the past six years, whose oversight policy towards the administration was "Anything Goes." But their total and apparently ongoing inability to shift gears once the Democrats had taken control -- with an oversight policy that could be summarized as "You Did WHAT?" -- is mind-boggling.

Democrats such as Waxman clearly had planned to hold hearings on the administration's hitherto-unexamined follies of the past six years. Instead, the most high-profile investigations they're conducting concern administration follies of the past five months, since they won the election.

And it's not just on the politicization of prosecutorial and administrative functions that the White House has been unable to change course.

The president's mega-failure, of course, has been his decision to plow ahead in Iraq, the verdict of the American electorate in November notwithstanding. More mysterious still has been the inability of congressional Republicans to change course on the war. Last week, just two Republican congressmen voted for the Democrats' bill to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2008. Yesterday, just two Republican senators voted for Democratic senators' bill setting a March 2008 deadline.

It's not as if congressional Republicans are particularly pleased with the conduct of the war. It's not as if the House Democrats' bill is unpopular. Polling released yesterday from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed 59 percent support for the bill compelling U.S. forces to leave Iraq by a year from August, with 61 percent support from independents, 34 percent support from Republicans, and 44 percent support from moderate Republicans. The roughly 1 percent support for the measure from House Republicans, then, massively underrepresents their constituents' -- even their Republican constituents' -- support for the bill.

More fundamentally, congressional Republicans were knocked into the minority last November because voters had sickened of their lockstep support for Bush's war. Clearly, they will be knocked a good deal further into the minority if that support continues.

So what are they doing to respond to this dire state of affairs? They're continuing their support. And they're continuing, in the Senate, to obstruct popular and overdue domestic measures such as a raise in the minimum wage, though polling confirms not just overwhelming support for that particular measure but also growing concern over the rise of economic inequality and a growing repudiation of the Republican positions on both domestic and foreign policy issues.

What gives with the Republicans? How have they -- not just in the White House but in Congress, too -- become so detached from reality?

There are, I think, four possible, partial explanations. The first is Rudy-ex-machina-- the hope that the party will nominate somebody who is not perceived to be part of their current mess and who will sweep them back into power no matter how big a hole they may now be digging for him. The second is a strategy to make it impossible for the Democrats to pass any legislation, and then run against the do-nothing Democrats.

The third is that the alternative reality conveyed by the Republican media -- Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and their ilk -- has created a Republican activist base that is genuinely not reality-based, and from which the current generation of Republican pols is disproportionately drawn. And the fourth, pertaining specifically to the inability of the administration to stop politicizing government, is that good government is just not in their DNA. Bush and Rove are no more inclined to create a government based on such impartial values as law and science than they are to set up collective farms.

Meanwhile, if you hear something go bump in the night, it's the Republicans, sleepwalking.

meyersonh@washpost.com


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