We do owe Bush big for one thing

... he made the petty meanness of the Republican Party un-chic again.

There for a while, it was looking as though Dubya's "legacy" to the world and the life forms roaming about it was going to have all the radiance of a black hole.

Now it's starting to look as though we might need to cut the Decider some slack. It hurts, I know. But what's right is right, people.

True, no matter what the Dubya Legacy proves to be in retrospect, it wasn't worth being the first country to rechristen itself "the Homeland" since Nazi Germany and South Africa. Or turning over of the ability to declare war to the White House, even though the Constitution says only Congress may do that. Or ....

Well, we could go on for pages, but so could you.

It is becoming litany. The litany will become canon as dozens of books and exposés are published in the coming years.

But despite the wreckage, let's not forget George's biggest legacy, however unintentional it was. It's still the one we'll all benefit most from:
Dubya established beyond any doubt that hypocrisy, pettiness, incompetence, and advanced sociopathy are prerequisites for membership in the Republican Party.
His presidency exposed the GOP's eagerness to appeal to the basest motives during election campaigns by spending $150,000 on French maid outfits, its indifference to events beyond our borders (except in Israel and other overseas possessions), and the inability of its members to keep the economy from collapsing even after quadrupling their consumption of high-fat, low-fiber fast-foods.

Thanks to Dubya, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, & Co., the Republican "brand" now has much the same appeal as the Edsel. Well, no, not the Edsel — it was ugly and a colossal failure, but it actually ran and transported passengers.

No, more like the appeal of Enron or Lehman Brothers stock.

To be Republican now means to be able to needle greedy old men enough to get them to pass through the eyes of camels. All at the same time. Somehow.

Being Republican now means favoring loyalty oaths over inquiry and reason because they worked so well for the medieval Catholic Church.

Being Republican now means updating those old millionaire-making pyramid schemes by building them in prisons out of
naked young Muslim men.

And as Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer explains below, the politicians who have now become the core of the GOP are ... the dregs. (I've added a little emphasis to Polman's text here and there so no one misses anything.)

Even the press of our staunchest allies is picking up on the gift Dubya has given the world.

The bottom line? Those who would deny Americans freedoms at the expense of the ultra-wealthy and the powerful are being exposed, routed, defrocked, and bailed out.

So thank you, Mr. Decider!
You're not a completely useless bungling idiot after all!

Posted on Sun, Jan. 11, 2009

He damaged party in two fundamental ways

We already know that George W. Bush will walk away from his wreckage nine days hence, having bequeathed us record budget deficits, a tanking economy, a needless war costing half a trillion dollars and thousands of lives, a sullied global image, and so much more.

But one other facet of his legacy is widely overlooked: He wrecked his own Republican Party.

Don't take my word for it. Various Republicans rendered their verdicts on Bush long before the November election. For instance, Peggy Noonan, the commentator and former Reagan speechwriter, argued a year ago that "Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart."

If that sounds too harsh, perhaps Tom Davis, a former House GOP leader, will strike you as more diplomatic. Referring to Bush last spring, Davis said: "He's just killed the Republican brand. . . . The Republican brand is in the trash can. . . . If we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf."

Well, that sounds a tad hostile, too. But given the precipitous decline of the GOP since 2004, these sentiments are no surprise. Bush doesn't deserve all the blame; a scandal-marred Republican Congress, featuring Tom DeLay, sexual predator Mark Foley, and convicted felon Ted Stevens, played a crucial role in alienating the electorate. But clearly the buck stops with the guy who dubbed himself the Decider.

Thanks primarily to Bush's leadership, the Republicans have plummeted to minority status. They lost the '08 presidential race by roughly 10 million votes, the party's widest losing margin in 44 years. Since 2004, they have lost 54 House seats and 13 Senate seats - probably 14, since Democrat Al Franken will likely weather the last-ditch GOP court challenges to his apparent victory in Minnesota.

Bush damaged his party in two fundamental ways: He turned off a lot of conservatives within the party's base; and, more important, he turned off the moderate and independent voters who typically swing elections to one side or the other.

Small-government conservatives lost their enthusiasm for Bush because he wound up spending like a liberal Democrat. While partnering with the GOP-led Congress, Bush never vetoed a spending bill.

Just the other day, conservative activist and Reagan biographer Craig Shirley said he and his brethren were "disgusted" with Bush's "betrayal of Reaganism." He noted that 20 percent of all self-identified conservatives voted for Barack Obama, and he warned that "it will take some time - possibly as long as it took the GOP to throw off the millstone of Herbert Hoover - before the GOP can right itself."

But Bush's worst political legacy for the GOP is his alienation of swing voters. The exit polls tell the tale. In the 2004 election, Bush essentially split the independents with John Kerry; in 2008, John McCain (dogged by the Bush track record) lost independents by eight percentage points - and the election itself by seven.

By a different measure, Bush lost self-identified moderate voters by nine points in 2004; four years later, McCain lost them by 21.

Why Bush lost the center is no mystery. The reasons include his mendacious salesmanship and poor execution of the Iraq war; the erosion of America's image abroad; his inept response to Katrina; the aforementioned budget deficits; his elevation of incompetent party hacks to crucial government posts; his opposition to embryonic-stem-cell research; his notorious attempt, in cahoots with the Republican Congress and the religious right, to keep Terri Schiavo alive in defiance of state court rulings and the wishes of her family.

Bush's damage to the party is reflected in the fact that fewer Americans embrace the GOP "brand." According to 2004 exit polls, equal shares of voters in that election saw themselves as Democratic or Republican; in 2008, by contrast, Democratic voters had a seven-point edge. Meanwhile, a new survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center puts the party-identification gap at 10 points - driven largely by the young voters who came of age watching Bush's serial failures.

A new analysis by the conservative Hoover Institution deftly frames the GOP quandary: "The decline of Republican strength occurs when strong Republicans become weak Republicans, weak Republicans become independents, and independents lean more Democratic or [are] even becoming Democrats. . . . The problem for Republicans is that their base is slowly shrinking, and they cannot win without the support of moderates" - all of which suggests "an emerging party realignment" to the GOP's detriment, perhaps "a long dry run."

The Hoover analysis barely touched on another Republican woe: the hemorrhaging of support among Hispanics, the fastest-growing ethnicity in the electorate. Bush, however, is not to blame for that. From day one, he intended to champion path-to-citizenship immigration reform - not just because his stance would draw Hispanics to the GOP, but because he sincerely believed in it.

He ultimately was foiled by the border-security activists and politicians on his right flank. Long after Bush is gone, the party will be stuck trying to figure out how to attract Hispanics while somehow appeasing wary conservatives.

But Bush deserves the brunt of the party's ire. His arrogance, coupled with his certitudes, did much to trash the brand.

I doubt that Republicans are angry to the point of throwing shoes. But they probably were not amused at Bush's huffy answer to a question during an ABC News interview that was part of his legacy tour. When it was pointed out that Saddam Hussein had not conspired with al-Qaeda, and that al-Qaeda had not been a presence in Iraq until we invaded, Bush fired back: "So what?"

He's staying in character to the bitter end. And, in political terms, his party is stuck with clearing the debris.

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