Monday, January 15, 2007

Reading: Frank Rich and the Republican Party's desperately needed "Goldwater moment"

I was working at a piece on this general theme a few months ago, but then--as so often happens--the outrage over today's events overtook the outrage over yesterday's events, the idea got shelved for a few days, then indefinitely, and there things stood until this weekend.

As I was writing up the post at the time, it itemized several events that had recently taken place:

1. McCain et al. pushed through a piece of legislation, with a rare burst of bipartisan support, outlawing torture by US forces. After losing the fight against it, Bush signed it into law, along with a presidential signing statement saying he considered himself able to disregard any parts of the law he disagreed with.

2. Bush claimed that general section 3 of the Geneva Accords--the part with the pesky rules against torture and inhumane treatment--is "vague" and needs clarification. For 60 years this section of the Accords has been clear as a buttonhook in the well water, but now this Umberto Eco of the far right thinks it can only function with his clarifying assistance.

3. McCain et al. were close to pushing through a measure that would, yet again, ban the use of torture and inhumane treatment, and Bush, once again losing control of the vote in the Senate, now claimed he supports the bill. He did not renounce the use of torture nor was there indication that he will consider himself any more bound by this law than by the other laws that he's undercut with signing statements.

Where I was headed was that it was time for Bush and the Republican party to have their "Goldwater moment." Around the beginning of August, 1974, a delegation of the most respected members of the GOP congressional leadership, led by Barry Goldwater, trouped over to the White House to plead with Nixon to resign before the pending articles of impeachment came to a vote. You can decide for yourself who among the Grand Old Men of the Grand Old Party might possibly fit that bill today, but the point I was headed for was that the only group whose opinion might possibly sway Bush from his course at this late date was the Republican leadership, imploring him not to take the party down with him.

Of course, torture, end-running the Geneva accords, signing statements--that's all so 2006.

Several failures and many scandals later, the argument was all the stronger when Frank Rich made it yesterday:
The question now is how to minimize the damage before countless more Americans and Iraqis are slaughtered to serve the president's endgame of passing his defeat on to the next president. The Democrats can have all the hearings they want, but they are unlikely to take draconian action (cutting off funding) that would make them, rather than Mr. Bush, politically vulnerable to blame for losing Iraq.

I have long felt that it will be up to Mr. Bush's own party to ring down the curtain on his failed policy, and after the 2006 midterms, that is more true than ever. The lame-duck president, having lost both houses of Congress and at least one war (Afghanistan awaits), has nothing left to lose. That is far from true of his party.

Even conservatives like Sam Brownback of Kansas and Norm Coleman of Minnesota started backing away from Iraq last week. Mr. Brownback is running for president in 2008, and Mr. Coleman faces a tough re-election fight. But Republicans not in direct electoral jeopardy (George Voinovich of Ohio, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska) are also starting to waver. It's another Vietnam-Watergate era flashback. It wasn't Democrats or the press that forced Richard Nixon's abdication in 1974; it was dwindling Republican support. Though he had vowed to fight his way through a Senate trial, Nixon folded once he lost the patriarchal leader of his party's right wing.

That leader was Barry Goldwater, who had been one of Nixon's most loyal and aggressive defenders until he finally realized he'd been lied to once too often. If John McCain won't play the role his Arizona predecessor once did, we must hope that John Warner or some patriot like him will, for the good of the country, answer the call of conscience. A dangerous president must be saved from himself, so that the American kids he's about to hurl into the hell of Baghdad can be saved along with him.
Rich's essay will be in the Readings list on the sidebar.

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