Bush Not So Invincible After All
     by Gene Lyons

       The short, triumphant era of Junior the Invincible came to rather an abrupt end last week.
 A scant month after George W. Bush was being lauded by Washington courtier-pundits as the
 master politician of the age, reality intruded.

     The White House threw everything it had at Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and she still handily
 defeated a handpicked Bush opponent. Democrats also picked up a previously Republican
 congressional seat. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that last-minute tactical advice by
 Bill Clinton made the difference. Never mind that President Junior himself, Poppy Bush, Queen
 Mother Barbara Bush, and a GOP all-star cast headed by vice-president Dick Cheney visited the
 Bayou State. Nor that white gloves Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell even impugned her opponent's
 religious faith. ("I'm 100 percent pro-life. As a practicing Catholic, I did not leave my faith as did
 Mary Landrieu.") Democrats won in part because black voters alarmed by the prospect of GOP
 hegemony turned out in big numbers after Clinton and Democratic MVP Donna Brazile urged
 last-minute canvassing of targeted New Orleans precincts. As I argued in November, evidence
 for a nationwide turn to the GOP is largely imaginary, and Bush's vaunted popularity about
 half an inch deep.

     There's no sign that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's idiotic remarks at Strom Thurmond's
 100th birthday party affected the Louisiana vote, but the sentiments underlying them clearly did.
 "I want to say this about my state," Lott said. "When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted
 for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't of
 had all these problems over all these years, either." The Washington Post reported "an audible gasp
 and general silence" in the room.

     Thurmond ran on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948 as a strict segregationist. "All the laws of Washington
 and all the bayonets of the Army," he vowed "cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools,
 our churches." After the Voting Rights Act, the elderly South Carolina Senator recanted. Meanwhile,
 anybody but Lott would have gotten the benefit of the doubt. But the Mississippian with the styrene
 plastic hair-helmet has long specialized in racially ambiguous remarks. On his "Talking Points" website,
 Josh Marshall posted an interview Lott once gave arguing that Jefferson Davis would have approved
 of the Republican platform. He's given speeches to one of those "Southern Heritage" outfits calling
 itself the Kouncil of Konservative Kitizens, or something similar. Remember how upset GOP moralists
 got when a handful of immature mourners booed Lott at Sen. Paul Wellstone's funeral?
 Well, that's the kind of thing they were booing about.

     It took Al Gore pointing out that his remarks were racist in effect, if not intent, to bring a grudging
 apology from Lott, who regretted that "a poor choice of words" had led to misunderstanding. The
 White House remained silent throughout.

     Demonstrating that the famous Bush loyalty is a one-way street, the White House wasn't content
 simply to fire Treasury Secretary Lawrence O'Neill and economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey.
 They also got trashed on their way out the door. "The whispering of White House aides was so loud,"
 writes Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz "you could practically hear it out on
 Pennsylvania Avenue." It was even reported that the jogger-in-chief was disturbed by Lindsey's
 lack of physical fitness.  The real problem, of course, is that apart from its tax-cuts-for-millionaires
 panacea, the administration has no economic policy.

     Concocted in 1999 as a means of luring wealthy campaign contributors away from fellow Republican
 Steve Forbes, the Bush tax cuts have assumed the status of dogma. Everything else has changed since then.
 We've gone from boom to bust, surpluses to deficits, and from peace to a seemingly permanent warlike
 posture. Yet nothing can be permitted to mar the platonic perfection of Junior's original scheme. Admitting
 error, it's feared, would risk the public's figuring out that Bush never had anything in mind other than putting
 money back in the pockets of people like himself: persons determined to reinforce their sense of class
 superiority regardless of the cost to themselves and everybody else.

     Now that Saddam Hussein has played his hand, the White House faces the disconcerting possibility
 that the cunning Iraqi tyrant may yet cheat them out of their war. Administration hawks are reportedly
 nervous that Bush won't be able to pull the trigger. After months of tough talk, we're getting statements
 like this from last Sunday's Washington Post: "'The intelligence process is an art, not a science, requiring
 synthesis of a lot of information from a wide variety of sources,' said a top administration expert on Iraqi
 weapons of mass destruction."

     Translation: they're bluffing. What Saddam's got hidden, I've no clue. But when Republican hawks
 start talking about "art," it's time to check the bottom of your shoes.

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