Sunday, January 14, 2007

The White House is looking for a fight

One of the key political tactics used by the current makeup of the conservative political machine is the victim card. The latest example of this has been the new Republican congress, now a minority. Before Congress had even been gaveled into session, various Republicans were whining about Democrats acting partisan, going back on promises, and not sharing enough power.

This tactic backfired over the previous two years. You can't play the victim card when you're the only party in power. Republicans were blaming Democrats for their mistakes, even though there weren't any in power anymore. The victim card worked well to usher the Republicans into power but once in power it was seen as juvenile, and as passing the buck. The Republican congress, as well as the White House, refused to take responsibility for their actions. They paid a price for this on November 7th.

The Republican congress has once again slipped into victim mode, but for the moment the public isn't buying it. A small but steadily growing group of Republicans, freed from having a congressional majority to defend, are slowly leaning towards moderation and starting to vote their consciences. The White House however has no intentions of budging an inch. In fact, they are looking for a fight, for several reasons.

The weeks preceeding the November mid-terms had the President of the United States travelling the campaign circuit and basically intimating that a vote for Democrats was a vote for terrorists. No punches were pulled. Karl Rove, Lynne Cheney and Laura Bush were all sent to various media outlets to question the patriotism of those who dared question their elected leaders. President Bush showed no reservations whatsoever in associating American citizens of another party with terrorists who murdered 3,000 Americans some five years ago.

All this was done when the Bush Administration had a lot to lose. Now that the Democrats are the majority in congress, the Bush Administration has absolutely nothing to lose.

What we've seen recently by the White House is a retreat on the social issues and an offensive on the political issues. Conservative judges have withdrawn their nominations. The controversial head of PBS, Ken Tomlinson, has asked that his name not be submitted for renomination, as has U.N. ambassador John Bolton. And then of course there's Donald Rumsfeld. All the controversial personalities who were seemingly put in power for no other reason than to send a big Screw You to the Democrats have systematically been removed from the spotlight. Thus the Democrats have less ammo to use against the White House.

On the core issues of Executive power however, the Bush Administration is surging forward. Domestic spying has been expanded. Powers such as the opening of Americans' private mail have been assumed. The Pentagon is assuming more control over operations traditionally undertaken by the CIA and FBI. And reports have begun leaking that reveal the Bush Administration is craving a constitutional battle with the Democrats. This has Cheney's fingerprints all over it.

Polls consistently show the President scores highest on the issues of terrorism and domestic security. Whenever 9/11 comes up, the President's numbers go up, and this is exactly where the White House is trying to steer the national conversation.

The recent raids on Iranian diplomats, the military excursions in Somalia and President Bush's recent threats towards Iran and Syria are all part of a calculated PR campaign by the White House to steer the conversation towards the issues which are most likely to benefit the White House. This is bait being laid out, with the hopes that the Democrats will bite. It also serves to drown out the thusfar successful execution of the Democrat's 100 hour agenda in Congress. Stealing the spotlight from the Democrats is a favorite tactic of the Bush Administration.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that the Bush Administration was never going to just pull out of Iraq. Doing so would send a message that the White House was giving up control of the country to the Democratic congressional majority and effectively end the Bush Administration right then and there. President Bush has no intention of asking congress for permission to escalate Iraq or to attack Iran. The White House will simply do as it chooses, and would in fact welcome an attempt by the Democrats to discontinue funding or end whatever military excusions it may seek to pursue.

It is the victim card once again. The White House is looking for a fight with the Democrats, but for the victim card to truly work with the public, the Democrats must be seen as starting the fight. The White House can't just sit back and wait, hoping the Democrats will screw up at some point. The 2008 landscape looks too good for Democrats and too bad for Republicans to take that chance. The White House is seeking to beat the Democrats with the power of the Presidency, and there's no better way than with a battle over terrorism, domestic security and Executive power.

It's going to be a rough couple of years. I hope the Democrats are up to it. They're going to have a fight on their hands sooner or later, whether they want one or not. It's the only way the White House can regain its influence, and the only way the republicans can regain control of congress is 2008.

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