By Ben Goddard - 05/12/05 12:00 AM EDT
The White House’s ability to spin its way out of almost any difficulty was on display throughout President Bush’s European trip the past few days.
After weeks of bad news about his Social Security plan, wide-spread concern over the economy, a U.N. ambassador nominee in trouble and ethics charges rattling his congressional leadership, the White House deftly turned the tide with a series of stops in Europe. For the better part of a week, this president turned what is for most a history lesson and a series of parade photo ops into a stature-building tour.
For most Americans, the Yalta conference was something they had never heard of or forgot about years ago. Bush dusted off that photo of three old men sitting together and pretty much accused the Democratic icon President Franklin Roosevelt of sentencing Central Europe to a half-century of dictatorial domination. While a lot of historians have differed with the president’s view of history, a lot more moderate to conservative voters who were questioning Bush’s domestic agenda saluted his “principled stand.”
Then Bush flew off to Moscow, where he was reported to challenge President Vladimir Putin on the issue of Soviet domination of the Baltic states and urge him to apologize. I’d like to have been in that meeting. Two more divergent views of history could not occupy the same room. Still, Bush took the place of honor beside the Russian president during ceremonies of the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
From Moscow, Bush flew to Tbilisi, the first Georgian town most Americans have heard of other than Atlanta. Years ago I visited Tbilisi while doing some work for clients. I fell in love with the passion of the people and the beauty of the country. Obviously Bush felt the same attraction, staying up to prance on stage with local folk dancers.
But it was the next day that Bush staked his dramatic claim to being a champion of liberty around the world. “Before there was a Purple Revolution in Iraq or an Orange Revolution in Ukraine or a Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, there was a Rose Revolution in Georgia,” Bush said. “The American people will stand with you,” he added.
He also further challenged his “friend” Putin by calling on all nations to turn toward liberty and stating, “Over time, any country will recognize the value of having democracies on their borders.” Well, there is no indication the Russian leadership is going to realize that any time soon. But there may be an indication in the next round of polls that Americans like a president who speaks up for freedom, even to people who don’t want to hear him.
He’s going to need what goodwill this democracy spin of Europe did for him in the weeks ahead. Social Security reform seems to be headed nowhere despite his six-week road tour to promote changes. His job-performance ratings have been sliding, and many of his friends at home are causing trouble.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is working hard to spin his ethics problems into a congressional “travelgate” that leaders of both parties would just as soon ignore, and he may succeed with that piece. But there are plenty of clouds still on the horizon. DeLay remains stuck with the image of a wheeler-dealer who will do anything to keep his party in power.
Democrats are not likely to let that image slip away. Nor will they forget DeLay’s threats to retaliate against judges who don’t rule the way he likes, especially when Pat Robertson professes to be the conscience of the party and proclaims that the “threat from the liberal judges are more serious” than those from Osama bin Laden and “a few bearded terrorists.”
Combine that with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) inclination toward a “nuclear option” for breaking judicial filibusters and the GOP continues to build the impression it doesn’t really want a balance of power. It wants all the power.
Finally, the refusal to give an inch on the John Bolton nomination suggests this White House is as committed to getting its way as are DeLay and Frist.
While the president’s statements in Europe can be viewed as courageous, Bolton’s behavior can easily be viewed as outrageous.
The president returned from Europe looking to many moderate voters like a poster boy for freedom. But some of the games being played on the home field could make DeLay, Frist and Bolton look like poster boys for a change in Congress.
Goddard is a founding partner of political consultants GC Strategic Advocacy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org