Just Above Sunset
April 3, 2005 - The Tiger-by-the-Tail Problem

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Was it hyperbole?  Last week in Just Above Sunset you could find this - Meme Watch: The Republican Party Self-Destructs Before Our Eyes - "Early Monday morning, March 21 of this year, the Republican Party jumped the shark. The end began, the great unraveling. Everything shifted against them. …"

Well maybe not. But the meme rolls on, in no small part because of the death of Terri Schiavo.

Sidney Blumenthal, from the depths of the Clinton administration, rises again with this –

Political crackup
By intervening in the Schiavo case, Bush moved the religious right into the heart of the GOP. Now there will be hell to pay.
SALON.COM - Thursday, March 31, 2005

Echoing Pilgrims Progress and referencing Cardinal Richelieu in an odd way – Karl Rove is our Cardinal Richelieu? – this is the Tiger-by-the-Tail argument. The Bush administration played to their base of fervent Christian evangelicals and just lost control. As in this -


The Bush administration doesn't have a faith-based initiative; it is a faith-based initiative. When President Bush rushed back to the White House from his Crawford, Texas, ranch to show his urgency to sign the congressional bill on Terri Schiavo, who died Thursday at 41, he demonstrated his faith in the infallibility of his political strategy. Just months earlier in the 2004 presidential election he had proven its efficacy. By joining the flag to the cross, Bush's campaign linked the war on terrorism to the culture war. Under these banners Bush marched as the crusader king against barbarian hordes without and within.

… In unprecedented numbers evangelical Protestants and conservative "faithful" Catholics flocked to the polls to vote for him. Ballot initiatives in 11 swing states against gay marriage helped magnetize these constituencies. By a simple symbolic gesture in the Schiavo case he would become the transcendent holy warrior again, suddenly lifted by "values" from the slough of despond he had found himself in over his Social Security privatization scheme. It never dawned on him or his Cardinal Richelieu (Karl Rove) that the polls, like the heavens, would come crashing in on him.


Well, crashing down may be a tad over the top, but it may not have worked as planned.

Why do it?


Because it worked before.


Bush believes that he won his reelection in great part on "values" and that all he needs to do to refresh his power is to invoke them. But in signing a private bill by Congress that could not stand constitutional scrutiny for the sake of gratifying a faction of the Republican base, he has exposed and inverted the raw politics of the culture war. Instead of being blinded by the light of his shining faith, the public was repelled by what it saw as crass exploitation.

After a week of damage, the White House was quietly leaking to the press that Bush had not wanted to return from Crawford after all. His effort to distance himself from the corrosive Schiavo issue had the effect of depicting him as ambivalent and indecisive -- the negative image he had sought to project of John Kerry.


And yes, that seems to be what the polls showed. So he is not talking about the business very much now.

But is Blumenthal correct is saying that Bush had no instinct that he was overreaching?

Consider this -


… In the beginning of his involvement in the Schiavo case, Bush acted on faith that it was a political gift. Why not? The politics of "values" had always enabled him to gain the offensive. For Reagan it had been morning again in America. Now it would be deathwatch in America. But Bush miscalculated the public response and lost control. Bush isn't using the religious right; it is using him.


That could be, but perhaps what we have here is a symbiotic relationship.

Blumenthal is having none of that.


The culture war has imploded inside the Republican Party. The religious fanatics and political freebooters who have flocked to the Schiavo deathwatch can never lose, no matter how extreme their pronouncements. Schiavo has given the religious right an invaluable lever with which to pressure Bush and the Republicans, who can never fully satisfy its demands if they are to sustain a national majority. The inviolability of marriage, states' rights, limited government, respect for the law -- these conservative principles must be cast aside in the struggle for power. Moreover, the Catholic right, a minority within both the American church and the religious right, has used this event to flex its muscles at evangelical Protestants as never before.

