Jewish World Review April 21, 2006/ 23 Nissan, 5766

Wesley Pruden

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A political world turned upside down | The outside world as measured inside the Beltway is suddenly upside down. Howard Dean is talking tough about the hell on the border, Nancy Pelosi is talking tough about the hell inside China, and John Kerry is talking tough about national security.

Once upon a time nobody would imagine the Democrats know what they're talking about. But the president's approval rating sinks every time a pollster shoves a thermometer into an embarrassing place in the body politic, and now the not-so-Grand Old Party is trailing the Democrats by 10 points in generic congressional polling. The elections are only seven months away.

The White House shows signs of finally being fully awake; that's why Karl Rove was freed from policy-making to start to work on the November election campaigns. Some members of Congress are awake, too, but others, not having been splattered with raw Easter eggs on spring break, console themselves that maybe November won't be so bad if they just keep the covers over their heads. Maybe "we're not as bad as you think" will be good for one more campaign.

Howard Dean's not-so-surprising announcement that the Democrats are stepping smartly to the right of the president on the immigration issue hit the Republicans yesterday like a rap on the nose with a long-handled wooden spoon, undercutting the assurances that some congressmen are sending back to Washington that nobody really cares about the human tide surging over the border. "The first thing we want is tough border control," Mr. Dean says. "We can do a much better job on our borders than George Bush has done. Then we can go on to the policy disagreements about how to get it done."

The president is hedged between his angry natural grass-roots base and his corporate friends who expect him to keep delivering an abundance of peasants willing to perform scut work over long hours for peanut wages. It's not a comfortable place for a pol to be.

Emphasizing how uncomfortable circumstances and events can make that place, the "citizens militia" on the border announced yesterday that if the government can't build a fence to protect the border, private citizens can, and will. Chris Simcox, the leader of the Minutemen, says his group will break ground next month for a fence along that border. "We're going to show the federal government how easy it is to build these security fences, how inexpensively they can be built when built by private people and free enterprise." Several Arizona landowners have granted easements, and he expects others to do so soon in Texas, California and New Mexico. Surveyors and contractors have offered to help with design, survey and heavy equipment.

The distance between George W.'s natural domestic allies and the demands of trade, economics and the Chinese military reality is measured in stark terms by the visit of President Hu Jintao, who spent a hectic first day in town yesterday. He got smiles and warm greetings at the White House, as well as heckling from a guest posing as a reporter from a Falun Gong newspaper. The president laid on robust bluegrass entertainment, but for lunch not dinner, and fed him only dainty fish and delicate "scented dumplings."

But even the toned-down trappings — the Chinese call Mr. Hu's drop-in "a state visit" but the White House carefully does not — is too much for Nancy Pelosi, as it would have been only yesterday for most Republican congressmen. "While open dialogue is essential," the Democratic leader in the House wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "many of us on both sides of the aisle in Congress oppose the celebratory nature of this official visit."

Washington is intimidated by the Chinese economic clout — the trade deficit runs to $200 billion annually, and rising — but if trade is the two-way street we are constantly being told it is, the enormous American market is intimidating to Beijing as well. This trip is crucial to Mr. Hu and his government. The embassy on Connecticut Avenue put up a banner even before his arrival proclaiming "congratulations on President Hu Jintao's successful visit to the United States." That ought to stand a few things upright.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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