Adam Ash

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

GOP getting expert at screwing itself

Failure to Relaunch
Republicans seem unable to comprehend even the most obvious lessons of their 2006 election defeats.
By Matthew Yglesias/American Prospect

Ever heard of the Logan Act? If not, you're lucky -- a normal, decent person who hasn't been exposed to oodles of right-wing propaganda. For the record, however, it was passed during the John Adams administration, during the era of the Alien and Sedition Acts , and subjects to criminal sanctions any citizen "who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States."

Precisely zero individuals have ever been convicted of violating this act. Indeed, for the past 200 years precisely zero individuals have been indicted for violations of the Logan Act. The one indictment in American history occurred in 1803, when the Adams-appointed U.S. Attorney for Kentucky indicted Francis Flournoy after he penned an article in The Frankfort Guardian of Freedom arguing that the western portions of the United States should secede and ally their new nation with France. No trial was held and Flournoy was not prosecuted.

That's the Logan Act. Why am I discussing it? Because, naturally, a small army of wingnuts has swarmed the internet arguing that George W. Bush should have Nancy Pelosi brought up on charges under it due to her trip to Syria

To which I say: Bring it on. The specter of a grossly unpopular president seeking a politically motivated prosecution of a popular opposition party legislative leader for violation of a never-enforced law would be a fantastic spectacle, exposing clearly the current of authoritarianism usually lurking just a bit further beneath the surface of the Bush administration.

More interesting than the content of the idea, however, is the simple fact of its popularity. It's a typical suggestion from a conservative base that, flying in the face of common sense, has reached the improbable conclusion that the Bush administration's political problems are due to an insufficient inclination to play political hardball. From this notion, all sorts of other nutty ones have sprung up.

"For all the talk about potential candidates who haven't entered the 2008 presidential race," wrote The New York Sun in an April 4 editorial that, by comparison, made the idea of Pelosi rotting in jail for taking a trip to a country with which the United States has diplomatic relations seem downright plausible, "the one who would bring the most to the race is Vice President Cheney." Sure he is. After all, "were Mr. Cheney in the race, it's hard to imagine that the president's approval ratings would not be five or 10 points higher. The reason," the Sun helpfully explains, "is that the administration would have a defender on the campaign trail as part of the public debate." That the defender in question would be even less popular than Bush himself goes unmentioned.

The truth, of course, is that this is all backwards. The Republican Party has been suffering not from a shortfall of Bush apologists in public roles, but from a surfeit of them; not from insufficient aggression in, for example, the politics of national security but from far, far too much.

Indeed, months after the election, the GOP continues to be weirdly reluctant to recognize the fact that, along with the obvious problem of all those scandals, the party was dragged down immensely by the unpopular war in Iraq. Bush -- and essentially the entire Republican congressional delegation -- rode American nationalism hard and successfully in 2002 and 2004, but with visibly diminishing returns with every passing season. Eventually, the public had had all the futile war it could stand, and Republicans' political position collapsed. But instead of seeking out a 2008 nominee who could distance himself from the wreckage of Iraq and try to combine the GOP's still-popular cultural tradition with some kind of plausible solution to middle-class economic anxiety, the party has decided to treat the country to the spectacle of a thrice-married *occasional cross-dresser earning Steve Forbes' endorsement through a pledge to uphold the Gospel of tax cuts all while embracing the Iraq war ever tighter.

Meanwhile, John McCain is planning to revive his campaign by giving a series of "major" policy speeches , the first of which, insanely, will be dedicated to trying to out-hawk his rivals on Iraq. Even more insanely … this is not necessarily an insane primary campaign strategy for McCain . These elections will, after all, be determined by the same band of psychopaths who think Bush should put Pelosi on trial.

All this is occurring, meanwhile, at a time when detailed public polling from Foreign Affairs and Public Agenda reveals a massive crisis of confidence in U.S. foreign policy -- a collapse in confidence that, frankly, seems warranted. The Bush administration appears to have been seeking to use the recent capture of British sailors by the Iranian government as a pretext for further military escalation , and, of course, seems to think that aiming long, hard stares at Damascus is going to disarm Hamas and bring democracy to Lebanon. The voters, however, aren't buying it . The number of people who recognize that attacking countries that seek weapons of mass destruction will improve U.S. national security "not at all" has leapt 14 points in six months to 43 percent of the population, while those who think it will improve things "a great deal" have diminished to 17 percent.

In short, it's not just Iraq that's unpopular right now, but the entire conservative agenda of hegemonic militarism. All the Republicans can think to do, however, is ramp up the volume -- drowning out the voices of the public and condemning themselves to further defeat.

(Matthew Yglesias is a Prospect staff writer.)


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