The battle over Schiavo is only proximately about Schiavo. The more spectacularly ghoulish the antics surrounding the Florida hospice, the more threatening the message being sent to Bush. A bigger prize looms. The shadow of political blackmail hangs over Bush's Supreme Court nominations. Bush's appointment of justices who meet the approval of the religious right, even if he had intended to appoint them all along, must be interpreted as its triumph in the Schiavo struggle. If he flouts its will, there will be hell for Republicans to pay. Bush has set himself up for appearing terrorized.



The challenge here for Bush. House majority leader Tom DeLay, who pretty much started all this, issued this statement a few hours after the Schiavo death.


Mrs. Schiavo's death is a moral poverty and a legal tragedy. This loss happened because our legal system did not protect the people who need protection most, and that will change. The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today. Today we grieve, we pray, and we hope to God this fate never befalls another. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Schindlers and with Terri Schiavo's friends in this time of deep sorrow.


That’s a threat.  "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior…"

Tom DeLay, our house majority leader, is now threatening judges, doctors and Terri Schiavo’s husband?  Probably just the judges.  Judicial activists killed Terri Schiavo, and they will pay?  [ See the footnote on whether this threat is a violation of the law. ]

As our columnist Bob Patterson comments –


Remember the old song about sure things, such as rain in Indianapolis in the summer?

I told you about Ohio being the turning point for Bush.

I've said Terri Schiavo will be a martyr for busting the filibuster. Well, today Hugh Hewitt said something about owing it to Terri to change the filibuster rules so "we" can get good judges in place.

I tell ya, Bush is going to get a third term.


Nope.  Perhaps the filibuster will go the way of the Great Auk, and no one will ever again understand what Jimmy Stewart is doing in that old Frank Kapra movie, but things are getting hot on the right.  Not everyone on that side is buying into the idea we need Christian, fundamentalist judges upholding God's natural law.

Take Glenn Reynolds here - one unhappy Republican.


Republicans like to point out that you have to stand for something, or you'll fall for anything. The leadership, at least, of the Republican Party has abandoned the principles of small government and federalism that it used to stand for. Trampling traditional limits on governmental power in an earnest desire to do good in high-profile cases has been a hallmark of a certain sort of liberalism, and it's the sort of thing that I thought conservatives eschewed. If I were in charge of making the decision, I might well put the tube back and turn Terri Schiavo over to her family. But I'm not, and the Florida courts are, and they seem to have done a conscientious job. Maybe they came to the right decision, and maybe they didn't; this is a hard case. But respecting the courts' role in the system, and not rushing to overturn all the rules because we don't like the outcome, seems to me to be part of being a member of civilized society rather than a mob. I thought conservatives knew this. Before things are over, they may wish they hadn't forgotten.


He sounds worried. And he’s not the only one.

Take John Danforth, the former Missouri senator who was, until January, this administration’s United Nations ambassador. Earlier in the week he wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times whining about how the Republican Party has become the "political arm of conservative Christians." Yipes!

But Tom Grieve reminds us here -


Danforth is an Episcopal minister who presided at Ronald Reagan's funeral and knelt in prayer and listened to "Onward Christian Soldiers" with Clarence Thomas during the justice's contentious confirmation hearings, but he has never been a favorite of the religious right. As the Washington Post noted in a 2004 profile, Danforth "voted against abortion rights but shied away from a leadership role in the movement." As a senator, he opposed school prayer, opposed the death penalty, and was what his former chief of staff called "an extremely aggressive advocate of the separation of church and state."

Still, Bush considered Danforth as a vice presidential candidate and then turned to him to represent the United States in the United Nations after John Negroponte left for Iraq last year. For such a prominent Republican with such a long relationship with the Bush family to speak out on the GOP's mind-meld with the religious right -- in the New York Times, no less -- has got to sting.


Maybe so, but he is the “other” kind of Republican.

There aren’t many of those speaking out. This whole Schiavo thing, and now her death, has them all spooked.

But he does say this - "The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement."

