Republicans on the Hill could scarcely contain their glee yesterday when
they heard about Rush Limbaugh's pummeling of George Bush
. Wan smiles were
on the faces of Congressmen and staffers, including supporters of the
governor's presidential bid. It can't be a good sign for a presidential
candidate that his party's congressional wing is rooting against him,
albeit in a small matter.
Bush's remarks were not in substance terribly offensive. He's right that
conservatives sometimes overlook positive trends in the culture, and that
this blindness has diminished their effectiveness. On the other hand,
Bush's habit of referring to unnamed conservatives who supposedly attack
government indiscriminately - as though those of us to his right were a
band of crazy anarchists for wanting to close down the Department of
Education - does get tiresome. (Why reporters think these views represent
a break with the darkly negative, anti-government Gingrich era is a bit
mysterious. Has everyone already forgotten that Newt Gingrich is a
technological utopian? That he has always supported efficient government
and never had much appetite for moral issues?)
Bush has said this sort of thing before, and seems genuinely taken aback
by the criticism from the right. He's now attempting a revisionist spin,
claiming that he was only talking about a misperception of Republicans
when the text of the speech makes it clear he was contributing to that
misperception. The reason Bush's remarks have drawn such fire is that they
followed so closely his dissing of House Republicans over the budget. (For
an analysis of this episode, see "Bush v. Congress" in our latest issue.)
Bush partisans say his rhetoric is part of a general election strategy.
But a general election strategy based on diffusing hot issues and
distancing Bush from the right is a formula for low conservative turnout.
This is especially true if Bush does not at some point take the offensive
against the Democrats.
What Governor Bush needs to understand is that throw-away lines
criticizing conservatives will drown out any other part of his message,
given the predilections of the press. Witness the scant attention paid to
Bush's impressive proposal on education savings accounts. From most of the
coverage, you'd hardly know his speech concerned education.
(What are the chances that Governor Bush has read Slouching Towards
This week the New Yorker adds another name to the roster of distinguished
writers who have published on its august pages. No, we don't mean Gunter
Grass, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature and author of a short
story starting on page 86. Instead, it's Sister Souljah, dubbed "a writer
and political activist" by the magazine's editors. Her short profile of
singer Mary J. Blige or, more accurately, her self-absorbed first-person
chronicle of watching Blige's career (first line: "There's this white guy
who used to be my driver") will certainly rank as one of the finer
moments of David Remnick's editorship.