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Bush Survives With Nary A Scratch

I think Jonathan Chait hits the nail on the head in explaining why President Bush will sail through the Katrina debacle unscathed:

So here we are, with the administration having badly bungled a war and a major national disaster, not to mention making a complete hash of the budget. Yet Bush and his aides don't seem very upset. And why should they be? There's nothing anybody can do to them now.

Chait goes on to explain how the structure of Congress, combined with the existence of a hard core of 35-40% of voters who would vote Republican even if Bush held a baby-eating orgy in the Rose Garden, means it's exceedingly unlikely that Congressional Republicans will feel the heat over Katrina either. I would add to that the fact that the election is over a year away. The more time passes, the more the really visceral images of dectruction and immediate-aftermath incompetence will fade. The Republican spin machine has finally gotten into gear*, so anyone who's currently staring down the tough choice of rejecting the GOP will be offered a comfortable narrative that will make peace between the tragedy of Katrina and their commitment to the Republican party.

Garance Franke-Ruta suggests that, while the ballot box might not have much strength against Bush, perhaps the media can create some accountability. Now, this might be true if the President believed that getting good reviews from the New York Times was intrinsically valuable -- but George W. Bush is not such a president. The only real power the press has is the power to influence people's decisions in the voting booth.

However, Chait seems surprised at the continuing loyalty of some ideologues:

What I think it means is that Kristol, like most conservatives, will remain loyal to Bush as long as he remains ideologically true, no matter how badly he governs.

To me, this is unsurprising, though not for the knee-jerk reason that conservatives are dumb and don't pay attention to reality. It's in the nature of an ideologue to see ideology as of primary importance. Post-Katrina hurricane relief is a relatively non-ideological task, but many other things the president does are not. Chait is implying that much of what a president does is similarly administrative, jobs where the goal is clear and the only question is the President's skill in carrying them out. An ideologue like Kristol, on the other hand, sees a big part of the President's job as consisting of setting those goals. Competence in carrying them out is only as good as the goals themselves. Think of it this way: had Bush executed the Katrina aftermath perfectly, making none of the mistakes for which he's been criticized, how many liberals would be willing to support him? Would saving a few thousand more people in New Orleans outweigh five years of corporate cronyism, the war in Iraq, two conservative Supreme Court justices, undermining environmental protection, a yawning budget deficit, and more? It's a tough question, and looking at it that way makes loyal ideologues seem reasonable after all.

*The leftward half of the punditocracy has been repeatedly led astray by the fact that the GOP often waits a few days before pushing its spin, prematurely crowing that the right's propaganda machine has finally bitten off more than it can chew and heralding the downfall (finally!) of Bush. The fact is that Karl Rove is good enough that he can forego the first-mover advantage to wait and get a sense of the landscape.


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