Daniel Henninger, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has a four step program for President Bush, which I think is a good one.
The autumn of the Bush presidency has turned gray. Mr. Bush’s approval rating is below 40 but factoring in the political wind chill it feels like 25.
First Katrina, a lady with no known politics, blew the Bush second-term agenda off its moorings. Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s Tonto, is about a quarter mile ahead of a post-indictment lynch mob. And this week, the president’s personal nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court was denounced on these pages by Robert Bork–which is like a conservative president’s Supreme Court nominee being dissed by, well, Robert Bork. As my former colleague Suzi Garment was wont to say amid similar Washington meltdowns, “This is not good!”
All the President’s known heroes–Churchill, Lincoln, Reagan–at some point arrived at low ebb. Mr. Bush, however, does not have access to Churchill’s eloquence, Lincoln’s stature or Reagan’s personality. But he surely knows from his study of these men that nothing so becomes a beleaguered national leader than the ability to act.
“Act” is not a synonym for hunker down. Act means do something only a president can do. It means rising above the squabble, rather than contributing to it, as his desperate White House team is doing now. Most of all, Mr. Bush needs to reforge the broken links to the two sources of his power–his people and his party.
Herewith, a four-step plan to ensure there will be no talk of ducks for the next 27 months outside the Crawford ranch.
• Withdraw Harriet, nominate Edith. Harriet Miers is the canary in the Bush mineshaft. Her nomination sent fissures through the walls of a Republican coalition already cracking under the weight of federal outlays for a prescription drug entitlement and highways to nowhere. The disappointment of conservative intellectuals over attorney Miers is said to have been predicted inside the White House, and discounted. A mistake. Many of the best people in conservative politics have walked away from the Bush presidency.
The President needs his party to sustain him through the end of the term, and most of all this means completing the mission in Iraq. A Supreme Court nomination, however important, is a political obligation. Iraq is a moral obligation. The Miers nomination, by undermining the President’s standing in his own party–and it has–is threatening Mr. Bush’s ability to finish the job in Iraq. The imperatives of presidential leadership trump personal loyalty, especially in time of war, and we are at war.
Mr. Bush should withdraw the Miers nomination and replace her with Judge Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit. Like Harriet she is from Texas; I doubt Mr. Bush is complaining that the Astros are in the World Series. You want political formation? Judge Jones spent her formative years as an undergraduate witnessing the extrajudicial politics of the left at Cornell circa 1968-71. That is to say, she has already experienced the Judiciary Committee Democrats.
Replacing Harriet with Edith would electrify and unify a broken party. That done, Mr. Bush should:
• Go to Baghdad. The Bush Doctrine, presented by Mr. Bush in September 2002, correctly defined the most pressing need of the post-Reagan era as the democratization of nations capable of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is the only test of the Bush Doctrine. If Iraq fails, the doctrine falls; that is the logic-chain of Mr. Bush’s opponents from the Quai d’Orsay to Langley Park.
There are two crucial missions that only Bush boots on the ground in Iraq can accomplish: Rally America’s GIs and rally the Iraqi people–those who have sacrificed most to make the Bush Doctrine succeed.
The American men and women serving in Iraq don’t live in the bubble of wars past. They see the same news we see; the last thing they need in the morning is the sense they are being led by a presidency of uncertain public standing. After 22 months served, these troops deserve a major visit from their commander in chief.
The Iraqi people–Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds–have just voted to approve a constitution. The making of a government lies ahead. In his address to the parliament of Iraq, recalling the historic 1988 Reagan speech at Moscow State University, Mr. Bush could describe the making of our own Constitution, its political tensions, its personal and factional animosities, the military uncertainty of the American project described in David McCollough’s “1776” and in time, its success. He could describe the common terrorism that visited his own country in September 2001 and daily visits the neighborhoods of Iraq.
By going to Iraq, Mr. Bush would revive the people who rallied to his cause–and who stayed with him–after his speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001. He would give heart and hope to incipient democrats in Iraq and across the Middle East. This can’t happen from behind a desk at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Read about the other two.