Thursday, November 17, 2005

It's beginning to look a lot like...

...the '60s! Or so an AP item from Tuesday can lead one to hope.
Vice President Dick Cheney was heckled by peace protesters Tuesday as he spoke at the groundbreaking for a public policy center honoring former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker.

During Cheney's remarks, about a half-dozen people protesting the war in Iraq yelled, "War, what is it good for?" and held up a large banner saying, "Peace Now."
One of the things that marked the strength of the anti-Vietnam War movement was the fact that administration officials couldn't go anywhere without facing protestors. Lyndon Johnson got to the point where his public appearances were limited to helicoptering into a military base, making a speech, and flying back to Washington.

We're still a good ways from that, but I have to admit that some recent events have made me more hopeful, given me a sense that people are at long last starting to get sick of the BS they've been getting force-fed. There's nothing big or singularly persuasive that I can point to, just a feeling born of some little things - but over the years I've learned to trust my instincts.

One thing, of course, is Shrub's falling popularity, with an approval rating running around 35-37% depending on the poll and the day. And once that solid base of support starts to give, one thing leads to another. AFP reported on Tuesday that
USA Today noted that "for the first time - albeit by a narrow 49 percent to 48 percent - a plurality disapprove of the way Bush is handling the issue of terrorism."

Six in 10 also objected to his handling of Iraq, the economy and immigration. And a whopping 71 percent disapprove of his efforts on controlling federal spending, the poll showed.
What's driving this? Two things are primary, I'd say: One, of course, is Iraq, on which issue discontent is growing right along with the casualty count and the sense that the government has no idea of how to put an end to it, that it just stretches into the future. The other is the fact that, according to a recent poll, a majority of Americans say the indictment of Lewis Libby is a serious issue that "indicates wider problems 'with ethical wrongdoing' in the White House."
And by a 3 to 1 ratio, 46 percent to 15 percent, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush.
The war has sent hairline fractures through the Bushites' base of public support, fractures which the Libby case have opened. Once the Shrub gang is seen as just another group of crooked, selfish politicians, the resistance to questioning them on all fronts is seriously weakened, even to the point of collapse. Now, this may not do the Dummycrats much good since they're not polling a whole lot better, but that doesn't concern me. The shift in attitude it represents does.

Or try this: An AOL online poll asked people to compare Shrub and Bill Clinton. Now, of course, online polls don't mean a whole lot; the participants are self-selected and may well not reflect the public as a whole (or even AOL users as a whole). At the same time, the greater the number of votes, the greater significance can be attached to the numbers - and since AOL only allows one vote per screen name, the ability of anyone to use bots to distort the results is limited. With all that in mind, take this for what it's worth: With 584,000 votes cast, respondents have said Clinton was "more trustworthy" than Bush by a margin of 63%-37%. Asked who was the "better president," a total of 590,000 people have gone for Clinton by 67%-33%. (I don't know if people who don't subscribe to AOL can get to the relevant link, but in any event here it is.)

Again, such polls have great weaknesses - but imagine that same poll being taken four or even two years ago. Do you seriously think the results would have been the same? One more time: It's not the particular numbers and it's not whether or not things are working to the benefit of the Dums. It's the sense of movement.

Along with that is the fact that Shrub's numbers have continued to slip over time: The White House/rightwing talking head talking points aimed at reversing that trend don't seem to be getting traction outside that probably 30-something percent who would respond to Bush dropping a nuke on Iowa by believing it will bring democracy to Iraq or some other country beginning with an "I" somewhere. Or something. But it was a good thing!

I'm hardly the only one to notice it; the bigwigs certainly are smelling something about Iraq:
Senior Bush adviser Dan Bartlett said Thursday that the White House had made a strategic decision to launch a "sustained" campaign to vigorously combat the notion that the administration misled the nation.
As part of that, three times in the last two days Bush and "The Big" Dick Cheney have given speeches attacking Congressional criticism, with Cheney playing the Spiro Agnew role minus the alliteration, calling opponents "dishonest and reprehensible ... opportunists" who are "losing ... their backbone" and are, he said, undermining the morale of US forces. More déjà vu.

They're in trouble and they know it. So do the Dims, who replied in language rather less cautious than they had used before; for example, John Kerry said of "The Big" that "it is hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq" than Cheney. Not really soul-stirring, but again, the issue is to compare this with what they might have said, with what they were saying, say, two years ago.

And then there was Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who told the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday that
"[s]uggesting that to challenge or criticize policy is undermining and hurting our troops is not democracy nor what this country has stood for, for over 200 years. ...

Vietnam was a national tragedy partly because Members of Congress failed their country, remained silent and lacked the courage to challenge the Administrations in power until it was too late. Some of us who went through that nightmare have an obligation to the 58,000 Americans who died in Vietnam to not let that happen again. To question your government is not unpatriotic - to not question your government is unpatriotic."
Let's be clear: Hagel is no liberal. What's significant here is that with his eye on the GOPper presidential nod for 2008, Hagel feels free to - even feels it advisable to - put some daylight between himself and the White House on Iraq.

What good all this will lead to, if any, is still an unknown. But the signs are there, the signs of, again, a shift, a shift in awareness, in if you will sensibility. The signs that, yes, people are finally - finally - getting fed up with being lied to and manipulated. Just remember that a wise political tactician will not attack opponents that can be safely ignored because by doing so you draw more attention to them and risk giving them legitimacy in the public eye that they otherwise would not have. So am I disturbed by Shrub and "The Big" lashing out at critics? No way - I'm delighted because it means the criticisms are drawing blood.

One last thing about the protest at Cheney's speech:
About 50 protesters, most of them appearing to be college age, demonstrated outside. Several carried signs, including one that read "Honor Baker, Impeach Cheney."
"College age?" I don't know if that was meant to be merely descriptive or a sly putdown - "ah, just a bunch of kids." Either way, it again carries echoes of Vietnam for me. Could it be? Could it be the naiveté, the passion and idealism, of youth unsullied by the cynical, world-weary "maturity" shown by so many of us, married to political action? If so, I say damn straight!

During the '80s, there was a movie which had a line something like "Once we get out of the '80s, the '90s are going to make the '60s look like the '50s." Obviously, it didn't work out that way. But wouldn't it be cool if the character was just off by 10 years?

Footnote: I suspect that Howard Baker (Yes, there's a connection: Remember it was at a groundbreaking for a center in Baker's honor at which Cheney was speaking.) doesn't deserve the reputation he obtained during the Watergate hearings by his repetitive asking of the question "What did the president know and when did he know it?" I've thought all along that he wasn't trying to advance the investigation but to undermine it.

Since the hearings were about Republican campaign tactics in the 1972 election, trying to focus solely on Richard Nixon was frankly inappropriate. It seemed (and seems) to me that Baker's actual intent was to direct the inquiry away from the obvious criminality of the GOPper mean machine and toward what he thought was safer ground for the party: the question of Nixon's direct personal involvement, for which, early on, there was little evidence. Little did he know....

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