How Bush can get his groove back

By Brendan Duke

Last Tuesesday was a “thumping” for the President and the Republican Congress. Here are a couple pieces of advice this Democrat has for Bush. By adopting them, he wouldn’t become my favorite president, but they would make the next two years a little bit less bumpy and perhaps even move Bush above Herbert Hoover and James Buchanan in “Best President Rankings.”

1. Fire Donald Rumsfeld
Perhaps Bush is a little bit less stubborn than we thought.

2. Triangulate, triangulate, triangulate
When Bill Clinton faced a similar rejection by the voters in 1994, he quickly adopted a strategy of triangulation, playing off both extremes of the partisan divide and lifting himself above partisan rancor to re-election in 1996 and astronomical approval ratings at the end of his—and Bush’s—term. One of the facts of American politics is the president almost always gets the glory of far-reaching legislation. By stealing from some of the most popular parts of the Republicans’s agenda, like welfare reform, and championing them, they became Clinton’s accomplishments and not the Republicans’.

The most obvious place for Bush to triangulate is immigration reform, the area where Bush agrees most with the Democrats and disagrees most with his party. By making a high profile effort to pass a law similar to the McCain-Kennedy bill that never even made it out of committee in the Republican House last summer, Bush can gain political points, get around to building a domestic legacy he can be proud of, and try to undo the damage that the xenophobic element of the Republican Party did to Bush’s goal of wooing Hispanics to the Party. In 2004, Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote; in 2006, Republicans won just 29%.

After that, other areas prime for triangulation are energy independence (perhaps an expansive program researching alternative energy funded by drilling the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) and expanding health coverage. Did anybody hear the word “legacy?”

While this may make the right wing of the Republican Party furious, they no longer hold the reigns of legislative power. Even better for Bush, by recasting himself as the vital political center instead of the out-of-touch far Right, he can transform the Democrats in the public eye into an out-of-touch far Left out of ideas—because he stole all the good ones.

3. Investigations are a blessing in disguise
The Republican Congress was able to distract Clinton aides from their jobs and hold the threat of perjury over their heads. Inspired, Democratic ranking members have been itching to get their hands on the gavel to investigate everything they can about the Bush administration, from the attendees of Dick Cheney’s energy taskforce way back in 2001 to the non-bid reconstruction contracts in Iraq.
Bush should look at this as an opportunity to dump the remains of the national security team that politicized the intelligence that got us into Iraq, bumbled the occupation so bad that a civil war broke out, and caused him a whole lot of pain last Tuesday. Likewise, Republicans lost numerous seats because of the Republican Congress’s “culture of corruption” and Democratic investigations of cronyism in hiring and contracts are not likely to help things. The White House should perform an investigation of any and all perceived corruption and purge the administration of anyone who is likely to cause it more harm than good. That way, the administration can claim it’s already “taken care” of the problem and say it is focusing on the future, as opposed to those backwards-facing Dems. Besides, this gives the president the chance to hire competent, capable staffers instead of the hacks of the past six years.
4. Oh, Iraq
I won’t pretend I’m smart enough to have a blueprint to make Iraq into Switzerland—I doubt anyone does. Nevertheless, the Washington press corps fawns over “bipartisan commissions” led by “elder statesmen” who are “above the partisan fray,” regarding them as infallible. The Baker and Hamilton Commission on Iraq will in all probability be one such commission when it releases its findings this January.
While it is beyond obvious that the Bush administration should try to adopt as many of its recommendations as possible, it should anticipate some of them to attempt to get a bit of the glory for itself and demonstrate its relevance. One would be engaging in talks with Iran and Syria over the future of Iraq. Another would be the announcement of a “strategic redeployment” within the country to more pacific parts, such as the Kurdish region, which, according to Kurdish expert Peter Galbraith, would welcome American troops and get them out of harm’s way, while allowing them to intervene when necessary to prevent the Sunni Triangle from becoming a hotbed of international terrorism (domestic terrorism is a lost cause).