Saturday, April 28, 2007

Job Security

Well, the BYU thing is over. The VEEP came, said almost nothing of a political nature in his 15 minute address and left after being in Utah about 5 hours. The crowd, as predicted, thought he was the nicest fellow to come to Provo since Spiro Agnew. The anti-Cheney protesters kept within their restrictions and nothing more lethal than insults were exchanged between those for and against His Dickness. Graduation was turned inside out to accommodate the big guy, and big bucks were spent, but no one's counting the totals just yet.

Now, suppose your employer was having some serious problems, and the fingers were starting to point your way. Imagine having to answer to a group of major stockholders who were allowed to ask you any questions they wanted for as long as they wanted.You have had some time to prepare for this grilling, but nonetheless find yourself unable to answer some major questions, and are forced to plead ignorance more than once. How many times would you guess that you'd be able to say "I don't know." or "I can't remember." before the committee gives up, points to the door and orders you to disappear - forever? Three times? Five? Certainly less than ten, right?
Perhaps you can see where I'm headed here. The nation's top law enforcement guy, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, has had a rocky time leading the Justice Department. Local federal prosecutors with good performance reviews were getting fired without explanation, and the FBI, long a tough bunch to rein in, weren't being reined in enough to satisfy the Senate, who dragged Mr. G. in for a day of questioning. So, did the former White House counsel, the guy who knew precisely how and where the Geneva Conventions no longer applied to the US, have a tough memory day? Did he ever! Entire sticks of chalk were used keeping track of the gaps, and the ignorance total for the day came to a jaw-dropping 71 times that the crime-busting AG just didn't know the answer. He attempted to have it both ways by assuring the Senate that everything had happened "lawfully", though he didn't say how he remembered that.
So, was the Senate disgusted by this craven performance? Yes, both sides. Did the Senate fire Gonzales on the spot? Some would have liked to, however the only person with the authority to dump the guy is the President, who lowered the performance bar to about a foot by saying that AG had answered all the questions he could., as though his guy had been infected by Reagan with a touch of Alzheimer's, but was being kept on the payroll because the medical plan was topnotch. By the end of the week Gonzales was speaking as though he were in charge of his own job tenure, saying that he would continue as long as he could be "effective", whatever that means.
I think what it may really mean is this: No one except for Laura (and perhaps Karl Rove) has spent more time with Mr. Bush in the past ten years than Alberto Gonzales, and both of them know that Gonzales could make Bush's life very complicated if AG could not serve out his term as AG and had to write a book about the Bush White House in order to pay the bills. So, we'll have one less book about White House scandals and many more about the screwups in Justice and the FBI during the screwup-prone Bush 43 years. Mr. Gonzales, by contrast, has a bright future, not as a memory coach, but on Wall Street, where the real money gets made. As for crime busting, some things are just more important than putting those hoods behind bars, namely remaining in office.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

2008 Part Two

First, in the department of "Who's in charge here?", we have the following: President Bush, in a never ending quest to politicize everything while accusing the Democrats of doing it, commented that NOT providing his latest demand for war funding might result in military hardships such as having to extend tours of duty to 15 from 12 months. The NEXT DAY, the Secretary of Defense announced that tours of Iraq duty would, effective immediately, be extended to 15 months, and that funding from Congress wasn't a factor in the decision. My question is: To whom should we look for a clarification?

This is the 2nd part of a very early look at the next presidential election. This week it's the Democrats who get examined. If there's a leader, it's Senator Hillary Clinton, doomed to be referred to as simply "Hillary" by the good 'ole boys of the media. She's the leader in money, anyway, and that's a start. It can't hurt (or can it?) to have Bill C. in your camp, at least from the standpoint of someone on board who knows the political landscape like both sides of the family mattress. The former first lady has been a surprisingly wonkish and successful senator, but as John Kerry could tell you, that's not nearly enough to get elected president. And there's the little matter that a good number of people hate the senator for reasons too complicated to even start to understand. Could the VRWC (Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy) be pulled into action once again to trash the senator's whole life? Don't think it wouldn't be tried, or that the money couldn't be found. But that only comes into play, one thinks, if she's nominated, and that's not knowable for about 12 months yet.
The best options seem to also come from the Senate. There's Barack Obama, the Illinoisan with the funny name but likable manner whose campaign has started well despite his newness to the main political stage. