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The Right’s Sleight of Hand


Too often in politics when the going gets tough, the tough head for the door.

That’s what faces George W. Bush in this election year as Republican incumbents, particularly those in the U.S. Senate and House, scurry away from his failing presidency. South Dakota’s Republican U.S. Senator John Thune, currently campaigning for a leadership position within his party’s hierarchy, has this advice for his colleagues “distance yourselves from the President.” That piece of political strategy is not new to candidates of either party. In the mid- 1990s some Democratic candidates temporarily distanced themselves from President Bill Clinton and Republicans in the early 70s deserted Richard Nixon.

This year, however, the political abandonment means something very different. The current political shelter-seeking has much more to do with protecting failed policy than it does dissing an unpopular president. From raging deficits at home to the political wreckage in the Middle East, the ruins of bad federal policy of the Far Right ideologues litters the landscape.

In poll after poll, Americans, including Rocky Mountain westerners, seem on the verge of punishing those Republicans for their failed policies. The arch conservative members of the U.S. House and Senate, who have either written or rubber stamped new laws that have moved American policy farther to the right of center than anyone can remember, are now hoping beyond rational hope that the voters will assign all blame to George W. Bush and little or none to the missteps of right wing policy.

The president, already an apparent lame duck in the middle of his second term, is seen as expendable. The public widely discounts his competence with a whopping 67% of people, in the latest Associated Press poll, believing that “the United States is heading in the wrong direction.”

This reign of error is not due to the policies of moderate conservatives. This is not your father’s Republican Party; it is not the party of Nixon, Rockefeller or Gerald Ford. Rather this is the party of the ideologues: Gingrich, Army, Delay, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. It is not the party of George H.W. Bush, but rather the party of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and George W. Bush. Their extreme policy initiatives include privatizing Social Security, selling the public’s land, trickle-down tax cuts at the expense of middle income people, exporting Democracy through gun barrels, a hands-off energy policy, and denial of global warming. Those on the Far Right have had full sway in both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government. For decades they have been longing to experiment with their policies and now they have “unimpeded” and the wreckage of their wrong-headed ideas threatens America’s and the world’s future.

Those in charge and responsible for the current mess are more than eager to write off their historic policy blunders as nothing more than the incompetence of one man–George W. Bush. The Far Right is counting on the inattention of the American people to pull off their political slight of hand.

PAT WILLIAMS served nine terms as a U.S. Representative from Montana. After his retirement, he returned to Montana and is teaching at The University of Montana where he also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West.



Pat Williams served 18 years as Montana’s Congressman. He now lives in Missoula where he teaches at the University of Montana.

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