Representative Pat Tiberi (R-OH) has joined the growing ranks of Republicans who have now, finally, after three years, begun to say, "Well, yeah, y'know, maybe the President isn't precisely handling everything really, absolutely great."
Of course, one has to wonder whether it's the light these Republicans are seeing or the calendar. Oh, my, look, it's Labor Day! The mid-term election season is here. Go figure!
Of course, considering how lock-step Republicans have been for five years in painting the President as a combination between Gandhi, Moses and Albert Camus, any crack in the ice is noteworthy. Then again, the last time ice this solid cracked, it took down the Titanic.
Imagine. History repeats itself.
One way to describe these actions is bipartisan and courageous. Another is "saving yourself."
"I can't defend how the president laid out the need for (going to war in Iraq). I don't support Rumsfeld," Tiberi told the Columbus Dispatch.
Of course, as anyone in a heated argument with a loved one knows, it's not enough to admit "I was wrong." No, it is far more important to acknowledge, "You were right."
For five years, Democrats and all things not neocon have been lambasted as cowards, traitors, un-American, morally confused and Fascist appeasers for daring to suggest that President Bush is perhaps not doing a great job. Now that Mr. Bush's approval has plummeted to 37% and American's disapprove of his handling of Iraq by a stunning 63-31% - it's not enough for Republican candidates to merely say, as the world enflames around them, "I now believe there is a problem in leadership."
That's like Mel Gibson apologizing for spewing anti-Semitic vitriol while drunk and forgetting that he made "The Passion of the Christ" sober. The thought is nice, but you miss the point.
And so too is anyone who thinks that, finally, two months before the election, acknowledging that Presidential leadership isn't great suddenly, poof!, makes them statesmen worth voting for.
In another culture, Japan say, one would not only resign, but might even fall on their sword.
Republicans may be running for cover to distance themselves from their past, but the truth is they couldn't run far enough away if they fell off the edge of the earth.
This is all swell and about time. But it doesn't change the election equation. It only reinforces it. The issue is exactly the same.
As a result, there remain three basic things for a Democratic candidate to do this year.
First - in every campaign appearance, every TV ad and every face-to-face debate, Democratic candidates should ask one very simple question: "As the Republican candidate, are you more likely support President Bush's programs than I am?"
In most cases, the Democrat would be able to sit down at that point and remark, "I have nothing else to say for the rest of the campaign." Remember - the President has an approval rating of just 37%. Either the Republican candidate has to defend this breathtakingly unpopular candidate, or repudiate his own party leader.
Of course, Democrats should avoid this impulse and have their list ready to whip out: there's nothing quite like nailing the door shut with port security, stem cell research, greenhouse gas protections, affordable healthcare, funding first responders, Congressional oversight, saving jobs from outsourcing and so much more.
Second - should a Republican candidate insist there are many fine Republican programs he supports, what the Democratic candidate should reply is, "Cool. Name the Republican programs you support." Then sit down.
What will a Republican talk about? Privatizing Social Security? The budget deficit? The Dubai Ports Deal. Protecting and rebuilding New Orleans? Cutting taxes for multi-millionaires to allow a raise in the minimum wage? Gas prices? That leaves only Iraq and terrorism - unfortunately, the public says that the Iraq War has worsened the prospects of terrorism in the U.S. by an astounding 60-31%!
Third and finally - a Democratic challenger should ask any Republican incumbent: "Do you stand by your vote supporting the Iraq War?"
If the answer is, "Yes," well...that's actually great! Remember that whole "The public is against the Iraq War by two-to-one" thing. Let the Republican candidate dig a deeper hole trying to justify what the voters have hugely rejected.
If however the answer is now, "No," that's just fine, too. Simply follow-up: "Is that a flip-flop? You were for it, but now you're against it? What sort of leadership is it that took you until two months before the election to suddenly "change your mind" and see what you should have seen from the start, instead of blindly following George Bush lock-step, which would have kept us out of what even you describe is a mess?"
And then, sit down.