Sunday, May 06, 2007

Republican Rundown

Things still don't look so good for the Republicans:

It’s hard to say which is worse news for Republicans: that George W. Bush now has the worst approval rating of an American president in a generation, or that he seems to be dragging every ’08 Republican presidential candidate down with him.

Since the approval rating of a lame duck president is of little concern except insofar as his legacy is concerned--and it is obvious what Bush's legacy will be--I find this news to be hardly unsettling. I find the notion that Bush is dragging every '08 Republican presidential candidate down with him to be spurious. It is truer to say that the candidates are dragging themselves down by their own dead weight.

But According to the new NEWSWEEK Poll, the public’s approval of Bush has sunk to 28 percent, an all-time low for this president in our poll, and a point lower than Gallup recorded for his father at Bush Sr.’s nadir. The last president to be this unpopular was Jimmy Carter who also scored a 28 percent approval in 1979.

It bears noting, quickly, that Jimmy Carter has had no problem telling Bush how to better run his presidency. This is like Marty Schottenheimer informing other NFL coaches of how to win playoff football; or Pauly Shore teaching people how to be funny. Liberal presidents who cannot do, after all, must attempt to teach, as per Shaw's insight.

This remarkably low rating seems to be casting a dark shadow over the GOP’s chances for victory in ’08. The NEWSWEEK Poll finds each of the leading Democratic contenders beating the Republican frontrunners in head-to-head matchups.

Considering that the frontrunners are unelectable moderates who oppose the party position more often, and with more alacrity, than they support it, this is less than surprising. The conventional wisdom holds that a candidate should run to the middle to get elected, and certainly in the cases of Democrats this has proven itself to be true. But the most successful Republican candidates have faithfully clung to their conservative principles. Whether or not he governed like a conservative, Reagan won two elections by promising to do so. Unfortunately, the GOP seems set to Bob Dole their constituents in '08, because, you know, that worked the last time around.

Perhaps that explains why Republican candidates, participating in their first major debate this week, mentioned Bush’s name only once, but Ronald Reagan’s 19 times. (The debate was held at Reagan’s presidential library.)

There are two things that Americans, specifically conservative Americans, like about Reagan. First: his charm. In watching old tapes of the late president, I can't help but like him, at least a little bit. It was the same way with Clinton; even as I couldn't stand the weaselly man, I was somehow drawn to him. Something similar could be said of Obama.

But the second thing Americans liked about Reagan was his principles, and his adherence to them. We like to believe that the country is in good hands, and we'll believe that it is so as long as the owner of those hands is convinced of the fact himself. One reason for Bush's huge slide in the approval ratings is that Bush no longer believes the words he is saying. It is truly pitiful to watch an interview of him. He looks like a valedictorian from a small town thrown into a room full of first-rate intellectuals. He's in way over his head, he knows it, and he can't swim to the surface. Reagan never looked like Bush does.

Now the first attribute is somewhat innate; it either exists in a person or it doesn't. And the quality is quite rare. We see flashes of it in some of the more popular politicians; we see its manifestation in historical characters such as Lord Byron or Elvis Presley. Fortunately, it is not necessary to be irresistibly charming to become president. It helps, especially as Americans begin to care less and less about the idealogical differences, if any, between the candidates, but a win on principle alone is not an impossibility.

Which naturally brings me to the most important point. If the Republicans wish to win they need to get behind a conservative candidate. They do exist; take Ron Paul for instance. The three frontrunners don't have a thing in common with Reagan, and they will all suffer ignominious defeat at the webbed appendages of the Lizard Queen. Ron Paul too might lose, but the Republicans could rest easy knowing that they gave it a real shot.

The party will not nominate a real conservative, though Fred Thompson may get to play the sacrificial lamb in the place of the three ringleaders. Thompson is not, unfortunately, a Reagan conservative, though he is a bit further to the right than most of the field. Which makes one wonder, if the conservatives are clamoring for someone more like themselves, why won't the party give them what they ask for? I believe it was Thomas Paine who said that "moderation in principle is always a vice". Someone should kindly inform the GOP.

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