Free as a bird.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 22 2005 12:31 AM

Free As a Bird

Which turkeys will Bush pardon next?

80_thehasbeen
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The Bush White House is certainly doing everything in its power to fail on all fronts. Soaring heating oil prices, Republican chaos in Congress, and more trouble from the special prosecutor will help. But with Iraqi elections and the State of the Union coming up, it could take Bush as much as six months to pass Nixon and Truman. The president needs to remember the patience that got him this far: Rome wasn't lost in a day.

Comeback Kid: Here's one Gallup finding that won't come up over Thanksgiving dinner at the first family's: Americans now say by a 48-to-36 percent margin that they trusted Bill Clinton more than they trust George Bush.

Even Mickey Kaus is caught up in the wave of Clinton nostalgia. While the rest of the blogosphere is off chasing Bush, Cheney, and Woodward conspiracies, Mickey is reviving that once-common trope, the Clinton conspiracy.

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Mickey's theory is that when President Clinton lambasted the Bush administration this week for making a mess of the war in Iraq, he was trying to win liberal support for Sen. Clinton, who voted to authorize it. Mickey attempts to compare this to our mutual obsession, welfare reform, which President Clinton supported but some on the left hoped First Lady Clinton would oppose.

But as Mickey remembers, President Clinton kept his promise to end welfare as we know it, and Hillary Clinton supported it. On Iraq, both Clintons have been consistently tough- and fair-minded—supporting the troops at every step and praising the removal of Saddam and the approval of an Iraqi Constitution, while harshly criticizing the administration for the way it has prosecuted the war and its failure to present a strategy that's working.

In his speech this week, President Clinton didn't call for withdrawal from Iraq; he once again gave a commander in chief's critique of what the administration has done wrong there: "We never sent enough troops and didn't have enough troops to control or seal the borders. And as the borders were unsealed, the terrorists came in. That was the central mistake, and we're still living with that."

Sen. Clinton returned from the Middle East with a similar message, reminding her colleagues that in Israel and Jordan she "saw first-hand the true devastation that terrorism can inflict on a nation," but repeating her impatience with the administration's failure to present a strategy that's working.

Counterinsurgents: While I don't buy Mickey's latest theory on Iraq, I have long agreed with another one he championed this week in Kausfiles: that good news in Iraq would help Democrats more than Republicans.

If you look back over the last three decades of modern politics, Republicans have usually prospered by failing to fix the problems they rail against: crime, welfare, big government, security. By contrast, whenever Democrats have fixed those problems, we've made the wedge issues go away and left conservatives sputtering for relevance. The same is true with Iraq, and with the broader war on terrorism: The sooner we can show America how to start winning again, the sooner Democrats will start winning again.

Some argue that conservatives' consistent failure is the political equivalent of planned obsolescence: They always propose solutions that fall apart so that voters will have to keep coming back to buy a new version. In this view, Republicans are like the Black Sox, losing on purpose.

But I'm not much on conspiracy theories. I prefer to give conservatives the benefit of the doubt: They don't set out to fail, they just happen to be good at it.

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