Still crazy after all these years.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Nov. 10 2006 12:52 PM

Still Crazy After All These Years

The nuttiest congressional district in America keeps its reputation intact.

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When Mr. Sali goes to Washington, you won't see him running around with his tail between his legs. He's famous for bringing a breast cancer survivor to tears by insisting that abortion and breast cancer are linked. If an ad firm ever calls your puppy in for an audition, make sure it's with Michael Steele and not Bill Sali.

Several members of the class of 1994 bit the dust on Tuesday, so Sali could rapidly emerge as the most colorful wingman in the Republican caucus. His official campaign biography on the Government is Not God Political Action Committee looks promising. Over the years, he has performed in a number of successful local rock bands: "Willard and the Rats," "Cimarron," and "Idaho the Band." The last one appeared on national TV in the finals of TNN's True Value Hardware Country Showdown. Sali has won awards from Oliver North, pro-life groups, and his late predecessor, Congress member  Helen Chenoweth, the gold standard of beyond-the-pale conservatism.

If Sali wants to be in Chenoweth's league, the rookie will have to prove he can hold his own on a national stage crowded with Ann Coulters. But already, the craziest congressional district in America has kept its reputation intact—and the Black Helicopter Caucus can count on at least one member. ... 12:52 P.M. (link)

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Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006

Thumper on the Right: At Wednesday's news conference, President Bush took responsibility for Tuesday's defeat, then generously shared it with Republicans in Congress. He explained not once, but twice, that the election was "close" and that voters had given him a "thumping." On Thursday afternoon, the Washington Post ran two headlines side by side: "Bush Urges Bipartisanship" and "Bush Makes Push for Approval of Bolton."

If this seems like erratic behavior, get used to it. The White House is in shock, and it may take awhile for the president to find his bearings.

All eyes are on Bush to see whether after six years of partisan shock-and-awe, he can chart a new direction for himself, if not America. His side says, no problem—he loved working with Democrats in Texas, he always wanted to be a uniter, not a divider, and he's glad to finally have the chance to change the tone in Washington. Soon the White House will be telling us that when the president said last week that a win for the Democrats was a win for the terrorists, that was just the campaign talking. He meant to say a win for Democrats is a win for bipartisan cooperation.

Across the aisle, Democrats say they'll try to work with Bush but doubt that he will ever stop being a my-way-or-the-highway man. His party won't let him break with conservative orthodoxy, and he won't be able to bring any votes with him if he tries.

The political world will have to stay tuned, because we won't find out the answer any time soon. The president and his White House scarcely know what hit them. They must feel like they've been losing a house of Congress every day this week.

What makes the blow even harder for the White House to take is that the election was such a personal rebuke of the president. In 1994, voters were upset about what Bill Clinton and the Democratic Congress had (and hadn't) done together. This time, the fault lies almost entirely at Bush's feet.

Two years ago, Bush's approval rating in the exit polls on Election Day was 53 percent, and Republicans won 53 percent of congressional seats. This year, Bush was at 43 percent, and Republicans won 46 percent of congressional seats. That would be tough medicine for anyone to take—and it can't be easier for a man who can't think of a mistake, doesn't believe in do-overs, and remembers happier bullhorn moments after 9/11.

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