December 11, 2006
The Goldwater Moment
By Mary Lyon
Might the "G" in Oregon Republican Senator Smith's monogram stand for "Goldwater"? After Gordon Smith's cry-uncle confessional in the Senate, as the 109 th Congress wrapped it up last week, I was standing at attention. This was a significant moment. Smith clearly and thoughtfully admitted that after trying for years to be a "good soldier" for the president on the subject of Iraq , he just couldn't take it anymore. He'd seen and heard the verdict of the Iraq Study Group. He'd reached the critical mass point of bad news from the front, hand-wringing from the generals, and growing outrage from the voters who'd just taken out their frustrations over the war, republi-CON corruption and lack of accountability by throwing a lot of them out. Smith said he could no longer support the war, its carnage and chaos, or it's increasingly unavoidable status as a dead end. It was more than just a speech. WAY more. Indeed, it may be the opening notes of a New American Century "Goldwater Moment."
What I did indeed expect, and what we're all seeing in small, tentative steps, is evidence of what I hoped would be the biggest benefit from the November midterm elections. Once Democrats secured control of the House AND the Senate, the weather changed in Washington . Suddenly, the GOP had the wind knocked out of it. Their behavior indicates that they truly were NOT expecting this. Perhaps they thought the fix was in again, and that their majorities would be protected. After all, wasn't Karl Rove talking about how everybody else might have their math, but he had "THE math" that would accurately forecast another republi-CON windfall? When Karl's golden predictions did not come true, it gave a lot of them some serious pause. The party's OVER. Time to decide if you're on the bus or off the bus, as Ken Kesey would have told his Merry Pranksters. Suddenly more of the survivors are voicing interest in accountability, in canceling all further White House free passes, in asking some pointed questions and trying to get some realistic answers. It's starting to appear as though the bus is going to be getting more crowded. And that makes it more likely that George W. Bush will eventually be thrown under it.
Let's call it "The Goldwater Moment." Named for the late Senator and Republican firebrand Barry Goldwater, who embodied the conservative political philosophy in the 1960's, only to get shellacked by LBJ in the 1964 presidential election. That victory set the party back, but hardly marked the end of Goldwater's impact on his fellow believers. In fact, his most lasting mark was made in the leadership he showed a decade later.
It was in August, 1974 that the Arizona Republican led a small contingent of GOP legislators from Capitol Hill over to the White House to talk some sense into Richard Nixon. Nixon was drowning in the roiling swells of Watergate, yet he remained stubborn against the mounting odds and continued to stonewall even while many of those walls were closing in on him. Enter Barry Goldwater, by then an esteemed party elder, one of the lone GOP voices speaking without the taint of scandal and ruthless criminality. He pressed the case personally with Nixon, telling the beleaguered president that his time was up. The mounting evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors from the Watergate mess had led directly to the Oval Office. There was no getting around it anymore, and nobody wanting to keep trying to do so. It was Goldwater who delivered the news to Nixon - you're going down. There's no more support available to you. Everybody's bailed. You're facing imminent impeachment unless you resign. Your only option now is to jump before they push you, for the good of the party. Very shortly thereafter, that's exactly what Nixon announced he would do.
I can't help wondering if Gordon Smith will find himself standing alone when he returns to Washington for January's kick-off of the 110 th Congress. I doubt it. I think he's only the first of many more to come. Once January arrives, all that midterm election sea-change stuff will be SO last year. It's not about that anymore. It's going to be about 2008 now. Time to be "moving forward." There's only one direction that will allow the GOP to move forward. It's the direction AWAY from Dubya.
Young George's reaction to the Baker/Hamilton findings on how hopeless things really are in Iraq confirms his place in history as his own worst enemy. Nobody's doing a better job of pushing his party faithful away from him. A succession of press clippings since the debut of the ISG's report has found Bush moving steadily from polite acceptance to wait-n-see to soliciting second opinions from his own ersatz study group (presumably fully staffed by a whole new "Coalition of the Willing" - All the President's Yes-Men). He'll find SOME way to stay the course, alright. He couldn't find those pesky WMDs, even personally searching under the furniture of the Oval Office, but he'll be able to scrape together enough justifiers and rationalizers to parrot his insistence that he's right and everybody else is wrong. He's still "The Decider," after all. It's not Father but Junior who knows best. It's steady as she goes. Victory or bust, even though fewer and fewer people around him even know or care or could explain to you what that "victory" is, any longer.
Once the holidays are over and official Washington goes back to work, George may find himself with the same walls closing in on him that bore down on Nixon. His gang at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue paid dearly for backing him. There are fewer of them now, they've lost a lot of ground, and those still standing are likely to have taken careful notice. There are realities that can no longer be ignored or spun. Iraq is NOT going to get any better, especially if we keep doing the same thing, under the same policies. The public won't just magically turn on a dime and start loving the war again, and come back to the fold like millions of penitent prodigals. Once the Democrats officially take power, they'll be in a position to demand answers, and the investigations will hit the ground running. Those investigations won't do George any favors. And as more handwriting appears on the walls, more Republicans will see the light, and vote with their feet. Perhaps by then, the evidence being unearthed will be the REAL "Decider." If the ship is going down, nobody's going to be in any hurry to climb aboard, especially if they hope to salvage the next boat. Soon, most of them will be talking like Gordon Smith - who, by the way, faces his own accountability moment with the voters in 2008. The next election is for all the marbles - the White House included. The GOP knows it needs rehabilitation, FAST. It can't afford to keep its wagon hitched to an anvil. The term "cut and run" will likely also enjoy rehabilitation throughout the GOP.
Conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan observed last year, after the Katrina fiasco, that Americans were going to look at the horrendous White House incompetence on display and shudder at the thought of three more years of it. At this point, we've still got two more years to suffer Junior. Can we endure such an ordeal? Can we afford it? Will we even last that long? How 'bout our troops - will THEY?
I think the Ghost of Christmas Past that visits George W. Bush over the holiday break will look a lot like Barry Goldwater. And come 2007, many more of Bush's onetime loyalists will be sounding like Goldwater, too.
Then go DO something about it.