Republicans unveil their new line for the fall.
Harriet Miers, Hurricane Katrina, Dubai Ports World—could there be a better word to describe the Bush administration's past year than "sleep-driving"? The Bush team doesn't have a tin ear; they were just road-testing the prescription drug bill.
Yesterday, the Times reported another troubling side effect:
The sleeping pill Ambien seems to unlock a primitive desire to eat in some patients, according to emerging medical case studies that describe how the drug's users sometimes sleepwalk into their kitchens, claw through their refrigerators like animals and consume calories ranging into the thousands.
A California woman woke up "to find candy bar wrappers next to her bed and Popsicle sticks on the floor near the refrigerator." A Minnesota woman in a full body cast sleepwalked to her kitchen, where her son found her sleep-frying bacon and eggs. Researchers have linked this sleep-eating with amnesia: Patients gain weight, but have no recollection of their late-night binges.
Let's see—a pattern of bloating and chronic overindulgence by people who say they can't remember why it happened. Come to think of it, that's the way Bush has Republicans talking about spending.
Listen to one Ambien sufferer quoted in the Times: "I got a package of hamburger buns and I just tore it open like a grizzly bear and just stood there and ate the whole package. [My husband] said a couple things to me and then he realized I was asleep." The woman was from Dickson, Tenn.,—but she could just as well have been a Republican presidential candidate in Memphis. ... 9:02 A.M. (link)
Sequels:As a politician's politician, George W. Bush must have smiled to hear what Republicans who dream of succeeding him had to say in Memphis this weekend. Like any second-term president, he wants the wannabes to run for his third term. Yet Bush understands better than anyone how hard winning a third term can be. In 1988, when the country had tired of Ronald Reagan, he helped his father hold on by promising a kinder, gentler version. In 2000, when the country had given up on Gingrich Republicans in favor of Clinton centrism, Bush repeated the trick by inventing compassionate conservatism. Bush ran away from congressional Republicans and tried to convince voters that he'd give them a third term of the Clinton economy instead.
Now Republicans find themselves in an even deeper hole than in 1988 or 2000. Bush's approval rating in the Gallup Poll has sunk to a record low of 36 percent. His disapproval rating is back up to its high of 60 percent (third on the all-time list, with three years to keep trying). With numbers like that, the political junkie in Bush would tell his would-be successors to do just what they're doing: run away.
Much of the 2008 field, however, has nowhere to run. Those successful sequels in 1988 and 2000 promised to expand conservatism's appeal by rounding off its hard edges. In 2008, that's not really an option. No one—except, ironically, Newt Gingrich—is likely to run as the heir to compassionate conservatism. It's easy to contemplate a kinder, gentler Cheney—a Republican who promises to shoot blanks. But it's almost impossible to imagine what a kinder, gentler Bush might be. No wars? Less spying? An even more expensive drug benefit? And if Republicans can't run as kinder and gentler, the alternative is worse: meaner and rougher. Maybe Tom DeLay isn't finished after all.
Bruce Reed, who was President Clinton's domestic policy adviser, is CEO of the Democratic Leadership Council and co-author with Rahm Emanuel of The Plan: Big Ideas for Change in America.E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his disclosure here.
Photograph of George Bush on the Slate home page by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.