Ted Olson and Bush's Maximum Confrontation Strategy
Today's New York Times reports that former Solicitor General Ted Olson has emerged as President Bush's leading choice to replace Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. That Bush might tap the controversial Olson, a key player in the 1990's Arkansas project targeting Bill Clinton and the man who helped win the 2000 Florida recount at the Supreme Court, should come as no surprise. It's just another part of George W. Bush's strategy of "maximum confrontation" guiding the remainder of his presidency.
Maximum confrontation serves three purposes for President Bush. First, it is an essential ingredient in preventing Democrats from winning victories of any kind and claiming successes as they head into the 2008 elections. Second, perpetual conflict with the "Democrat" Party, whether over nominees, filibusters or vetoes, helps mobilize the President's hard right base. And last, as Robert Draper's new biography Dead Certain makes clear, the image of the battling, brawling President helps Bush cement his legacy as a man of resolve, unbending in the face of either opposition or reality.
With no reelection campaign to run, no vice president to protect and leading a party whose electoral strategy is to whip up the conservative base while suppressing Democratic and independent voter turnout, Bush will pay no price for his thirst for conflict. (His Republican allies in Congress, however, may be another matter.)
All of which explains the predictable choice of inflammatory nominees like Ted Olson. On the day of Gonzales' resignation, conservative movement godfather Richard Viguerie counseled President Bush, "Confront the Democrats, don't 'reach out' to them as liberal commentators are urging." In his vitriolic statement lamenting Gonzales' departure, Bush appeared to heed Viguerie's advice, decrying the "unfair treatment" that led to Gonzales' being "dragged through the mud for political reasons." Only too happy to resort to recess appointments to ensconce extremist appointees like Kerry Swift Boater turned Ambassador Sam Fox or former UN ambassador John Bolton, President Bush has no intention of accommodating the likes of Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who reacted to the prospect of an Olson AG pick, "My hope is that the White House would seek some kind of candidate who would be broadly acceptable."
Bush's craving for conflict and endless obstructionism hardly ends with his predilection for in-your-face nominees. As Robert Novak detailed in June, Bush's veto strategy will define the remainder of his term. While Bush withheld his veto pen during a first term featuring a compliant GOP Congress, the President is promising a tidal wave of vetoes from here on out. Blocking stem cell research, federal spending bills, Iraq war benchmarks, expansion of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and government negotiation of Medicare prescription drug prices are just a few on the threats Bush has issued. His dander (and testosterone) up, a feisty Bush crowed in June:
"If the Democrats want to test us, that's why they give the president the veto."
In the Senate, Bush's Republican allies are working overtime to make sure it doesn't come to that. The same GOP who demanded the "up or down vote" in 2005 is now making unprecedented use of the filibuster to block Democratic initiatives - and victories - at all costs. Republican obstructionism blocked every major Democratic effort to change the course in Iraq and even stalled the Alberto Gonzales no-confidence vote. The Republican commitment to portraying Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi as leaders of a do-nothing Congress through the 208 elections ensures that the Democrats will need a filibuster-proof 60 votes to do anything. (President Bush's veto threats raise that bar to 67 votes.) As Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MS) publicly bragged:
"The strategy of being obstructionist can work or fail. So far it's working for us."
Even the Iraq debate reflects President Bush's endless appetite for political fireworks. During a 2004 debate with John Kerry, President Bush might as well have been discussing Democrats and not Islamic insurgents when he said, "best way to defeat them is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive." His only concession to the reality of potential Republican devastation next November is the appearance of withdrawing U.S. troops beginning next summer.
No doubt, if President Bush selects Ted Olson (or someone like him) as his choice for Attorney General, he will ignite a firestorm angry confrontation with Democrats. Which is exactly what he wants.