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REPUBLICANS ARE STILL CLINGING TO THE "W" BRAND

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DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Many things have changed since the American tanks rolled into Baghdad three years ago this week.
U.S. troops weren't greeted as liberators. The war in Iraq didn't end, but instead grew in intensity. Iraq became a training school for the next generation of jihadis. There is still no sovereign government worthy of the name in Iraq and civil war is raging unabated.
That's probably why the phrases "popular wartime president" and "George W. Bush" are no longer heard in the same sentence.
Three years ago, President Bush's overall approval rating was near 90 percent. Today, it stands at around 35 percent. The popularity that the president enjoyed has vanished.
Polling done by Survey USA in March showed only three states -- Utah, Wyoming and Alabama -- where Bush's approval rating was above 50 percent. Three other states -- Nebraska, Oklahoma and Mississippi -- have Bush at higher than 45 percent, but less than 50 percent.
Every other state rated Bush at 45 percent or less, with 17 states checking in at or below 35 percent approval. In all but nine states, Bush's approval rating has dropped from anywhere from 6-20 percent over the last three months.
So while Republicans control everything in Washington, their fortunes are tied to a man who is now second only to Richard Nixon as the most unpopular president in American history.
Nevertheless, Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen recently prepared a memo for Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman that advised Republicans to run with, rather than from, Bush in the 2006 elections.
The memo, obtained by National Journal, expressed fears that there's trouble ahead if Republicans don't stay united behind Bush.
"The President is seen universally as the face of the Republican Party," according to the memo. "We are now brand W. Republicans. ... President Bush drives our image and will do so until we have real national frontrunners for the '08 nomination. Attacking the president is counterproductive for all Republicans, not just the candidates launching the attacks. If he drops, we all drop."
We know many Republican candidates are treating Bush as if he were infected with bird flu. Except in the places where Republicans are solidly in control, a presidential visit will only remind voters of the ruling party that has thoroughly made a mess of America.
The efforts in Congress to censure or impeach President Bush have been slow to catch fire, mostly because many Democrats in Washington are too frightened to take on the president.
Democrats need not worry. Once again, public opinion is way ahead of the politicians. Americans are unhappy with the war in Iraq and are unhappy with the direction this country is headed in. They know exactly who is to blame.
Right now, to stick up for the president is equivalent of cliff diving with an anvil tied around your neck. It doesn't take bravery to oppose Bush. It only takes common sense.
Unfortunately, the Democrats could still screw up this golden opportunity. It would be easy for them to sit back and let the Republicans self-destruct. The 2006 election is certainly shaping up to be a "throw the bums out" contest. But what if voters think the Democrats are bums too?
Fear and hate, the Republican Party's best friends, is still alive and well in too much of America. Immigration, gay marriage and abortion remain hot button issues to be exploited by the GOP, especially since terrorism and fear of al-Qaida isn't working as an organizing tool.
The corporate media still has a hard time believing Bush is unpopular and buys into the GOP spin that Democrats are "angry," "partisan" and "have no new ideas." They can't see the ground is shifting underneath their feet and that more and more people aren't buying this frame of events anymore.
A lot can happen between now and November, but there are more reasons to be hopeful than not. Short of blatant, widespread electoral fraud and/or an attack on Iran, the Republicans are going to have a hard time keeping control of Congress. So let the GOP cling to Bush. Let them continue to believe the Dear Leader can do no wrong. Let them drown in their cesspool of corruption and incompetence. This country will only be better for it.

 

Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at randyholhut@yahoo.com.
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