After the fall

Notes from the political sidelines.
April 12 2006 10:07 AM

After the Fall

The finger-pointing begins over who lost conservatism.

80_thehasbeen

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Higher-Ups: In what seems like a desperate ploy to have a religious cover during Holy Week, the current U.S. News reports on a fanciful book called The Jesus Dynasty, which contends that, along with John the Baptist, Jesus "saw himself as the founder not of a new religion but of a worldly royal dynasty." A Florida State oceanographer chose this month's issue of the Journal of Paleolimnology to unveil his theory that Jesus may not have walked on water but was actually skating on submerged ice during a cold snap in the Sea of Galilee.

But the most interesting 2,000-year-old news this past week was National Geographic's release of the Gospel of Judas, a Coptic text from an early Christian sect convinced that far from betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot acted with His consent. In the modern political vernacular, Judas' followers maintained that telling the Romans about Jesus was what the Bush administration might call an authorized release of declassified intelligence.

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Last year, Congress and the White House spent Palm Sunday trying to save Terri Schiavo. This year, incumbents couldn't leave town fast enough. But as Republicans assess the wreckage from Tom DeLay's ignominious departure and President Bush's plunging approval ratings, they've become immersed in a profound debate about betrayal. The party is searching its soul to answer the question: Who lost conservatism?

Sunday's Washington Post offered at least three conflicting theories. Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey blames his successor: "DeLay, as much as anybody, was responsible for putting the party on the wrong track. ... He always wanted his place in the sun." DeLay's former communications director John Feehery blames the staff: "Like all great men, Tom DeLay had great talents and one great weakness. In his case, it was some staff members run amok."

Ari Fleischer, who had the privilege of helping Republicans fail both on Capitol Hill and at the White House, blames incumbency: "There is a risk of majority fatigue where you run out of new ideas. ... The other risk is people's zest for reform yields to their desire to maintain power."

In a cover story on DeLay's departure, Matthew Continetti of the Weekly Standard blames the staff for betraying DeLay and DeLay for not recognizing that "he was a pawn in a criminal enterprise that netted its conspirators millions of dollars." Continetti closes with DeLay's ecumenical parting words to Time's Mike Allen: "We're all sinners."

Passive-Aggressive: Tired of being ground zero in the blame game, the White House is busily insisting that President Bush has played no role in his own downfall. Or, in the richly ambiguous phrase David Sanger and David Johnston used in Tuesday's New York Times to describe the White House spin: "Administration officials insist that Mr. Bush played a somewhat passive role."

A White House in trouble often reverts to the passive voice: "Mistakes were made." Apparently, a White House that can't fathom the trouble it's in reverts to the somewhat passive voice.

Republicans around the country have good reason to feel betrayed. A decade ago, they thought they were getting a Contract with America, not an endless series of contracts with K Street. In 2000, they didn't know that when Bush talked about integrity and responsibility, he meant to play a "somewhat passive role."