From Mandate to Meltdown

Updated January 18. 2006

A year ago this past November Reagan biographer Lou Cannon wrote in the editorial pages of the New York Times:

President George W. Bush justifiably casts himself as the apostle of the Reagan Revolution begun by his father's predecessor. But Mr. Bush may find in his second term, as Ronald Reagan did before him, that he must overcome resistance as much from his friends as from his adversaries.

Conservative commentators William F. Buckley and George Will criticized Reagan for entering into nuclear arms reduction agreements with the Soviets; as Bush began his second term they had already begun to question the wisdom of the Iraq war. Where Reagan combined anti-Communist rhetoric with efforts to find diplomatic common ground with the Soviet leadership, however, Bush "has no Gorbachev with whom to negotiate, and no known exit strategy from Iraq. His relationships with many traditional allies are strained."

Domestically, suggested Cannon, Bush's situation at the start of his second term was worse than Reagan's. Like Reagan, Bush may have underestimated the willingness of Republicans in Congress to cut spending. Combined with tax reductions and increased military spending, Reagan ended his first term with a $200 billion deficit. But Bush's massive $413 billion deficit at the start of his second term "mocks the administration's rosy budget forecasts and has pushed some conservatives into the ranks of the deficit hawks," Cannon wrote.

Reagan and Bush also differ on their approach to bipartisanship. Although Reagan and then House Speaker Tip O'Neill had few political agreements, they enjoyed a camaraderie that occasionally worked to Reagan's advantage, as when he deployed Marines to Lebanon; Bush, Cannon noted, "has no similar relationship with any leading Democrat."

That Depends on What the Meaning of Mandate Is

Cautionary words from Cannon and others were drowned out by talking points from the Bush administration/campaign and the Republican party that declared Bush's 2004 election victory a popular mandate to enact his radical agenda:

  • Private investments accounts for Social Security
  • A new tax system to reward savings and investment
  • Reducing the costs to business of lawsuits and regulations
  • Appointing more conservative judges
  • Rallying the nation behind a pre-emptive, interventionist foreign policy, overlaid with a moral imperative to spread American-style democracy

On election night 2004, House Majority Leader Tom Delay declared, "The Republican Party is a permanent majority for the future of this country. . . . We are going to be able to lead this country in the direction we've been dreaming of for years."

At a news conference two days later, Bush declared that his election was evidence that Americans supported his plans to reform Social Security, simplify the tax code, limit lawsuits and fight the war on terror. He pledged bipartisan cooperation with "everyone who shares our goals." "I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," Bush said. "It is my style."

When you win, there is ... a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view. And that's what I intend to tell Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let's work.

Observers noted that Bush made it clear that he did not intend to moderate his agenda in order to achieve political consensus. "He's not reaching out; he's just saying if you agree with us, you can come along for the journey," Rep. George Miller, Democrat of California commented. "And I suspect that is how it's going to play out in the second term."

The media watch group FAIR noted that mainstream media had largely echoed administration characterizations of Bush's narrow victory as a mandate. This, suggested FAIR, was "a sign perhaps that White House spin was triumphing over the actual numbers recorded on Election Day." Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher noted, "It's true that President Bush got more votes than any winning candidate for president in history. He also had more people voting against him than any winning candidate for president in history." The Wall Street Journal's Al Hunt observed that Bush's victory margin was the narrowest for an incumbent since Woodrow Wilson. The web site Media Matters for America calculated that Bush's margin of victory was the narrowest for any wartime US president in history.

Economy, the War, and Conservative Support

Political science professor David Mayhew of Yale was among those who suggested that the historical significance of Bush's re-election was overstated. "I do not think this is a lasting, mountainous achievement in terms of building coalitions," Mayhew told the New York Times.

Lou Cannon noted that, although Reagan carried 49 states in 1984, Congress was never under Republican control as it is now. Bush's "specific promises to keep his tax cuts, limit civil lawsuits and partially privatize Social Security" gave him "arguably ... more of a mandate for change" than Reagan enjoyed.

