An extraordinary, perhaps historic moment occurred on the floor of the House last Friday. And it went mostly unnoticed in the weekend news cycle dominated by the killer quake in Pakistan.
After hours of arm-twisting by possible jailbird Tom DeLay, and narrowly avoiding a rare defeat for the GOP, the House passed by one slim vote a major giveaway package to the wealthy oil companies. Using the devastation of Katrina as an excuse, the Republican majority voted to lift environmental and other regulations to make it easier to open new oil refineries.
The hard-won vote, which carried only after three moderate Republicans were cajoled into changing their minds, led to an unprecedented breakdown of decorum in the House. Democrats, yes, those Democrats, shouted out Shame! Shame! Shame! as the votes were tallied. And Republicans returned the favor by trying to drown out objections by Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
It takes a lot to get the Democrats to show such passion. Maybe were finally getting there.
Even they can sense that the once-mighty Bush administration has already collapsed. The future of this White House has already been foreclosed. All thats missing are the closing ceremonies and the signing of receipts.
Bushs popularity continues to reach all-time lows by one national polls estimates, almost seven of 10 Americans believe the country is on the wrong track. Approval of his leadership on the Iraq war is near the same abysmal level. Not a few Republicans, among them those who almost sank the oil-refinery bill, now seem to be turning their backs on the Age of Bush. There is no guarantee that the Republican-led Senate will approve the bill.
Also last week, John McCain socked the Prez right in the schnoz when he led the U.S. Senate to vote 90-to-9 for a measure setting humane standards for interrogation. Ninety-to-nine against the direct threat of a Bush veto. How do you classify that other than as a huge defeat for the White House?
More bad news: President Bushs much-vaunted big speech on Iraq last week went over like a Mars bar in the diabetes ward. No one was biting on his argument that Iraq was central to the war on terror. He just turned up the volume on a broken record, said Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig Crawford.
The bloodletting continues unabated in Iraq, where American troops have now been fighting longer than they did in World War I. The administration assures us that there are now 80 newly trained and ready Iraqi army battalions that can replace U.S. troops. But independent military experts claim the real number is one single battalion a mere thousand troops or less that can stand and fight on its own.
On the home front, meanwhile, Bushs insistence, via the Harriet Miers nomination, that a ham sandwich can not only be indicted by a grand jury but also named to the Supreme Court set off a noisy mutiny of his right flank. As the administration scrambles to quash the spreading rebellion, its now an even-money bet that the once reliably rubber-stamp Senate will refuse to confirm the lady.
Speaking of grand juries, mastermind Rove is making another visit to give testimony on his role in the Valerie Plameleak case and, along with vice-presidential consigliere Scooter Libby, may also get ham-sandwiched. New Republican House Majority Leader Roy Blunt, we now learn, was the recipient of excess funds raised by his immediate predecessor, the indicted Mr. DeLay. And, if youre not dizzy yet, the administrations former chief procurement official has also been indicted for making false statements and obstructing the investigation into DeLay butt-buddy Jack Abramoff.
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Then there's FEMA, which now says it will reopen $1.5 billion in sweetheart contracts it doled out on a no-bid basis in the wake of Katrina (Attention! Abandon all cruise ships!).
And did I mention the ridicule drawn by Bush envoy Karen Hughes calamitous public-relations tour of the Middle East? A spectacle that at least one major U.S. paper called diplomatically tone deaf?
So much for the grand strategy of genius Karl Rove, the parochial mediocrity who bet it all on the Bushes and for a healthy stretch rode a wave of good luck only to crack up with both the administration and the country in a shambles (and possibly his arse in jail). Not since last decade, when pedigreed hack James Carville was hailed by a gaga media as little short of a clairvoyant, has such a dull-witted political hack been so grossly overrated.
Its always been the Democrats, much more than the Republicans themselves, who pumped up the fearsome image of the Sinister Rove; a convenient excuse for their own ongoing, myriad failures. But the excuses have run out. What we have at the helm of the nation is not some crafty and omniscient class of Machiavellian world conquerors, but rather the void left by a claque of bumblers and grifters. Shame, shame indeed. Double shame if some regenerative force does not finally step forward to fill the vacuum into which our national politics have fallen.