Politics is certainly a contact sport. 'Hard ball' not just in name or description only. It's the real thing. Knock 'em, sock 'em, get down and roll in the mud. Take no prisoners. No quarter given nor expected. Bare knuckled combat with with neither gloves nor Queensbury rules.
I must admit that the Dems are much better at this than the Republicans. Perhaps it's their history of earning their spurs in the tough neighborhoods of big cities over the last century—plus. The party of organized labor with its no—so—pretty underbelly of axe handles and bloodied heads. But whatever else you say, the Democrats sure know how to hold up their end of rough and tumble political scraps.
Two recent articles, one by David Brooks in the New York Times, the other by Victor Davis Hanson at the National Review Online, purport to offer explanations of President Bush's less—than—stellar approval ratings and the loss of momentum behind his second term agenda. I sympathize with and appreciate their efforts to gain some understanding of these phenomena, as I have spent not inconsiderable time doing so myself. But, to be rather presumptuous, I find their theories relevant to but not the key reason behind what's going on here.
Hanson thinks that Bush's low approval rating is due to a perceived disconnect between his foreign policy successes and his apparent inability to show a parallel record of achievement with his domestic programs. He's been clear, steadfast and held the course regarding the war against terrorists. But what's happened domestically? Just hasn't been the same stalwart leader. As Mr. Hanson says:
'Perhaps the wear and tear of being targeted by elites for nearly five years, from Michael Moore to the New York Times, has taken its toll. Or perhaps the casualties from the Iraq war and hysteria over Social Security reform explain the discontent. It is said that the Terri Shiavo matter did not win the president American support either.
'Perhaps. But I think the answer lies instead in a strange paradox of George W. Bush and the optimistic prospects he has raised about solving problems of the first order. The President has shown himself so resolute in matters of foreign policy that he has raised the bar of his expected performance on the home front.'
No, that's not quite it. The problem is that the President and the Republican Congress have been anything but resolute when it comes to domestic issues. Time and time again, since nearly the very start of the first term, when the going gets tough, they've caved. Consider one of the very first issues faced by the new President, the environmental regulatory "land mines" so cynically placed in the path of the incoming administration by everybody's favorite jokester, Bill Clinton. Bush suspends implementation of radically lowered arsenic levels permitted in water and salmonella in uncooked ground beef, and nearly instantly the Dems are on the airwaves and in the papers with 'Mommy, I want more arsenic in my water' and 'Mommy, can I please have more salmonella with my hamburger' entreated by little children's voices.
I have to think that either the Dems are fantastically quick on their feet or they had the whole campaign planned before Slick Willie ever left the White House. Each land mine was carefully designed to tweak some Republican image vulnerability, and when they tripped over them the Democrats already had the response script written.
The set—up Republicans tend to put their tails between their legs and try to minimize the damage resulting from their PR faux pas. They do it again and again. Bush abandoned the Vieques naval gunnery rage. After Senator Jim Jeffords bolted, and the Republicans lose their razor—thin majority in the Senate, judge after nominated judge was given the smack down treatment. The Senate Judiciary Committee acrobatics can be more fun to watch than Cirque du Soleil. If you're a Democrat, that is.
Challenged to throw out Trent Lott as Senate Majority Leader after a questionable remark far milder than the rhetoric of Senator Byrd, and all the Republican Senators could do is give him the bum's rush. The Democrats beat the Republicans bloody and all the party of Lincoln can do is whimper. Hardly a blow thrown in defense, let alone an offensive swing.
Even after the 2002 and 2004 Republican election victories, the Republican Senators seem reluctant to push their advantage. Why? Because it seems every time this Administration tries something, the Dems and the MSM come out swinging and force a retreat. It's happened so many times that the voting public wonders whether or not the Democrats are correct in their characterization of Republican motives. For why would they back down on these issues if there really were principle behind the Republican positions? How come they give up so easily? It must all be horsepucky.
All the Dems have to do is huff and puff and the Republican house falls down. 'Use the nuclear option and we'll bring the Senate to a halt' blusters Senate Minority Leader Reid while holding his copy of the Declaration and the Constitution — or something to that effect. Daschle gets voted out for his blustering but the Republicans fire their own guy for an off—hand remark. Go figure.
No matter how badly they lose come election time, I'll give the Dems credit for sticking to their lines. They are not shy about it. Republican Senators and, I dare say, the President seem unable to get their act together on domestic policy and legislation. When they try to seize the initiative, the Democrats, MSM and lefty NGO's seem to pop up like Jim Carrey in the 'Mask' with both hands converted into a myriad of horrific weapons, and they fire their arsenal without hesitation. The Republicans seem not to have planned for the Democratic response before launching their original trial balloons. And that's the problem. The voters see these things as trial balloons and not policy initiatives.
If the Republicans let the Dems scold them into dumping Tom DeLay for what are being touted as ethics offenses, but that are not in letter nor spirit any more offensive than what Dems themselves do, they may as well do nothing other than pass a Democrat's budget and shelve any initiatives until after the next mid—term elections — if that next plebiscite they can manage to survive. If Republicans can't bring themselves to go to the mat for fully qualified judicial candidates, cut the pork out of the budget, do something meaningful regarding illegal immigration, and quit playing the diversity game with national security, why should anyone expect the President's numbers to go up?
David Brooks states that 'Leaders who want to change things had better not give off the impression that they love change for its own sake.' I don't think that's the problem. The Congress and the Administration have just not done a good job of communicating to the American electorate what really should be changed, or done, or left alone — or whatever. For every time they open their mouths, it seems as though the Democrats are there more than ready, willing and able to help the Republicans put their own foot in their own oral orifice. Sometimes it almost seems like the Gong Show with the hapless Republicans being repeatedly pulled off the stage with the hooked shepherd's staff.
The voters don't like the Democrats for what they are doing. They don't like the Republicans for what they are not doing. That is, not governing. We've given you the votes in Congress, guys. Use it or lose it. Don't run at the first whiff of voter response teased out of a poll cleverly structured to garner the desired result. Get everyone on the same page of the hymnal. Then show some backbone. Get up and go. Give better than you get. You can be gentlemen, but don't fight with a limp wrist.