But, warned Cannon,"

If he is to accomplish these changes, he will need to court Congress far more assiduously than he did in his first term. He will need a thriving economy and good fortune in the Iraq war. And he will also require the steady backing of conservatives who are now freed of the anti-Kerry unity required by the election campaign. As Ronald Reagan learned in his second term, that support can't be taken for granted.

David Gergen, who served in the administrations of four presidents, anticipated Bush's current predicament in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, November 19, 2004.

The more immediate danger is that Mr. Bush and his troika are falling into a trap facing other re-elected presidents: hubris. When presidents win their first elections, they and their teams think they are king of the hill; when they win re-election, they too often think they are masters of the universe. As Richard Neustadt pointed out, even the best of modern presidents, Franklin Roosevelt, fell into the trap when he was first re-elected in 1936. He immediately started overreaching, as he tried to pack the Supreme Court in 1937 and tried to purge Southern Democrats in 1938. F.D.R. nearly did himself in during his second term.

In Mr. Bush's case, his administration has already shown ominous signs of ''group-think'' in its handling of Iraq and the nation's finances. By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his team have a perfect track record, that they know best, and that they don't need any infusion of new heavyweights. He has every right to take this course, but as he knows from his Bible, pride goeth before. ...

In December 2004, reporter Ron Suskind described Bush's second term cabinet as "an odd collection of quiet tacticians and loyal friend, " "a kind of anti-meritocracy [in which] anyone, properly encouraged and supported, can do a thoroughly adequate job, even better than adequate, in almost any endeavor." Suskind noted:

The unspoken concern at the center of this episode: maybe loyalty is not enough. Maybe the president needs to vest his authority in someone who can actually help sail the ship of state on these two initiatives, someone with autonomous and irrefutable credibility in areas where the president -- electoral mandates notwithstanding -- could use a boost.

Bush's response to this concern, according to Suskind, is that power justifies itself, requiring neither boosting nor criticism. It is the latter, Suskind suggested, that produced the spectacle of Bernard Kerik, selected to head the Department of Homeland Security because Bush saw him as a "good man," then withdrawing from consideration amid allegations of sexual impropriety, problems with an immigrant domestic worker, and possible underworld associations.

Whereas in many administrations cabinet departments are "reflections of their secretaries," under Bush, "cabinet departments are no longer reflections of their secretaries but of the president himself -- or, more precisely, his will." While this is, as Suskind suggested, "a system that many corporate chief executives would envy (or certainly did in the 1970's, when Mr. Bush was at Harvard Business School)," it also leaves few to take the blame when things go badly.

Bush began his second term with the Republican party more dominant than at any time since the Hoover administration. In 1928, when Hoover was elected, Republicans held 56 Senate seats and 267 House seats; in 2004 numbers were 55 and 232. But by January some Republicans were already warning of the danger of overreaching. "Hubris is deadly,"Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina told the New York Times, invoking his experience in the House of Representatives with Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1994 and 1995 when the so-called Republican Revolution stalled because of disagreements over cutting popular domestic programs.

Conservative Gary Bauer, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, warned that Bush's key domestic objectives -- overhauling Social Security and the tax code -- "could provide the president's opponents with fodder for some of the old canards, that Republicans don't want a social safety net, that they're the party of the rich, all those things." "It's going to take a very astute effort and massive amounts of presidential involvement to keep that from happening," Bauer told the Times.

Nor were early Republican worries about Bush policies confined to domestic issues. Appearing on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" on January 23, 2005, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said he did not believe the White House had an exit strategy for the war in Iraq.

Some traditional conservatives also criticized Bush's 2005 inaugural speech for its sweeping but vague language about spreading liberty and ending tyranny. "[A]ssertively abstract" and "over the top," former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal. Noonan spoke for those within the Republican party who believe with Henry Kissinger that "The United States . . . must temper its missionary spirit with a concept of the national interest and rely on its head as well as its heart in defining its duty to the world"

"I believe that you cannot with one sweep of the hand or the mind cast off thousands of years of history," former National Security Advisor and Bush I confidant Brent Scowcroft told Jeffrey Goldberg in a recent interview published in the New Yorker. "This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case. I don’t think anyone knows what burns inside others. Food, shelter, security, stability...."

Speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, in February, Bush political advisor Karl Rove tried to counter such criticisms by suggesting that the Bush administration's idealism reflected that of Ronald Reagan. He went on to characterize Democratic opposition to Bush's proposed overhaul of Social Security and the tax code as opposition to change. "They're attempting to block reform to systems that almost every serious-minded person concedes need reform," he said.

Rove also noted that the last Democrat to win the presidency by as large a percentage as Bush was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In an observation that has taken on ironic overtones as the second Bush term has unfolded, Rove described the history of the Johnson administration as "a cautionary tale of what happens to a dominant party when its thinking becomes ossified."

Mistaken Assumption?

By May 2005 commentators were already referring to "the mistaken assumption by politicians that an election won on narrow grounds is a mandate for something broad." Congress had passed Bush initiatives restructuring bankruptcy law and class-action lawsuits. But on the key issue of Social Security reform the administration had failed to make much headway, despite a nationwide election-style campaign.

Republicans were divided on the question of how to reform Social Security. One faction argued that private savings accounts by themselves would "fix" the program; another argued that benefits would have to be reduced. Bush eventually sided with the latter group, declaring that benefits would have to be cut for middle- and upper-income beneficiaries. This put him in opposition to conservative legislators and Republican power broker Grover Norquist, among others.

The conservative Weekly Standard published an editorial by Executive Editor Fred Barnes under the heading "Social Security Quagmire" that blamed Bush's declining job approval rating -- already under 50% -- on his Social Security campaign. Barnes went on to suggest that Bush stop promoting changes to Social Security and blame the Democrats. The Washington Post noted that the 31% approval rating of Bush's handling of Social Security, as recorded by their recent poll, was lower than support for Clinton's handling of health care just before the GOP takeover of congress in 1994.

Also hanging over the Bush administration was the investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into the identification of covert CIA WMD specialist Valerie Plame by administration officials to members of the press and others. On October 28, 2005 Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby was indicted on obstruction of justice, false statement, and perjury charges. Fitzgerald's investigation is still underway; reports from sources close to the investigation have suggested that Bush political advisor Karl Rove is under suspicion, and that Fitzgerald may also be looking into Cheney's role.

Writing in the Washington Post recently, Lou Cannon observed that Bush's purported lack of involvement in the Plame matter "is not entirely an advantage." Noting that Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton's involvement in their scandals was central to their "predicament," Cannon suggested that Bush's apparent distance from his, true or not, prevents him from acknowledging responsibility and asking forgiveness -- perhaps the only actions that could allow his administration to move past the developing scandal.

Cannon noted further that Reagan, whose presidency Bush has apparently tried to emulate, replaced his chief of staff and national security adviser. "Relying exclusively on a small cadre of loyalists can be a problem in any line of work, but it is particularly a recipe for disaster in the White House," Cannon wrote. Bush, Cannon suggested, "is in large measure hostage to the war he began," so that staff changes by themselves may not solve the administration's problems. But he observed that in Reagan's case, the fundamental changes in policy toward the Soviet Union toward the end of his presidency would not have been possible with "tired and discredited" scandal-ridden team he replaced.

Whether Bush can easily dispense with his embattled political adviser, Karl Rove, and other loyalists isn't clear. Bush is more devoted to the advisers who have been with him since Texas than Reagan was to his core group of Californians, and more dependent on them, too.

In his recent New Yorker interview, Brent Scowcroft, echoed the criticism that the Bush administration gets its advice from a very small circle. Scowcroft believes Vice President Cheney is unduly influenced by Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis of Princeton, who has argued that the Arab world must be dealt with using force. Scowcroft, who was appointed chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board during Bush II's first term, was not consulted on plans for Iraq; Scowcroft's appointment was not renewed when it expired at the end of 2004. A number of other officials from the Bush I administration have been "frozen out," including James Baker, who coordinated Bush campaign post-election efforts in 2000. Bush I's chief of staff, John Sununu, observed, "We always made sure the President was hearing all the possibilities. That’s one of the differences between the first Bush Administration and this Bush Administration."

