First Ladies Club

First Ladies Club

First Ladies Club

Notes from the political sidelines.
July 16 2005 8:48 AM

Desperate Housewives

George Bush learns you can't go home again.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Knowing Who's Boss: The Washington Post agrees with The Has-Been: First Ladies come first. ...

Rehnquist may not believe the Constitution includes a right of privacy, but he wants one for the Supreme Court. His decision to stay proves Robert Novak wrong on all counts. For some reason, Novak's sources aren't as good as they used to be. … 5:42 A.M. PT


Friday, July 15, 2005


First Ladies Club: President Bush is serious about his promise to consult widely before naming a Supreme Court nominee. This week, for example, he reached out to First Lady Laura Bush, who said on the Today Show, "I would really like for him to name another woman." The President gamely told reporters, "We're considering all kinds of people – judges, non-judges" and presumably, women and non-women.

Bush treated his wife's suggestion the way he might any other Republican interest group: 'Listen, I get her advice all the time." But Laura Bush isn't just another Republican interest group. Four years ago, she went on the Today Show to say she didn't think Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Most Americans see her as just a mild-mannered librarian. For the far right, Laura Bush is a bigger threat to human life than Alberto Gonzales.

It will be even harder for the President to dismiss his wife's idea, now that Rehnquist says he's not going anywhere. After sending his lieutenant to apologize for Republicans being an all-white party, Bush won't want to waste his only draft choice on the Supreme Court's 107th white guy.

Laura Bush didn't say who's on her shortlist, but one highly qualified candidate seems to fit her description. In January 2001, Laura Bush broke with her party to say that instead of focusing on Roe, "We should try to limit the number of abortions." In January 2005, this potential nominee broke with her party to say we should go further, and try our best to reduce that number to zero.

George W. Bush might have a hard time selling the right wing on Supreme Court Justice Hillary Clinton. And judging from their respective comments, the current First Lady might prefer someone with a slightly less conservative stance on abortion than her predecessor's. But faced with her husband's other choices, Laura Bush might decide Hillary is "not so bad." ... 4:52 P.M. (link)


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Love Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry: Today, RNC chair Ken Mehlman will apologize for the Republicans' divisive, racist Southern strategy: "Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong."

Even in what is fast becoming the sorriest year in American politics, Mehlman's apology may be the most galling. If not for its Southern strategy, Ken Mehlman would be stuck in Baltimore and the modern Republican party simply would not exist.

From 1880 to 1948, when Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond invented the Southern strategy he would take with him to the GOP, Democrats won every Southern electoral vote in every presidential election except 1928, when they nominated Al Smith, a Catholic. In 2000 and 2004, Al Gore and John Kerry didn't win a single electoral vote in the South.    

In 1964, when LBJ courageously signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress because of the solid South. Today, Republicans control both houses of Congress and all three branches of government because the South is in their column.

Who's Your Daddy?: Racial polarization is no longer the reason Republicans win in the South. But for two decades, the race card was the GOP's loss leader. If not for his father's divisive 1988 campaign and Willie Horton ad, we would never have heard of George W. Bush.

The President deserves credit for changing the Republican party's tone on immigration and education. Mehlman deserves credit for recruiting African-American and Latino candidates.    

But if we've learned anything from the GOP's Southern strategy, it's that cynicism and expedience are themselves a form of evil. In the 1970s and '80s, the GOP turned crime and welfare into racial code words, but did nothing about either underlying problem. Republicans raised the specter of racial quotas to win middle-class votes, while their agenda offered opportunity only for the wealthy.

The GOP's Southern strategy collapsed in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton gave Democrats a better one: take the race card out of politics by giving African-Americans, Latinos, and whites what they wanted all along – real progress on wedge issues like crime and welfare. Immigrant-bashing, a California cousin of the Southern strategy, collapsed after Pete Wilson's Prop 187 helped Clinton win 72% of the Latino vote in 1996.

Polarization 2.0: The reason Republicans are abandoning the race card isn't that they've changed their mind on civil rights or affirmative action. Mehlman and Rove have just made a business decision that in an increasingly diverse nation, they can no longer build a majority on racial wedge issues. In his speech, Mehlman comes right out and says as much: "If my party benefited from racial polarization in the past, it is the Democratic Party that benefits from it today."

The new GOP has perfected a strategy to replace racial polarization: universal polarization. While Mehlman is busy apologizing for decades of race-baiting, Senate Republican Rick Santorum won't even apologize for saying decades of liberalism caused child abuse.

Thanks to Mehlman and Karl Rove, the firewall for Bush's 2004 campaign was the most divisive issue of our time – same-sex marriage. For Republicans, same-sex marriage is the perfect wedge issue, because it divides African-Americans and Latinos as well as whites, and it works in every part of the country, not just the South.

Of course, most Democrats oppose same-sex marriage, just as they opposed racial quotas. And George W. Bush has no more intention of ever actually passing a Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage than his father did of reforming welfare or signing a crime bill. But the key is staying true to your principles: win first, apologize later. ... 11:47 A.M. (link)


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

My Kingdom for a Department:  Today, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced another plan to reshuffle his 180,000 employees.  According to Scotland Yard, last Thursday's devastating attack in London was the work of four suicide bombers with backpacks. Whose organization chart would you rather have?

There is no better symbol of what's wrong with Washington's uninspired response to Sept. 11 than the Department of Homeland Security.  DHS is another example of that old political standby:  Don't just stand there; do something that will keep people from noticing that you're just standing there.

The blue-ribbon experts who designed DHS meant well, as did the Democrats who championed it in Congress. That's more than we can say for George Bush, who reflexively opposed the notion because it wasn't the administration's idea, then flip-flopped to embrace it when he was under fire for doing too little, then demanded minor changes in work rules so Democrats would reflexively vote against it, then used their opposition to take back the Senate so he could spare the country from Democratic ideas.

Like many well-meaning, blue-ribbon proposals, DHS has a fundamental flaw: it's about how government works in theory. Terrorists with backpacks have a tendency to work in practice.