Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bush's problem: Republicans

Commentary by Pat Murphy


Pat Murphy

Since Democratic leaders in Washington are famously incapable of showing any backbone, they're obviously not responsible for President Bush's tumbling fortunes.

The president's problem is Republicans.

Several polls showing 57 percent of Americans don't believe President Bush is honest or ethical (and 60 percent disapprove of his competence) are the upshot of decisions made by his own White House brain trust: the dead-on-arrival Social Security reform sham; phony grounds for the bloody, costly Iraq war; the shameful "culture of life" political exploitation of brain-dead Terri Schiavo; draining the national treasury of its surplus; the indictable leak of a CIA operative's name for political revenge; nominating a deplorably unfit political hanger-on for the Supreme Court, to name but a few blunders.

Wary Republicans now run from the president: his campaign appeals for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Virginia and New Jersey turned into kisses of political defeat. Ultra conservative Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth said on "Imus in the Morning" radio show he doesn't want Bush campaigning for him. Sen. Rick Santorum, the exemplary Republican poster boy for Christian politics, fled to the opposite end of Pennsylvania when the president spoke in Wilkes-Barre.

The most gaping fissure among Republicans, however, involves what could be called "values," a quality the Bush-Cheney team embraced as its paramount virtue and its commanding dictum.

On one side is the frantic Vice President Dick Cheney, bullying Congress to exempt Central Intelligence Agency black bag operations from humane treatment of prisoners.

Opposing him is Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, arguing that abandoning civilized standards would debase American values, jeopardize captured U.S. troops, forever blacken the U.S. reputation as a nation of thugs, and yield no useful intelligence.

Now whom do most Republicans trust in this showdown—Cheney, who dodged Vietnam War military service five times with deferments until he was too old to be drafted because he claimed "other priorities" than serving his country? Or McCain, the former Navy fighter pilot who endured more than five years of torture as a POW in Vietnam?

When senators voted, 90 rejected Cheney's plan and approved McCain's amendment to a defense bill. Nine senators supported winking at abusive treatment.

Now President Bush threatens a veto of the ban on CIA interrogators using "aggressive" treatment of prisoners.

Imagine global headlines:

"Bush endorses torture."

If the CIA doesn't torture, as the president insists, then why are he and Cheney so adamant about needing a waiver on Geneva Convention standards? And why are CIA prisoners interrogated in secret foreign prisons beyond congressional oversight?

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