IT'S BEEN a long time coming, but more Republicans are waking up to the realization that the Bush administration is an inept exercise in ideological excess.
As the Globe's Rick Klein reported Sunday, Republican lawmakers are increasingly balking at the president's call to make his tax cuts permanent. Locking in tax cuts that disproportionately reward the well-to-do even as Congress pares back social programs for those of low and moderate incomes is too much for some of them to abide.
Granted, that objection may be motivated as much by fear of a voter backlash as by a genuine return to the balanced-budget Republicanism that prevailed before supply-side theory became GOP theology. But whatever the cause, it marks a long-overdue reassertion of common sense.
Then there's Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a principled conservative now mulling a presidential candidacy of his own. Hagel, a pointed critic of the Bush administration, was the cover story of the Sunday New York Times Magazine. As Hagel makes clear, what's important to him is not loyalty to the Bush administration but rather telling the truth as he sees it.
Although he voted for the resolution authorizing force in Iraq, Hagel has become a sharp critic of the administration's policy there. ''When I think of issues like Iraq, of how we went into it -- no planning, no preparation, no sense of consequences, of where we were going, how we were going to get out, went in without enough men, no exit strategy . . . I'll speak out, I'll go against my party," he said.
In Sunday talk-show appearances, the magazine reports, Hagel can be this blunt in his critique: ''This party that sometimes I don't recognize anymore has presided over the largest growth of government in the history of this country and maybe even the history of man."
Bruce Bartlett, a conservative analyst, has been making a similar case for some time. A Reagan policy adviser and a deputy assistant treasurer in George H. W. Bush's administration, Bartlett is iconoclastic enough to acknowledge that Bill Clinton's fiscal and economic approach produced results conservatives should have hailed.
''At least on economic policy, there is much to praise and little to criticize in terms of what was actually done (or not done) on his watch," he wrote in July 2004.
Still, the title of his new book will surely make the White House squirm: ''Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." (Given the huge deficits Reagan's own policy occasioned, one could argue that Bush is Reagan's fiscal heir.)
The book also castigates the White House for ''an anti- intellectual distrust of facts and analysis" and an obsession with secrecy, according to yesterday's Times.
Even on the issue of warrantless eavesdropping, we're starting to see some real resistance from the president's own party. Displaying no regard for legitimate constitutional concerns, the White House has signaled that it may make the surveillance program a campaign issue in the midterm elections.
But at least some Republicans are refusing to give the administration political cover. In last week's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, several GOP senators made it clear they wouldn't countenance the administration's flimsy legal justifications.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for one, was dismissive of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's assertion that the resolution authorizing force in Iraq had conferred wiretapping authority on the president.
''This statutory force resolution argument that you're making is very dangerous in terms of its application for the future," Graham warned. ''When I voted for it, I never envisioned that I was giving to this president or any other the ability to go around FISA carte blanche," he said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Since then, Republican Representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a National Security Council aide in George H. W. Bush's administration, has gone so far as to call for a congressional inquiry into the matter.
Then there's the congressional probe of the government's response to the New Orleans flooding. Despite fears that a Republican-led investigation would be a whitewash, the report, to be released tomorrow, is expected to be harshly critical of the administration's performance.
It's easy for a White House skilled at the art of the permanent campaign to dismiss Democratic criticism as politics as usual. It's far harder, however, to discount the increasingly vocal concerns of those on the president's own side of the aisle.
Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.