WASHINGTON, D.C.—Bush might look like a lame duck, but it would be foolish to underestimate a president’s power in the midst of war. His veto power is formidable. And this president is in the unique position to institutionalize conservative rule by appointing as many as three Supreme Court justices. Places where this lame duck can still do some damage:
BOLTON: Insisting that John Bolton’s nomination as U.N. ambassador is still alive, Bush in a recent press conference slammed the Dems for their blocking tactics. Hill Republicans are split. Fire is going out of the debate, and Bolton still might well slide through.
UNITED NATIONS: Bolton is Bush’s gift to conservatives who want to dump the U.N. But the oil-for-food scandals are an unexpected GOP political plus, showing the U.N. to be corrupt, badly in need of reform and new leadership. And now comes news that the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency had secret how-to-make-a-bomb files stolen, again making the U.N. look incompetent and even dangerous.
JUDGES: In the face-saving deal with Democrats, Bush got three judges through, including Janice Brown, a Federalist Society member, who argues that liberalism is just a stepping stone toward slavery and who once labeled a 1930s landmark court decision permitting the government to regulate the workplace “the triumph of our own socialist revolution.” This deal supposedly defangs Bill Frist’s “nuclear option” plan for getting rid of the filibuster by letting some right-wing judges get through while making plans for a down and dirty fight over Bush’s first appointment to the Supreme Court, expected later this summer. As for a new chief justice, Washington conservatives still argue over Thomas or Scalia.
With Bush shilly-shallying about gay marriage and loosening up the rules on stem cell research, the president needs once more to rally the Christian right to his cause. And that looks to be Roe v. Wade, the litmus test for a Supreme Court justice.
SOCIAL SECURITY: Republicans in Congress cannot agree about Social Security changes, and the emergence of former Clinton treasury secretary Robert Rubin as a powerful new Democratic backroom economics coach makes the administration vulnerable. Bush’s barnstorming earlier this year pushed Social Security into the national limelight, and he has successfully scared people into thinking something must be done—especially young adults who believe their future depends on changing the system.
ENERGY: Bush’s energy proposals don’t mean more oil or lower prices. (Some energy experts see the price of oil soon hitting $150 per barrel.) That’s not the point. Such minor plays as oil drilling in Alaska are powerful symbols in Bush’s continuing effort to maintain and extend his support within the big business community. That’s what counts, not energy policy. There is no energy policy, and there hasn’t been one since Three Mile Island’s meltdown in ’79.
WAR: With the Iraqi insurgency continuing and what could be a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan, the U.S. is stuck with troops spread dangerously thin in the Middle East and Central Asia. American commanders say we can’t fight another war with the existing military. That means a draft and more money for defense or the downsizing of neocon plans for a military remake of the world. Winnable or not, war is a good way to rally support at home. It can mean more jobs in the defense industry and another round of patriotism. By the time the mess in the Middle East sorts itself out, Bush and his cronies will be long gone. With Bush, rational thinking on defense policy depends on the political drift at home. Bush has already pushed things dangerously close to open conflict with Syria, and tension mounts over Iran.
Additional reporting: Natalie Wittlin, Halley Bondy, and Christine Lu