Siege Mentality

Robert Novak has an interesting article on the isolation of the Bush Administration in its waning days:

“Gonzales never has developed a base of support for himself up here,” a House Republican leader told me. But this is less a Gonzales problem than a Bush problem. With nearly two years remaining in his presidency, George W. Bush is alone. In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress — not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment.

I think that analysis is dead on — the Bush Administration is politically dead. They have no chance of setting an agenda and have retreated into a kind of bunker mentality. The problem is that when you’re under fire from all directions, that’s simply not a tenable position. The Administration has made mistake after mistake after mistake since their reelection in 2004 — Harriet Miers alienated Bush’s conservative base, the Dubai Ports issue was horrendously mishandled, and the firings of the US Attorneys was also done in a way that virtually guaranteed political problems down the road.

Despite the image created by the liberal media, Bush has never been a political gunslinger. His tenure as Governor of Texas was all about generating political comity with his opposition and trying to charm them into meeting him halfway. One gets the impression that Bush, the object of absolute hatred by many of his opponents, is unused to being in a position where the opposition has no intention of meeting him halfway on anything.

Even when Bush is right — on Iraq, on national security, he’s unable to articulate a coherent message. The President is both Commander in Chief and the leader of his party, and his inability to lead is hurting the efforts of our troops abroad and allowing the anti-war side to dominate the field of popular opinion. Yes, the media is almost reflexively anti-American, but that doesn’t excuse a seeming lack of message discipline from the Administration.

Politically, there’s little question that Bush is adrift. The Republican Party is already looking towards 2008 for leadership, and there’s a reason why someone like Rudy Giuliani or Fred Thompson is looking so attractive — they exude a sense of leadership that Bush now lacks.

The decline of the Bush Administration may involve many factors, but ultimately President Bush is responsible for his own political fortunes. He now stands as a man alone — few are willing to defend him openly as the political price is often high. The President has shown great leadership and resolve over the past few years, especially in the tumultuous period after the September 11 attacks. However, the measure of a leader is not how they lead in times of comity, but how they unite people in times of strife. President Bush seems to be a leader who knows how to work well in times of comity, but hasn’t had that luxury for most of his Presidency — and certainly doesn’t enjoy it now. If Bush is to be anything other than a lame duck, he’s going to have to reorganize the way he does business and develop a more effective and forward-looking political machine.

Bush is right to put the war above politics, but the problem is that politics is part of this war, whether the President likes it or not. This isn’t the Second World War, and Bush is no Churchill. In the end, if his Presidency becomes an anchor which drags the war down, he’ll end up defeating the very thing that he cares the most strongly about — and it will not merely be his own political legacy that would suffer.