Scandals at Home, Impotence Abroad

The Plame affair was only one of many scandals and potential scandals that plagued the administration. Among the others:

  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange commission for selling all his stock in his family's company, HCA, days before its value plunged. Two years ago Frist claimed he didn't know if owned any HCA stock.
  • Scott Gottlieb, editor of a Wall Street newsletter focusing on medical technology, was made a deputy commissioner at the FDA. Gottlieb was known as a "leading proponent of doctors increasing their income by selling their understanding of drugs and the federal regulatory process to stock analysts and investment firms." As one of three deputy commissioners, Gottlieb would help oversee the FDA's fast-track approval process -- "a priority for many Wall Street funds and the pharmaceutical industry," according to Seattle-Times reporter Alicia Mundy, who broke the story.
  • One of three top positions at the Occupational Safety and Health is now held by Jonathan Snare, a former lobbyist, who, according to Texans for Public Justice, worked to keep banned dietary supplement ephedra legal. The two other positions are vacant.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) hired private security firm Blackwater USA to provide security in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Former Pentagon inspector general James Schmitz, who resigned amid what Paul Krugman called "questions about his performance" was subsequently hired as Blackwater's chief operating officer.
  • As reported by the Los Angeles Times, mistakes by US officials and Halliburton subsidiary KBR may have permanently damaged Iraqi oil fields. In southern Iraq oil rises naturally from the ground; to maintain pressure and ease extraction, Iraqis pump water into the ground. The water must be cleaned first so that bacteria and impurities don't clog holes in the sand that allow the oil to rise. But KBR failed to determine that aging pipes connecting the purification plant at Qarmat Ali to the Rumala oil fields could not withstand the required pressure. The pipes functioned only 29 days during the five months ending December 2004. "The lack of reliable water injection has led to a debate about whether Iraq's southern oil fields have been permanently damaged," The LA Times reported. "Although nobody is sure, some oil experts fear that America's failure to fix the problems has worsened damage that may have occurred during Saddam Hussein's rule." Bunnatine Greenhouse, the top contracting official in the Army Corps of Engineers, criticized the Corps' involvement in Iraq, and KBR's no-bid contracts, at congressional hearings in June. She was demoted in August. Iraq's oil production remains below pre-war levels.
  • David Safavian, formerly head of the US General Services Administration -- the federal government's procurement agency -- was arrested on September 19 for lying about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and obstructing the criminal investigation of Abramoff. Abramoff has been under investigation for allegedly defrauding clients by organizing lobbying efforts against them so as to coerce them into paying for lobby services. The investigation has implicated several prominent Republicans, including tax activist Grover Norquist, Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, Ohio congressman Bob Ney, and Montana Senator Conrad Burns, among others. Delay once called Abramoff "one of my closest friends."
  • In August Abramoff was indicted by a grand jury in Miami on fraud charges related to his purchase of Sun Cruz, a casino boat company. Abramoff and his associate Adam Kidan purchased the concern from Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis after Boulis came under pressure to sell, including negative comments about him in the Congressional Record from congressman Ney. Boulis was murdered gangland style after Abramoff and Kidan controlled Sun Cruz. Abramoff paid $240,000 to companies controlled by two men arrested in connection with the murder. $145,000 went to a business operated by Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, and his daughter, for catering and other work that may not actually have been provided.
  • Timothy Flanigan, Bush's nominee for the position of deputy attorney general, the No. 2 position at the Justice Department, withdrew from consideration rather than face continued questioning about his relationship to Abramoff. Flanigan was formerly general counsel at Tyco, which paid $2 million during his tenure, mostly to firms controlled by Abramoff, as part of their effort to preserve tax advantages it enjoyed after moving its legal address to Bermuda.

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a written statement after Flanigan withdrew his name from consideration, "Rather than appointing professionals with relevant experience, the Bush administration has promoted a culture of cronyism by tapping political allies and close friends for key positions. Like Mike Brown at FEMA, Timothy Flanigan has strong credentials as a faithful Republican Party stalwart. But just as Mr. Brown did not have the qualifications to lead our nation's primary disaster response agency, there were serious doubts about Mr. Flanigan's qualifications to serve as the nation's second-highest ranking law enforcement officer."

