WWW Opinion Times

Monday, January 03, 2005

109th Congress, Gonzales Hearings May Be Brutal

It looks like Congress will open shortly with the same partisan deadlock which has hampered progress for the last four years. If the Republican leadership keeps its head through the battle, the end result could solidify their hold on the national agenda for another 20 years or so.

Though the Democrats would like to say otherwise, the partisanship is largely their fault. As they continue to whine about recent election setbacks, they have no compunction about dragging Republicans into the mud with them. And if cooler heads don't prevail, partisan bickering will become as objectionable and inappropriate to the American public as female mud wrestling. And both Democrats and Republicans will suffer. The difficulty for Republicans is that Democrats will gladly roll in the mud.

Of primary concern is the threat by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to make prison abuse at Abu Ghraib a centerpiece of their attack against the nomination of Attorney General nominee Alberto Gonzales. Matt Drudge reports:
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the videos [still under government seal which show graphic abuse of the prisoners] should be made public and that they proved to him that there was an organized policy of abusing prisoners to get information -- approved by the White House. . . .

Top Hill insiders explain Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) has not ruled out exploring the abuse at Abu Ghraib with Gonzales in open session. But a well-placed Kennedy source said the Attorney General's confirmation hearings will not be turned into a showdown with the military.
Levin and Kennedy "suspect" that Gonzales, in his position as a legal advisor to the Bush Administration, gave the go-ahead to such abuse. Once again "the seriousness of the charges" [in this instance fabricated] will drive the agenda of the hearings much as they did when Clarence Thomas was in "lynched" in front of the same committee Gonzales is about to face. Knowing that to attack Gonzales as a Conservative and pro-lifer will not fly in the shadow of their recent election defeats, they mistakenly believe that to tag Gonzales to abuse at Abu Ghraib will be the high ground from which they can prosecute their battle plan. If Republican leadership falters, the plan could work and destroy much of the "political capital" the President believes he obtained through the election.

Republicans need to treat this battlefield as the Gettysburg of the incoming Congress. If they do not see properly how the battlefield is taking shape and take decisive, thoughtful action, they will be on the defensive leading into the 2006 election season. This could mean all the gains made since 1994 could be washed away just as easily for them as for the Democrats in that fateful year.

Republican statesmanship and true leadership from Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist could win the day. But it will take great courage in the face of potential disaster to do so. Patience and prudence on their part will allow the Democrats to tie their own noose.

It will be necessary for Frist (especially) and Hastert to roll up their sleeves and show they are working. If they want to be successful and allow the President to use his electoral strength to make true change, they must operate above the frey and let the Dems spin in the wind.
UPDATE: Democrats have seized upon the Administrations reversal of prisoner treatment policy and will likely use it to bash Gonzales and the administration during the hearings.