Bush on the ballot

September 08, 2006

Time was when a presidential visit was a big deal. A bit less so in Maryland than in other states because the White House is so close chief executives make the trip frequently. Still, local dignitaries could be expected to muster. Especially those from the president's own party.

Not this year. When George W. Bush blew into Southern Maryland last week for a Labor Day event, the state's top Republican leaders and candidates were elsewhere. Snubs are rarely so evident, but Mr. Bush isn't flooded with requests from candidates in tight election contests anywhere to come help rally the troops. They're afraid he'd rally them in the wrong direction.

After six years, the full ramifications of the Bush presidency are finally beginning to hit home with voters: a war in Iraq that the U.S. can't win and can't quit; bungling across the board in response to Hurricane Katrina; and middle-class workers with stagnant wages struggling under growing pressure from fuel, utility, housing and interest costs.

No matter how much his fellow Republicans try to distance themselves, Mr. Bush and his record are on the ballot in congressional and even state elections just as surely as if he were running for election himself.

For the Republican-led Congress, that's how it should be. Voters have been persuaded for too long to swallow their doubts about the mission in Iraq and the priorities of Bush domestic policies because they thought he was protecting them from terrorists. In fact, the president is busily trying to conjure up that illusion one more time.

But that trick shouldn't be allowed to work again. This election should be about devising a realistic exit strategy from Iraq, shaping practical national security measures that recognize obvious threats and protect civil liberties, and restoring some measure of economic security to the middle class.

Democrats haven't yet made a strong case for favoring them - except that they are the other guys. It's worth remembering, though, that Mr. Bush still has two more years in office. He and Congress can move more aggressively down the path he has set or correct the course to adjust for mistakes that have increasingly become apparent.

As Marylanders make their choices in Tuesday's primary, and move into the general election season, they should keep the president in mind - whether anyone wants to be seen with him or not.

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