With historically low approval ratings, aides and party officials under indictment or investigation, and opposition from within his own party, the administration is also finding it hard to gain or retain support for its policies around the world. In September a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency refused to pass a US-sponsored proposal to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions concerning its nuclear program. Resolutions normally pass unanimously, but this time twelve nations abstained and one -- Venezuela -- voted no.

Similarly, at a UN conference on digital technology, the European Union voted with most other countries to place administration of the Internet under international control. (The Internet is currently administered by a private non-profit corporation monitored by the US Department of Commerce.)

The Wall Street Journal noted recently. "Escalating American budget and trade deficits have complicated the U.S.'s efforts to deliver its usual sermons to other countries on getting their economic houses in order." When Treasury Secretary John Snow and (now departed) Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan tried early this month to convince Chinese officials of the merits of a flexible exchange rate and and consumer economy the Chinese countered that the poor US savings rate and large budget deficit had contributed to China's status as a major US creditor.

Trade experts expect the US to have increasing difficulty negotiating trade agreements -- in part because of the US trade imbalance, and in part because of protectionism. The Central American Free Trade Agreement passed congress in July by a two vote margin, and only after House Republican leaders kept the vote open for 47 minutes. (House votes usually take place within a 15-minute period.) The arm-twister-in-chief during the extended voting period was Rep. Tom Delay who has since stepped down from his leadership position in the House following his indictment on charges of conspiracy in connection with political fundraising.

"The U.S. is dependent on other countries for financing, so can't press as hard as it might" in trade talks, Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics, told the Wall Street Journal. Nations that are now sending record levels of exports to the US "don't want to do anything to change the trade surpluses," Bergsten said.

"The loss of U.S. prestige is seen very clearly in the extraordinary rise of China in Asia," Charlene Barshefsky, the Clinton administration's trade representative who negotiated China's entry into the World Trade Organization, told the Wall Street Journal. "It just goes to show how economic power begets many other kinds of power." Bush is currently on a trip to Asia, but China has already taken the posture of an autonomous leader in the region. At China's instigation 13 Asian nations are schedule for a summit in Malaysia this December, with the US notably excluded.

George Friedman or the private intelligence firm Stratfor suggested recently that "...[T]here are two kinds of presidents: those with sufficient power to act unilaterally in foreign affairs -- that is, who assume they have the political power to speak and act with confidence -- and those who lack or have lost that ability."

Gerald Ford, suggested Friedman, exemplified the latter. By the time of the final North Vietnamese assault his political position left him with no practical military or diplomatic options to control the situation in Vietnam. By contrast, Bill Clinton, despite political problems, was able to apply a range of options in Kosovo, moving "from military action to covert action to diplomatic action at will -- and, in general, without reference to external forces."

Friedman questions whether Bush will retain the power to act unilaterally: "... [D]oes he have the ability to decide whether to bomb Syria? Or attack Iranian nuclear reactors? Could he withdraw forces from Iraq without appearing to be capitulating? Can he keep promises to Iraqi factions and credibly threaten them as well?"

Friedman also suggested that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent statement that Israel should be wiped off the map was primarily intended to provoke a reaction. The French government was among those condemning the remarks, but the response from Washington was, Friedman wrote, "quite mild in comparison to most other Western governments."

Writing at the beginning of November Friedman suggested that Bush's approval ratings somewhat below 40% were actually a good sign, because they indicate that his base of support among Republican voters is not (yet) fragmenting. In Friedman's view 39% percent approval may be the tipping point below which Bush may begin to lose the support of his base. It was this need to hang on to support from the right, wrote Friedman, that forced Bush to withdraw his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court before the Plame indictment was announced. "He can't even begin to worry about the center, let alone the left, if the right deserts him. Miers' appointment raised doubts on the right," Friedman wrote.

Friedman described three core constituencies in the Republican party: social conservatives, business conservatives, and a national security constituency. Withdrawing the Miers nomination appeased the social conservatives, and the appointment of Ben Bernanke to replace Alan Greenspan a the Federal Reserve pleased the business conservatives. But the Plame affair has added to the unease among the national security constituency.

