What do you do with a drunken sailor?

Notes from the political sidelines.
Oct. 29 2006 11:59 PM

What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?

With this election sinking fast, Republicans debate how not to lose the next one.

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The Bush White House believes it must keep a stiff upper lip so the base doesn't lose hope for November. But the base is the one most convinced that the end is near. Elected Republicans openly predict an electoral debacle. Only Bush's inner circle, in the tradition of Katrina, acts like it can't see disaster at its door.

So, the president has a choice: He can eat crow now, or eat it later. While the crow might seem harder to choke down now, if Bush waits until after the election, there may be far more of it to swallow.

To be sure, the one thing harder than getting George Bush to apologize would be deciding where to start. He owes economic conservatives (and the rest of us) an apology for spending too much, social conservatives an apology for conning them into thinking he was one of them, and every American an apology for calling himself a war president when he had no clue how to actually win one.

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Bush would do himself and his party the most good by showing genuine reflection, remorse, and openness to a new direction. But if the president isn't ready to apologize for his own mistakes, he could start by apologizing for crimes he didn't commit all by himself. If Kim Jong-il can tell the Chinese, "Sorry about the nuclear test," surely George W. Bush can tell Americans, "Sorry about the 109th Congress."

In a tearful, Checkers-style speech from the Oval Office, Bush could apologize for the earmarks, the indictments, and the Foley scandal, and pledge to make sure they'll never happen again. He could thank Dennis Hastert for his lifetime of service, and accept his resignation as Speaker. The president could then announce that John McCain has agreed to use his floor privileges as a former congressman to step in as caretaker speaker until the whole place is cleaned up.

"Only one in six Americans approves of the job Congress is doing," Bush could say. "Let me assure you: I am not one of those people. In fact, I have spoken to Hill Republicans, and I believe I can speak for every member of the Republican caucus when I say that they don't approve of themselves, either."

Democrats and disgruntled independents might not accept Bush's apology. But conservatives would love it. At Bush campaign rallies, the RNC could hand out thousands of buttons and hand-painted signs that said, "We're Sorry, Too!"

Why would Bush approve this message? Because he knows it works. Bush's entire 2000 campaign was built on that very premise of apologizing for the Republican Congress. He criticized the House for cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit and promised to unite the country after the partisan rancor House Republicans brought on with impeachment. That was the only real difference between Gingrich conservatism and compassionate conservatism: Bush sounded like he was sorry about it.

The great Canadian philosophers, Mike Myers and David Steinberg, once joked that it's hard to ride in a crowded elevator with their countrymen, because every time anyone moves, they all say "sorry." That has never been President Bush's problem. But these days, the Republican slate looks increasingly like an elevator full of hosers in free fall. It's going down fast, and there's no point waiting till it hits bottom. ... 5:07 P.M. (link)

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Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2006

The Face That Launched a Thousand Gunships: Not to brag, but over the last decade, my humble home district in Idaho may have elected more genuine extremists per capita than anywhere in America. These days, the national political scene is rife with pretenders like Ann Coulter who make outrageous statements just for effect. But Idaho's own Helen Chenoweth, who died this month, was the real thing—beyond-the-pale before beyond-the-pale was cool.