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March 20, 2007

Exit the President?

Roy Meachum

Coming almost exactly 40 years ago, Lyndon B. Johnson's Sunday night announcement caught the world by surprise. With sorrow and regret, the gentleman from Texas said he would not run for re-election.

On one level Mr. Johnson knew his electability was seriously questionable; he did not emotionally or professionally need another squeaker like the voting that sent him to Washington, earning the nickname "Landslide."

His idealistic self had no taste for plunging the nation into further distress over a war he did not start but tried unsuccessfully to bring to an end. By his removal he meant to remove Vietnam from the campaign agenda.

With considerably less grace, some six years later, Richard M. Nixon ended his presidency, halfway into his second term, hounded by Watergate misrepresentations, omissions and the imminence of legal proceedings.

Since his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, had resigned in a cloud of scandal, the Quaker gentleman left behind Gerald Ford whose highest elected office was in the House of Representatives.

It was Mr. Ford - to remind the forgetful - who sealed his political fate by ordering U.S. forces out of Southeast Asia. The gentle man from Michigan should have received the Nobel Peace Prize, but didn't.

The case can be argued that Iraq is worse than Vietnam, especially in the long term effects on America in the international arena. At home, its impact is mitigated by being limited to military volunteers.

The National Guard's extensive deployment simply adds to the myth that those killed and wounded knew their chances when they signed on the dotted line. Even in the post 9/11 patriotic surge, few rushed to join the Guard, whose role has always been to train citizen-soldiers.

Pro-White House apologists could save George W. Bush's presidency in 2004 for four more years; but last year's congressional races relegated him to dead man walking status. Lamer than any chief executive duck in his final term, Mr. Bush has been relegated to behind-the-scene skullduggery, some that he did not start.

While the Buck indeed stops in the Oval Office, as Harry S Truman's desk sign announced, the president cannot reasonably be targeted for the Walter Reed mess. He is. Not only by opposition politicians but veterans organizations.

It takes no GOP partisan to accept Mr. Bush's faith in his administration's taking good care of wounded soldiers. His faith figured to be shaken by the weekend news that part of Walter Reed's maintenance staff difficulties could have resulted from actions by a company controlled by his former secretary of The Treasury.

Of course the president had little to do with the FBI's overly zealous use of strengthened powers to demand private phone records, but his administration encouraged such zealousness, maintaining that fighting terrorism justified excesses.

The "outing" of a CIA spy was an example of how the president and his men regard the war as an excuse for all their misconduct.

They similarly rationalize the midterm firing of U.S. attorneys, drawing upon extraordinary presidential powers that resulted from Middle Eastern violence or its threat. To most observers, the firings seem an effort to perpetuate the Republican Party or to punish perceived lack of diligence against Democratic "wrong-doers."

Meanwhile, more injurious to this country and the GOP is the lack of justification for expanding the U.S. presence in Iraq. The government there refuses to enact reforms demanded by Washington. It remains in office only because of American bayonets.

Mr. Nixon did not willingly resign and Mr. Johnson waited until the end of his elected term before stepping away. But in both those instances neither gentleman exacerbated his situation by escalating the circumstances. Mr. Bush has.

After his party losing last year's elections in severe repudiation of the administration, especially Iraq, decency demanded that the president would place self-restraints on his conduct. He has not.

Not at this instant, but sometime before 2008's presidential campaign gets into high gear, simple decency demands that George W. Bush and his vice president step down. Republicans should demand it.

Both men's continuing lingering in the corridors of Washington power least serves GOP hopes for next year.

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