Sunday, September 11, 2005

Signs of Weakness

Republican are famous for their loyalty and a lot of their success, since the Gingrich Revolution, can be attributed to their ability to defend their own, to attack the Democrats en masse and to take advantage of a fractured left. Of course, there are divisions within the right, too. There are people on he right who aren't happy when Pat Robertson says to kill Hugo Chavez. There's a secular right and a religious right, just as on the left you have staunch pacifists and economic liberals as well as hawks and free market liberals. But they've done a better job of keeping things together.

Katrina might have opened some wounds on their side, though. Remember, Bush's big strength in the 2004 election was that voters believed he would keep America safe from terrorists. But I think that what voters probably really meant is that he was the guy to handle any large scale disaster. Bush came out of 9-11 looking pretty good. New York's police, fire department and other agencies provided the cover by responding so well and the military handled the Pentagon. Shocked an appalled though we all were by the attacks, damage was localized, people near both attacks were taken care of, the government responded quickly at most all levels.

Four years later, Bush presides over a boondoggle. Republicans are loyal, but with the 2006 mid-term elections around the corner, Republicans who want their seatsin congress back now have to choose between saving themselves or loyalty to a President who has just proved himself and his administration as ineffective in the face of a major catastrophe. Robert Novak writes about some fracturing of loyalty here. Ed Kilgore of the Democratic Leadership Council expands on it here at Newdonkey.

Over course, there have been squabbles before. What they mean in terms of elections and the balance of power in a sharply divided America is entirely unclear. But I think that it does create an opportunity for Democrats, especially challengers from outside the government if they are willing to force Republican candidates for federal office to take a stand on Bush's ineffective government. It might win some elections. Remember, Democrat Paul Hackett nearly won a special congressional election in a highly Republican district, pre-Katrina, by forcing his opponent to defend Bush's inept handling of the Iraq war. If an unknown Democrat can come within a few percentage points of taking a Republican congressional district on a foreign policy issue, then I think it's fair to say that a domestic issue that speaks directly to security, is going to prove even more effective.

There is a chance here, I think. The 2006 elections are now far more competitive. In order to win some seats, it's going to be up to Democrats to really hammer away on Katrina and Iraq. These are two big issues, one foreign, one domestic, and both speak to Bush's former strength which was that he was once perceived as, for all his faults, as effective.

These little fights have a way os escalating.


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