Within the national security constituency Friedman identified several components with somewhat different concerns. Members of the military service and their families are unhappy with the frequent and long deployments of National guard and reservists, and the administration's resistance to expanding the size of the military. A second component of this group believes that Republicans are The constituency most disturbed by the Plame affair consists of voters who believe the Republican party is more likely to support the defense and intelligence community. These three groups might have supported going to war in Iraq, even without the presence of WMDs, and could accept justifications that others saw as misleading. But, as Friedman wrote, they are now "raising fundamental questions about the execution of the war."

With the nomination of Samuel Alito, a notably conservative judge, to the Supreme Court, Friedman wrote, "Bush is putting all of his eggs in one basket, looking again to shore up his core base of support." In Friedman's view, the status of US foreign policy, and even "the fates of nations ... rest on the idiosyncrasies of American domestic politics."

Bible Lessons

David Gergen's biblical reference above is to Proverbs 16::18, which , in the King James Version, reads: "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." While certainly not of biblical proportions, the election of 2005 and the mood of the country as measured by several recent opinion polls represent a clear loss for Bush and the Republican party. Democratic candidates won the races for governor in New Jersey and Virginia, and ballot initiatives championed by Republican superhero Arnold Schwarzenegger were defeated in California. Republican spokespeople tried to play down any national significance, but the Virginia race in particular was widely viewed as a referendum on Bush's personal popularity because he had campaigned for Republican candidate Jerry Kilgore.

Post election polling results were perhaps more ominous for the Republican party. The headline the Wall Street Journal's summary of its poll conducted with NBC News between November 4 and 7 announced "Republican Edge on Key Issues
Is Slipping Amid Party's Setbacks." The poll indicated that "voters no longer prefer Republicans to Democrats on handling taxes, cutting government spending, dealing with immigration and directing foreign policy.... Meanwhile, Democrats have restored their earlier edges on subjects such as education and Social Security, on which Mr. Bush has sought to make inroads among targeted constituencies." The poll indicated that Americans now favor Democrats over Republicans on the issue of Social Security by a 22% margin. Moreover, the poll determined that "Americans want Democrats to take control of Congress in next year's election, by a margin of 48% to 37%." This, the Journal noted, was the widest margin "enjoyed by either party on that question since the poll began asking it in 1994."

Bush's overall approval rating fell to 38%, according to the WSJ/NBC poll -- the lowest point of his presidency. 60% of those polled disapprove of Bush's handling of the economy, foreign policy, and Iraq. 45% rate Bush poorly for "appointing qualified people...." 80% of respondents called the indictment of former Cheney chief of staff a "serious matter," and say that others in the administration "may have acted illegally." Only 33% of those polled say Bush is "honest and straightforward," and 57% say he "deliberately misled" the nation in making the case for war in Iraq.

Bush's falling approval ratings have apparently emboldened Republican moderates, and strains between moderate and conservative factions have become more evident. The conflict was on display in congress during the week of November 11 as the House postponed action on a major deficit-reduction bill, and the Senate Finance Committee couldn't rally a majority vote on Bush's promised tax-cut extensions. Moderates opposed the deficit-reduction bill out of concern that it is taking resources from the working poor while Republicans extend tax cuts for higher income households. House leadership thought they had gained support from moderates when they removed from the bill provisions that would have opened areas of the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil exploration and drilling. But as the week wore on, support for the deficit reduction bill appeared to continue to weaken, and Rep. Roy Blount of Missouri pulled the bill. "We weren't quite ready to go to the floor," he said.

In the Senate, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine blocked a one-year extension of the current 15% tax rate on capital gains and dividends. She told the Wall Street Journal that she has become increasingly concerned about the federal deficit, which has been exacerbated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the costs of rebuilding the Gulf Coast after the recent hurricanes.

The same split -- essentially between social conservatives and corporate conservatives -- could be seen in the debate over whether Republicans should change Senate rules to prevent the filibuster. Democrats have warned that they would respond to such a move by effectively shutting down the Senate. Social conservatives generally support the move to eliminate the filibuster, while corporate conservatives are concerned that their pro-business agenda would be sidetracked. "[Y]ou get to stalling the movement of any and all legislation," R. Bruce Josten, top lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce warned.

