Snooze alarm.

Notes from the political sidelines.
March 16 2006 9:07 AM

Snooze Alarm

The side effects of Bush fatigue.

(Continued from Page 2)

Spending, I Wish I Could Quit You: Nagourney says the candidates "are not alone in seeing political benefit in returning to the spending issue"—the White House sees advantage in it, too. A White House strategist suggests that talking about spending cuts could help rally the Republican base in the fall. Old spin: Deficits don't matter. New spin: Deficits are a brilliant political ploy to get the Republican base exercised about Republican overspending. Bush has his message for November: "Vote for us—we're spent!"

Once again, Republicans seem to have doubled back on their contradictions. In the 1980s and again in the 1990s, party strategists discovered a serious design flaw in conservatism: The country wouldn't let Republicans cut government spending anywhere near as much as Republicans wanted to cut taxes. Compassionate conservatism was concocted to correct that glitch by just cutting taxes and letting government spending soar. The new design flaw: Voters don't like that, either.

Bill Clinton once summed up compassionate conservatism as a way to tell voters that we really wish we could help solve their problems with health care, education, and wages, but we just can't, and we're really sorry about it. In Memphis, the refreshingly candid Sen. Lindsey Graham came up with a new twist. He drew big cheers for telling delegates, "I am sorry for letting you down when it comes to spending your money."


Republicans have come full circle: These days, compassionate conservatism means even saying you're sorry for having been a compassionate conservative. ... 9:46 A.M. (link)


Saturday, Mar. 11, 2006

Domestic Affairs: When Slate broke the story that President Bush's former domestic-policy adviser Claude Allen had been arrested for allegedly swindling Target and Hecht's, my first reaction was to blame John Ehrlichman. Except for Ehrlichman, the domestic-policy job has been a safe haven for nerds, not fugitives. Most domestic policy advisers—Stu Eizenstat, Roger Porter, Carol Rasco, me—have been notoriously boring. You couldn't pick us out of a lineup, but you probably wouldn't find us in one, either.

Even otherwise colorful figures like Joe Califano and Pat Moynihan dulled to gray during their time above the Oval Office. Only Ehrlichman was able to break out of the domestic-policy rut and achieve the kind of genuine notoriety that is routine for other White House posts like chief of staff or national security adviser. He found time for obstruction of justice; the rest of us spent all our time fighting obstruction by HHS.

Stu Eizenstat once told me that when he came to the Carter White House, a bottle of whisky—with Ehrlichman's private label—was waiting for him in the domestic-policy-office safe. In 1981, Eizenstat left it behind for his successor. When I came along 15 years later, that bottle was long gone. But in 2001, I left a new bottle of whisky (and all the W's on my keyboard) for Margaret Spellings, who was Bush's domestic adviser until she became education secretary and turned the job over to Allen.

Like his boss, President Bush, Allen didn't make much of a mark on domestic policy. The job he'd really wanted in the first term was a federal judgeship, which he lost because of offensive comments he'd made as an aide to Jesse Helms.

Allen is accused of refund fraud—buying items and taking them to his car, then going back into the store to grab identical items and turn them in for a refund. The Washington Post says investigators documented fraudulent refunds for a Bose home-theater system, stereo equipment, clothes, and a photo printer.

If the allegations are correct, that's a sad way to go. Even in this White House, it is possible to believe in the Ownership Society a little too much. ... 12:52 A.M. (link)



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