Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Plunging A Veto In His Own Heart

The fight over whether a nation with iffy commitments in the war on terror ought to be operating our ports continues with the President threatening to use a power of his which he has heretofore never exercised--the veto.

As an aside, and a response to a reader from yesterday, it makes sense that Bush has never exercised the power. He's had a Republican Congress to deal with for his entire Administration. Comity generally does away with the need for the veto. But back to the issue at hand.

He has against him just about every Democrat, which is not headline material. They oppose his choice of coffees in the morning. But the very real problem he faces is opposition from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist who is promising to introduce legislation to hold or altogether block the deal. On the House side, allies such as House Speaker Denny Hastert and new House Majority leader John Boehner are opposing the deal.

And per the above-linked article, Bush just continues with "trust me". Now, there is no legitimate question of corruption here in the handing out of a government contract, i.e. no Halliburton issue for the Dems to demagogue, but its wisdom is legitimately questioned. The response to such questions is an answer that appropriately addresses the "why" of this deal.

"Why" is a question that goes to the core of how our society thinks about things. It involves reasons, facts, and arguments. Addressing a why with a reason or reasons gives us a place from which to get inside the Administration's thinking and either ratify or take issue with it. Without that information, and with only a paternalistic "trust me", we have only the appearance of a very unwise deal.

The offered excuses that the Coast Guard and Customs retain control over the security of the ports is minimally comforting. Those operating the ports get to see the procedures, and as we've learned from al Qaida, the opportunity to adapt and evade detection in an effort to smuggle in unwelcome items into our ports, and even to identify the ones with the most lax security. So at the very least, the opportunity for an enemy to learn is there.

But forgetting the specific security concerns, this move has the potential to be politically disastrous for a president who is desperately trying to get the engine to turn over on his second term. Already a year into it, he has allowed himself to be at the mercy of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, the media, and any Democrat planning to run for president in 2008. And here, when he is trying to make a comeback, we catch him advocating for a foreign nation with interests adverse to our own, over a port operation deal. It smacks of remarkably poor political calculation and shortsightedness to have even approved the deal. It simply doesn't pass the smell test. But to continue to defend the deal without providing any justification for it and then to threaten to take on one's best friends in the Congress is insanity.

Which brings me to the biggest problem. If that legislation passes Congress and comes to the President and he vetoes it, he is looking at having his first veto overridden--there ought to be plenty of votes to against him on this issue to pull that kind of thing off. The result would be to render Bush and his agenda dead for the remainder of his term. Following from that, Democrats would be in a stronger position in 2006. No Republican is helped by this.

Of course, they will manage to work something out to avoid what would certainly be a train wreck for both President and Congressional leadership, but whatever the result, the President leaves this week with a pretty sizeable net minus, given that the hit comes against his strongest issue, national security. And when you have leftists like Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-Wherever) running to Bush's right on his strongest issue, it's always a bad thing.

It could have been avoided by better communication, but it wasn't and as a result, the President gets a valid hit on his reputation at a point in time when he really can't afford it.


Blogger ELAshley said...

I was at first vehemently opposed to this deal, but the more I've heard, the more of a non-issue it becomes-- for me. Osama didn't have to buy the WTC to destroy it. Besides which, they're only buying the operational rights [or so I understand]. They'll still have to deal with the unions, they'll retain all the workers currently working, and Customs and the U.S. Coast Guard will still be in charge of security. Since we're only searching 5-6% of containers coming in anyway, and those mostly from suspect nations.... I don't see too much to squawk about.

I do however agree that Bush should fire his communications team for failing to expain the sale, or make the case for it at the very first hint of public opposition. Also, it can never be a good thing when ultra liberals track right of the president. I suspect their sole motive for opposition is to appear strong on national defense. Of course we know this isn't true, but the voting public tends to have a short memory.

I think it won't matter much which direction the deal goes; it doesn't bode well for Republicans either way. To pull back from the deal sends a bad signal.

3:56 PM  

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