Grieve adds this -


It's not just the Republicans' intervention in the Schiavo case that's bothering Danforth. It's a series of initiatives, including the Republicans' support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and their opposition to stem cell research. "Standing alone, each of these initiatives has its advocates, within the Republican Party and beyond," Danforth writes. "But the distinct elements do not stand alone. Rather they are parts of a larger package, an agenda of positions common to conservative Christians and the dominant wing of the Republican Party."


Ah, it’s the larger package that bothers him.

Danforth –


During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots.


Not likely now.  It may be too late for any of these guys to take back the party. Bush, or really Karl Rove (Richelieu-lite), has given it to the Army of God.

And you know what they think of Episcopalians like Danforth.  See this where you will find Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition exlaining matters: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist."
Perhaps, Dan, it’s time to leave the party. You’re not wanted.

Oh yes, the site at the link above also has some choice quotes from Randall Terry, the man the parents of Terri Schiavo selected to speak for them. I guess they didn’t do their homework. Or maybe they did. Terry’s previous views?


"I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good... Our goal is a Christian nation. We have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism."

"Our goal must be simple. We must have a Christian nation built on God's law, on the Ten Commandments. No apologies."

"When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we'll execute you. I mean every word of it. I will make it part of my mission to see to it that they are tried and executed."

"There is going to be war, [and Christians may be called to] take up the sword to overthrow the tyrannical regime that oppresses them."


I guess it’s time for a lot of Republicans to choose sides. Rove gave the party to Tom DeLay and these guys.

Now what?




Bob Patterson, our Just Above Sunset columnist, adds this –


Now what?


There will be a week of mourning for St. Terri (and odds are the Pope too). 


Then after the Schindler Mass, and a day or two more pass the President will give a speech blaming all this on the Clinton appointees in the various courts.


Then, backed by the chorus of the conservative talk show hosts, there will be the call to change the filibuster rule and confirm all the good conservative judges whose approval is bottled up in the Senate.


The nuclear option is rolled out.


The rules are changed.


Hundreds of conservative judges will be unleashed to right the terrible wrongs (decisions) unleashed by the Clinton appointments.


Then in June national attention will turn to the Atomic Weapons of Mass Destruction sitting on the launching pads in Iran.


Some polls show that a few dunderheads don't like Dubya?  It's just like the Australian outlaw said:  "Such is life."


Don't forget with Bush and Company it's not what they say; it's what they do.


Sometimes ya gotta say something you don't really mean, to get things to break your way.


If you don't believe my predictions, try listening to Rush, Hugh Hewitt, Michael Medved, etc.  They want the filibuster rules changed.  DeLay says St. Terri was a gift to the Republicans from God.  Does he have to spell it out?  It's as plain as the fact that Kerry was a flip flopper and nobody wanted gay marriage.  Perception is reality.  Changing the filibuster rules will make it a perfect world.


No one seems to agree with me on this (except possibly Dubya and Karl Rove.)


Just watch and see.  The Republicans have not "jumped the shark."  They have just gotten a gift from God and they aren't going to squander it.


And this -


Back during the campaign days, someone in one of the articles or on this site said that lately the Republicans act and the Democrats react.


The Democrats have been scratching their heads trying to figure out what to say after losing in the Fall election and what new stance to take.  The Republicans will act after the Schiavo memorial services.  Then the Democrats will react to that.  They will scratch their heads and wonder what new stance to take.


God damn it, they should go on the attack now!  They should attack, attack, and attack again.  They should be attacking  "Where are the WMD's?"  They should be attacking:  "Do we really want a war with Iran?"  They should be attacking:  "Bush wants to repeal the new deal!" The Democrats should be attacking, but what are they doing?


Is America ready for a woman president?  Hillary seems to be the front runner.  The New York Times did some nice branding by running a story saying Barbara Bush (the older one) says Hillary will be nominated and lose.  Nice move!  Great concept to put in America's mind this early.  Act and let the Democrats react:  "No, she won't lose, she'll make a great President!"


Oh dear me what did the Democrats do wrong in 2004.  We should have a big conference to study the matter.  Bullshit!  You do that and the Republicans will do something the day after the conference that will leave the Democrats reeling.  The Democrats will take a standing nine count, try to clear their heads, and then try to figure out an appropriate reaction.


