Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reading: Borosage: Why Conservatives Can't Govern

I've mentioned it here before, but I am reminded tonight of the classic Danny Aykroyd moment on SNL: As his truly creepy but pitch-perfect Nixon, parodying one of the moments revealed in Woodward and Bernstein's Final Days Aykroyd looked up in boozy self-pity at a portrait of Lincoln and growled, "Well, Abe, you were lucky. They shot you."

One wonders, tonight, if an angry, haggard George W. Bush--on the wagon or off--is looking at a picture of his father and muttering, "Well, Dad, you were lucky. They didn't re-elect you."

It's axiomatic that the second term of a presidency faces problems all its own: With no re-election ahead to motivate the president's team or leverage cooperation from his party in Congress, second-term presidents have less to work with, and less to work toward. Whatever grand dreams they might have turn out to be a lot harder to push through.

But it's one thing to face a second-term slump. (Of course, among Democrats in the last five decades Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter didn't get their chance, and Clinton had his own one-of-a-kind second-term issues.) It's another altogether to provoke constitutional crises because your second term is exposed as a snake pit of corruption, law-breaking, and constitution-defiling.

The latter seems to be a distinctively Republican problem, and Robert Borosage has the answer in under 750 words:
What is it about conservative administrations that lead them into disgrace and indictment? Incompetence isn't at the core of these scandals-ideology is.

Conservative presidents-from Nixon to Reagan to Bush-believe in the imperial presidency. They assume that in the area of the national security, the president operates above the law, or as Nixon put it, "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal." They operate routinely behind the shield of secrecy and executive privilege, with utter disdain for the law. So Reagan spurned the Congress when it cut off funds for his loony covert war on tiny Nicaragua. And Bush trampled the laws to set up the torture camps in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and elsewhere. Each would seek to keep their lawlessness secret; and that would foster lies, obstruction of justice and ultimately disgrace.

Second, conservatives are acutely aware that they represent a minority, not a majority, position in America. From Nixon to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove, they play politics and exploit America's divides with back-alley brass knuckles-from Reagan's welfare queen to Bush's impugning the patriotism of Georgia Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam War hero who literally sacrificed his limbs in the service of his country. They excel in the politics of personal destruction, as Democratic presidential candidates Michael Dukakis and John Kerry discovered. And in the grand tradition of the establishment in American politics, they are relentless in seeking to suppress the vote, particularly of the poor and minorities who would vote against them in large numbers.

Gonzales' imbroglio is a direct expression of this. At its core is the run-up to the 2006 elections with the Republicans under siege for the most corrupt Congress ever. The White House and Republican politicians grew exercised at Republican prosecutors who they considered too lax in exposing potential Democratic corruption, too avid in pursuing Republican crimes or too slow in prosecuting reports of "voter fraud," the GOP code for using investigations to disrupt minority registration and get out the vote programs, and to intimidate wary black and Latino voters.
Listen to the remaining GOP supporters of Gonzales. Listen to DeLay making his tour promoting his unread and unreadable book (indeed, has he read it himself?). Listen to Gingrich trying to make people forget he was part of the problem so they'll imagine he can be part of the solution. Listen to them. Take away astonishingly sleazy campaign tactics, code-word racism and classism, and money-grubbing corruption, and what's the modern Republican Party got left?

They got nothin'.

Don't get me wrong--those three things are more than enough to keep winning elections if the Democrats don't get their act together. But that really is all they've got.

Borosage's short and to the point piece is on the Readings list in the sidebar.

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