Chickens coming home to roost

Washington Post Blog

Bush in a Snit

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, October 16, 2006; 12:52 PM

The notion that President Bush is not just in denial — but is petulantly in denial — is taking on greater credence thanks to two recent Washington Post stories.

One describes Bush’s seemingly inexplicable confidence that Republicans will maintain control of both houses of Congress in the upcoming elections. He doesn’t even seem to have a backup plan.

The other describes Bush’s growing penchant for calling events on the world stage that he doesn’t like “unacceptable” — an awfully strong formulation in diplomatic circles — even as his ability to affect those events continues to wither away.

Upbeat During a Meltdown

Michael Abramowitz writes in Sunday’s Washington Post: “Amid widespread panic in the Republican establishment about the coming midterm elections, there are two people whose confidence about GOP prospects strikes even their closest allies as almost inexplicably upbeat: President Bush and his top political adviser, Karl Rove. . . .

“The official White House line of supreme self-assurance comes from the top down. Bush has publicly and privately banished any talk of losing the GOP majorities, in part to squelch any loss of nerve among his legions. Come January, he said last week, ‘We’ll have a Republican speaker and a Republican leader of the Senate.’

“The question is whether this is a case of justified confidence — based on Bush’s and Rove’s electoral record and knowledge of the money, technology and other assets at their command — or of self-delusion. Even many Republicans suspect the latter. Three GOP strategists with close ties to the White House flatly predicted the loss of the House, though they would not do so on the record for fear of offending senior Bush aides.”

In a similar vein, Kenneth T. Walsh writes for U.S. News: “Some Republican strategists are increasingly upset with what they consider the overconfidence of President Bush and his senior advisers about the midterm elections November 7–a concern aggravated by the president’s news conference this week. . . .

“‘The Bush White House has had no relationship with Congress,’ said a Bush ally. ‘Beyond the Democrats, wait till they see how the Republicans–the ones that survive–treat them if they lose next month.’ GOP insiders are upset by Bush’s seeming inability to come up with new ideas or fresh approaches. . . .

“There is also considerable criticism of Bush for making little or no news in his 63-minute encounter with the press.

“‘He had nothing to say at the press conference,’ says a prominent GOP insider. ‘My question is, why call it?'”

Marc Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle examines the history of harsh words between Bush and House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and asks: “So if Pelosi’s party wins control of the House for the final two years of Bush’s presidency, can the new Democratic speaker and the Republican chief executive put aside their rhetorical disdain long enough to forge a productive relationship?”

Pelosi says yes, on her terms: “If Democrats are in control of the House, the president will have to listen,” she said.

But Sandalow writes that the White House, predictably, “dismissed the premise of a question regarding how Bush might work with a Speaker Pelosi.

“‘The president fully intends to maintain control of the House and the Senate and looks forward to working with (Republican) Speaker (Dennis) Hastert,’ White House spokesman Peter Watkins said.”

Simply Unacceptable

R. Jeffrey Smith , with research assistance from Lucy Shackelford, writes in Friday’s Washington Post: “President Bush finds the world around him increasingly ‘unacceptable.’

“In speeches, statements and news conferences this year, the president has repeatedly declared a range of problems ‘unacceptable,’ including rising health costs, immigrants who live outside the law, North Korea’s claimed nuclear test, genocide in Sudan and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Bush’s decision to lay down blunt new markers about the things he deems intolerable comes at an odd time, a phase of his presidency in which all manner of circumstances are not bending to his will: national security setbacks in North Korea and Iraq, a Congress that has shrugged its shoulders at his top domestic initiatives, a favorability rating mired below 40 percent. . . .

“Having a president call something ‘unacceptable’ is not the same as having him order U.S. troops into action. But foreign policy experts say the word is one of the strongest any leader can deploy, since it both broadcasts a national position and conveys an implicit threat to take action if his warnings are disregarded. . . .

“MoisŽs Na’m, the editor in chief of Foreign Policy magazine, said there is a relationship between ‘how strident and extreme’ the language of many leaders is and how limited their options are. For Bush, Na’m said, ‘this comes at a time when the world is convinced he is weaker than ever.’ . . .

“Bush’s proclamations are not the only rhetorical evidence of his mounting frustrations. One of his favorite verbal tics has long been to instruct audiences bluntly to ‘listen’ to what he is about to say, as in ‘Listen, America is respected’ (Aug. 30) or ‘Listen, this economy is good’ (May 24). This year, he made that request more often than he did in a comparable portion of 2005, a sign that he hasn’t given up hope it might work.”

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