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History Ambushes the Bush Administration

On the domestic and foreign fronts -- from triumph to near collapse in less than five years.

| Mon Apr. 17, 2006 3:00 AM EDT

This is the situation before some future round of hideous polling figures sets off a full-scale panic in the Republican Party, leading possibly to a spreading revolt of the pols that could put the present revolt of the generals in the shade. Given the last couple of years, and what we now know about the Bush administration's inability to operate within the "reality-based community" (as opposed to spinning it to death), there is no reason to believe that a polling bottom exists for this President, not even perhaps the Nixonian Age of Watergate nadir in the lower 20% range.

Toppling the Colossus of Washington

A revolt of the Republican pols, should it occur, would highlight the essential contradiction between the two halves of the Bush administration's long-term program, until recently imagined as indissolubly joined at the hip. Domestically, there was the DeLay-style implanting of the Republican Party (and the ready cash infusions from lobbyists that were to fuel it) at the heart of the American political system for at least a Rooseveltian generation, if not forever and a day. This country was to be transformed into a one-party Republican democracy, itself embedded in the confines of a Homeland Security State. Abroad, there was the neocon vision of a pacified planet whose oil heartlands would be nailed down militarily in an updated version of a Pax Romana until hell froze over (or the supplies ran out). If in 2002 or 2003, these seemed like two perfectly fitted sides of a single vision of dominance, it is now apparent that they were essentially always at odds with each other. Both now seem at the edge of collapse.

The dismantling of the domestic half of the Bush program is embodied in the tale of Tom DeLay. Not so long ago, "the Hammer" ("If you want to play in our revolution, you have to live by our rules...") was a Washington colossus in the process of creating a Republican political machine built in part "outside government, among Washington's thousands of trade associations and corporate offices, their tens of thousands of employees, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in political money at their disposal." With his K Street Project, he had transformed the generally "bipartisan" nature of money- and influence-peddling in Washington into a largely Republican funding machine. Meanwhile, with the gerrymandering scheme he rammed through the Texas legislature, which chased local Democrats all the way to Oklahoma and back, and added six seats to the Republican House majority in 2004, he seemed to be setting the course of the ship of state for the foreseeable future.

Astride the political world, DeLay then looked invulnerable, while the well-hammered Democrats seemed consigned to the status of a minority party for decades to come. Who could have imagined that, less than two years later, DeLay would be indicted for money-laundering in Texas and, faced with the unraveling Abramoff case, resign his House leadership position, then withdraw from the reelection campaign for his House seat, and finally, with his top staff aides going down, find himself possibly on the verge of indictment in Washington?

Delay's project was meant for life, not for a life sentence. And if you're honest with yourself, a couple of years back I'll bet you didn't expect anything like this either. You can certainly bet that, when they created those fabulous fictions about Iraq and then invaded, it never crossed the minds of George, Dick, Don, Condi, Paul, Stephen and the rest that anything like this might ever happen -- not just to DeLay or to the Republican Party, but to them. Think of it this way: They were never putting forward the "unitary executive theory" of government and launching a commander-in-chief state in order to turn it all over to a bunch of Democrats, no less the thoroughly loathed Hillary Clinton.

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