The elections, politics, the news….the pretense is that the people are at the heart of it all.

In reality, it’s about the candidates, the politicians, the media, and always George W. Bush.

When President Bush made the remark in Israel about people who talk
about appeasement, Sen. Barack Obama angrily accused Bush of taking
shots at him while on a diplomatic trip in the Middle East. One of the
articles on this quoted White House press secretary Dana Perino as
saying candidates who run for president tend to think everything is
about them. It became a back & forth thing over the weekend in the
media, whether or not Bush really intended to imply Obama is after
appeasement with rogue dictators.

Obama has gone on the offense, running a campaign for the general election against both Sen. John McCain and President Bush.
It’s his strategy, and the Democrats’ in general. It’s managed to shift
attention away from the divided Democrats to the rattled Republicans.

Peggy Noonan has been one of many conservative voices telling the Republicans to snap out of it. Or get a grip. Or do something strong and encouraging and decisive. Because they’re stuck.

Most party leaders in Washington are stupid – detached,
played out, stuck in the wisdom they learned when they were coming up,
in ‘78 or ‘82 or ‘94. Whatever they learned then, they think pertains
now. In politics especially, the first lesson sticks. For Richard
Nixon, everything came back to Alger Hiss.

Are the Republicans realizing they’re in a mess all of a sudden? The
media coverage has been rough, but no tougher than some Republican
leaders have been on themselves. Noonan is trying to help them focus.

“This was a real wakeup call for us,” someone named
Robert M. Duncan, who is chairman of the Republican National Committee,
told the New York Times. This was after Mississippi. “We can’t let the
Democrats take our issues.” And those issues would be? “We can’t let
them pretend to be conservatives,” he continued. Why not? Republicans
pretend to be conservative every day.

The Bush White House, faced with the series of losses from 2005
through ‘08, has long claimed the problem is Republicans on the Hill
and running for office. They have scandals, bad personalities, don’t
stand for anything. That’s why Republicans are losing: because they’re
losers.

All true enough!

But this week a House Republican said publicly what many say
privately, that there is another truth. “Members and pundits . . . fail
to understand the deep seated antipathy toward the president, the war,
gas prices, the economy, foreclosures,” said Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia
in a 20-page memo to House GOP leaders.

How to recover?

The party, said Mr. Davis, must admit its predicament,
act independently of the White House, and force Democrats to define
themselves. “They should have some ownership for what’s going on. They
control the budget. They pay no price. . . . Obama has all happy talk,
but it’s from 30,000 feet. Energy, immigration, what is he gonna do?”

The people want change and he’s promising it, which is why he’s
practically the party’s nominee. People hardly know ‘what he is gonna
do’, but they’re buying the change idea. Over at WSJ’s Potomoc Watch, Kim Strassel has a good piece on the tenor of the country right now.

The state of the union is angry. Citizens are furious
about gas prices and health-care costs, broken schools and property
taxes. These are the leaky hydrants, the constant reminders that
government hasn’t done much for them lately. Their fury has bubbled as
they’ve watched Washington obsess over itself – dealing out earmarks,
paying off constituencies, launching probes into political enemies.
Accomplishing zip.

This anger is the best way to describe today’s political landscape.
Ever since Republicans were routed in 2006, and more recently with
their loss of three special elections, the party has been in a debate
about what changed in the country and what to do in response.

Meanwhile, there are the people.

Maybe voters are just mad as hell. At everyone. George
W. Bush’s approval ratings have hit an all-time low at 31%, which is
not good for Republicans. Then again, the Democratic Congress’s
approval rating clocked in at 18% – the lowest in Gallup’s history.

Consider independents, that key voting group and bellwether of the
national mood. Analysts have pointed to the growing number of
registered independents as proof the country is moving toward the
“middle.” But as pollster Whit Ayres notes, what primarily defines
independents is that they are all “cynical about politics and
politicians.” They aren’t ideological in any particular way – left,
right or center.

So, then. What next?

House Republicans appear to be catching on. This week
they rolled out the first part of an election-year agenda that
pointedly lists their legislative “solutions” to the problems of today.
It is aimed at women, and includes innovative proposals to help
families struggling to balance work and home. To follow will be calls
for more domestic energy production, a free-market health agenda,
national security and entitlement reform.

This redefinition should’ve come earlier. And it would mean more if
House incumbents who swear they’ve learned a lesson would demonstrate
it in office.

It’s gut check time.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....