The old GOP con game of diverting voter attention away from issues

How ironic. Republicans, who won control of the House and Senate in 1994 by turning that year’s midterm elections into a national referendum on then-President Bill Clinton, now want to return to an "all politics is local" mantra to avoid getting tossed out on their asses because of President George W. Bush’s unpopularity.

Republican strategists say they will attack their Democratic opponents on local issues and work to avoid hot-button issues like Bush’s failed and unpopular Iraq war and his unrelenting attacks on the U.S. Constitution and freedoms that Americans used to enjoy.

"That’s the plan," says GOP pollster Bill McInturf, partner and co-founder of Public Opinion Strategies. "We will be advising our candidates to campaign on local issues."

That means telling any Republican candidate who wants to hold on to their seat in November to run as fast and hard as he or she can away from Bush and his failed Presidency.

Bush may end his Presidency as the most unpopular chief executives ever – surpassing other monumental failures like Herbert Hoover and Jimmy Carter. His mounting list of blunders – from the lies-based Iraq war to his unconstitutional use of the National Security Agency to spy on Americans – are just two examples of the most corrupt, incompetent administration that I have witnessed in more than 40 years of covering Presidents as a journalist or working for them as a political operative.

And I’m not alone in that assessment. Public opinion polls show Bush’s approval rating below 40 percent and more than 60 percent of Americans think his Iraq was a monumental mistake.

"The national mood is like that of sweep elections," says pollster McInturff. "People are angry about Iraq, about gas prices, about health care."

So Republican incumbents will try to steer the political debate away from those pesky national issues and will talk, instead, about what they’ve done for their districts and states.

In politics, that’s called bringing home the bacon or "delivering the pork." It’s something politicians have done since the beginning of the Republic and also something that Republicans have turned into an art. After promising to bring an end to traditional pork barrel politics when they won control 12 years ago, the Republicans have taken it instead to a new level, passing ever-increasing transportation and infrastructure bills with record levels of fat for their home districts and loading down many bills with private favors for big-buck donors and the boys back home.

The current fiscal year 2007 appropriation for Health-Labor-HHS-Education includes some $500 million in "earmarks," which is political code for "pork."  The 1,712 projects feature pork spending and special favors for incumbents in 422 out of 435 House districts and doesn’t include additional pork added by Senators.

Democrats get some of the pork along with Republicans but since Republicans control Congress, and the committee chairmanships, the bulk of the $500 million goes into their districts.

"This is a game of politics over need," says Keith Ashdown, vice president for policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Polls show voters want a change in the leadership of Congress but polls have shown that before and voters have a nasty habit of thinking that Congress, as an institution, is corrupt while believing their Congressman is doing a good job because he or she brings the pork home to the district.

"America is a stupid country with stupid people," says comedian and political commentator Bill Maher. "This country is a pitiful, helpless giant."

Sadly, Maher may be right. The pathetic parade of rogues, scoundrels, con-artists and just plain crooks that inhabit the halls of Congress and the White House in recent years paint a pitiful picture of the American electorate and the political system.

And if Republicans succeed in their plan to steer voters away from George W. Bush and his many failures, they may also succeed in conning American voters one more time.