Are there that many guys who just won't vote for a woman candidate?  Why not do some extensive polling on this topic?  Maybe the Democrats can learn something from a big study.


"Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee."


"If you keep doing what you were doing and expect to get different results, you're in for another disappointment."


Take a good-looking, rather young, Democrat (John Edwards), send him everywhere to ask about the WMD's, the WMD's in Iran, the stalemate in Iraq, the Social Security ruse, and some other topics and have him criticize Bush and Company - every day and twice on Sunday.


Ah, maybe, after the advisory committee submits their report on who would make the perfect running mate for Hillary.


Karl Rove must laugh himself silly.


Ah, maybe so.


And our Wall Street attorney adds this –


After reading your comments I am even further convinced that we are screwed.  I think the pendulum has swung too far and may be permanently stuck.  Sad times.


But in Friday’s Los Angeles Times Jonathan Chait says all these folks are wrong about the Republicans 


The Terri Schiavo saga has prompted yet another round of fears that the Republican Party has been hijacked by religious conservatives. The truth, however, is just the opposite: Religious conservatives have been hijacked by the Republican Party.

The odd thing is how many people continue to believe that the religious right pulls the strings in the White House and Congress. John Danforth, a moderate former GOP senator from Missouri, expressed this fear the other day in a New York Times Op-Ed article.

The traditional Republican agenda, he wrote, has "become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around."

There is a remarkable amount of illogic packed into that paragraph. …


Republicans will help the social conservative cause but rarely spend any political capital on it. Take the Schiavo case, which supposedly demonstrates the social conservatives' power. Sure, Bush flew across the country to sign a bill "protecting" her. But as soon as polls showed the public disapproved of Washington's intervention, Bush dropped the issue like a hot potato.

The main social conservative groups exist mainly to persuade rank-and-file social conservatives to support an agenda to which they have no natural allegiance. High on the Christian Coalition's list of its top legislative priorities, for instance, are cutting taxes (No. 2) and privatizing Social Security (No. 4), two issues that did not receive heavy emphasis in the Sermon on the Mount. Their top issue — confirming Bush's judicial nominees — does have a social angle. But in point of fact, conservative judges have been far more aggressive in overturning regulations on business than in turning back the clock on abortion or gay rights. That's why business groups have raised millions of dollars to help confirm Bush's judges.

I suspect that, behind closed doors, most Washington Republicans take religious conservatives for suckers.


Could that be so?


These are interesting times.






"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior."

-          House Majority Leader Tom DeLay


See this from the junior senator from New Jersey -


April 1, 2005

Tom DeLay
Majority Leader
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Majority Leader DeLay,

I was stunned to read the threatening comments you made yesterday against Federal judges and our nation’s courts of law in general. In reference to certain Federal judges, you stated: “The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior.”

As you are surely aware, the family of Federal Judge Joan H. Lefkow of Illinois was recently murdered in their home. And at the state level, Judge Rowland W. Barnes and others in his courtroom were gunned down in Georgia.

Our nation’s judges must be concerned for their safety and security when they are asked to make difficult decisions every day. That’s why comments like those you made are not only irresponsible, but downright dangerous. To make matters worse, is it appropriate to make threats directed at specific Federal and state judges?

You should be aware that your comments yesterday may violate a Federal criminal statute, 18 U.S.C. 115 (a)(1)(B). That law states:

“Whoever threatens to assault…. or murder, a United States judge… with intent to retaliate against such… judge…. on account of the performance of official duties, shall be punished [by up to six years in prison]”

Threats against specific Federal judges are not only a serious crime, but also beneath a Member of Congress. In my view, the true measure of democracy is how it dispenses justice. Your attempt to intimidate judges in America not only threatens our courts, but our fundamental democracy as well.

Federal judges, as well as state and local judges in our nation, are honorable public servants who make difficult decisions every day. You owe them – and all Americans – an apology for your reckless statements.


Frank R. Lautenberg




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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