Thursday, October 18, 2007

White House is Unending Nightmare for Democrats

Morton Kondracke's got an interesting piece up today at Real Clear Politics on the coming Bush administration policy offensive:

President Bush’s approval ratings are still in the low 30s, but White House aides insist that he’s now on policy offense across the board.

From Iraq to SCHIP to the budget, energy policy, trade, terrorist surveillance, the mortgage crisis and even prescription drug costs and student test scores, top Bush aides say that events are turning in his direction - and that they are trying to get the word out more effectively.

Indeed, there is some truth in what they say. For sure, developments in Iraq have taken a distinctly favorable turn, opening up the possibility that Bush could claim success for his policies by the end of his term.

Legislatively, Democrats have all but declared defeat in their effort to stop the war. At a luncheon with reporters last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) admitted that “when we said we would end the war, we never said that we had the veto pen or the signature pen. ... I don’t disagree with the public evaluation that we have not done well in ending this war.”

With Republicans sticking by him, Bush has won the running room to pursue his policies at least until next March - and probably through 2008.

On the ground, Gen. David Petraeus’ “surge” strategy seems to be working, with Sunni Arabs decisively turning against al-Qaida and Shiites beginning to reject the Mahdi Army militia of Muktada al-Sadr.

U.S. casualty levels are down to their lowest levels since 2003, Iraqi security force deaths are at their lowest level ever, and civilian deaths in September were down 77 percent below the level of last year.

“Democrats are stuck in the negative” on the war, a White House aide said in a session with columnists last week. “They are without a positive narrative,” although he said • this was last Friday • that the media had yet to catch up with favorable developments.

But the administration’s “good news is no news” problem eased significantly this week when two of Bush’s harshest journalistic critics - Tom Ricks and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post - wrote a front-page story headlined, “Al-Qaeda In Iraq Reported Crippled.”

That Democrats are still “stuck in the negative” was demonstrated by the fact that their frontrunning presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), is still quoting the ill-timed charge of Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, a former U.S. commander in Iraq, that the war is an “unending nightmare.”

If the war proves not to be an unending nightmare, after all, it would certainly be a boon for Bush - and would raise the question of whether Democrats can ever be relied upon to pursue a foreign policy endeavor if the going gets difficult.

The Washington Post has a story on Bush's statements yesterday suggesting he's "relevant":

President Bush declared yesterday that he remains "relevant" despite his political troubles, and he derided Democrats for running a do-nothing Congress that has failed to address critical domestic, economic and security issues in the nine months since they took control of Capitol Hill.

Trying to turn the tables on his adversaries, Bush lashed out at lawmakers for stalling housing and education initiatives, trade agreements, and judicial nominations, and for not having passed any of 12 annual spending bills more than two weeks into the new fiscal year. "Congress has little to show for all the time that has gone by," he said during a White House news conference.

Bush's assault on Democratic leaders during the 47-minute session reflected a broader attempt by the White House to go on the offensive at a time when polls show that the public has soured on Congress just as it has on the president. Stuck with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency with just 15 months left in office, Bush presented himself as still in command of the Washington agenda and rejected the suggestion that he has grown "increasingly irrelevant," as a reporter put it in a question.

"Quite the contrary," he said. "I've never felt more engaged and more capable of helping people recognize . . . that there's a lot of unfinished business." Defending his rejection of a popular children's health program expansion, Bush said his veto power gives him leverage. "That's one way to ensure that I am relevant," he said. "That's one way to ensure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto."

His reprimand of Congress drew a scathing response from Democrats. "I appreciate that the man who has managed Iraq so well is going to give us a lecture about management," said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). "The man who gave us Katrina is going to tell us how to manage?"

Emanuel sounds more like a whacked-out lefty blogger than a top member of the Democratic congressional leadership. The Democrats have failed miserably to pass their policy priorities, and the party's leadership has been reduced to spouting off schoolyard epithets against a president who continues to dominate policymaking, and whose political fortunes are rebounding. Now that's an unending nightmare, for the anti-Bush crowd.