Recent polls, including the WSJ/NBC poll cited above, have shown that the public now questions not just the direction the administration is taking the country, but its moral integrity. Nonetheless, commentator Krugman wrote, the "long nightmare won't really be over" until politicians admit they were misled into supporting the war in Iraq, and journalists acknowledge their role in helping "our political leaders build up a completely false picture of who they were."

Krugman suggested recently that the Bush administration's political success was never based on "real-world achievements," but rather on myths. The Plame inquiry "however it winds up, has ended the myth of the administration's monopoly on patriotism...."

[And] Katrina ended the leadership myth, which was already fading as the war dragged on. There was a time when a photo of Mr. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One on 9/11 became an iconic image of leadership. Now, a similar image of Mr. Bush looking out at a flooded New Orleans has become an iconic image of his lack of connection. Pundits may try to resurrect Mr. Bush's reputation, but his cult of personality is dead - and the inscription on the tombstone reads, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."


Cannon, Lou "Can Bush Break the Second-Term Jinx?" NY Times 9 Nov. 2004

---.   "Lessons of Scandals Past" Washington Post 31 Oct. 2005

Nagourney, Adam and Richard W. Stevenson "Some See Risks for G.O.P. as It Revels in New Powers" NY Times 24 Jan. 2005

Kirkpatrick, David D. "Bush Moved Conservatism Past Reactionary, Rove Says" NY Times 18 Feb. 2005

Noonan, Peggy "Way Too Much God" Wall Street Journal 21 Jan. 2005

Sandalow, Marc "Bush claims mandate" San Francisco Chronicle 5 Nov. 2004

"Defining Bush's Mandate" 5 Nov. 2004

"Mainstream media continued to echo conservative claim of Bush 'mandate'" 9 Nov. 2004

Barnes, Fred "A Social Security Quagmire?" Weekly Standard 2 May 2 2005

Harris, John F. and Jim VandeHei"Doubts About Mandate for Bush, GOP" Washington Post 2 May 2005

Blustein, Paul and Mike Allen "Trade Pact Approved By House" Washington Post 28 Jul. 2005

Seib, Gerald F. and Neil King Jr. "Bush Troubles at Home May Impair Power Abroad" Wall Street Journal 31 Oct. 2005

Krugman, Paul "The Way It Is" NY Times 30 Sep. 2005

---.  "Ending the Fraudulence" NY Times 31 Oct. 2005

Friedman, George "The Bush Presidency: Can It Survive?" Stratfor. 1 Nov. 2005

Mundy, Alicia "Wall Street biotech insider gets No. 2 job at the FDA" Seattle Times 24 Aug. 2005

Lichtblau, Eric "President's Choice for No. 2 Position at Justice Department Withdraws" NY Times 8 Oct. 2005

Smith, R. Jeffrey and Susan Schmidt "Bush Official Arrested in Corruption Probe" Washington Post 20 Sep. 2005

Shields, Jeff "GOP's best friend could be its nightmare" Philadelphia Inquirer. 13 Nov. 2005

Miller, T. Christian "Missteps Hamper Iraqi Oil Recovery" LA Times 26 Sep. 2005

Goldberg, Jeffrey "Breaking Ranks" The New Yorker 24 Oct. 2005

Gergen, David "The Power of One" NY Times 19 Nov. 2004

Suskind, Ron "The Cabinet of Incuriosities" NY Times 28 Dec. 2004

Harwood, John "Republican Edge on Key Issues Is Slipping Amid Party's Setbacks" Wall Street Journal 10 Nov. 2005

Rogers, David and Brody Mullins "Republicans' Disarray Yields Budget Setbacks" Wall Street Journal 11 Nov. 2005

"This Week with George Stephanopoulos" ABC News. 23 Jan. 2005

On November 17, 2005, the House voted down a spending bill. Opposition was led by Democrats, who said it would harm the nation's neediest. A separate bill that was more acceptable to moderate Republicans was forced through in the wee hours of the morning, November 18.

Republican Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham continue to challenge the White House on Iraq.

Time magazine reports that Bush will postpone so-called "tax reform" -- another centerpiece of his campaign -- until after the 2006 elections. Bush remains a popular figure at fundraisers, however, Time notes.

The Washington Post reviews congressional resistance to Bush initiatives in 2005.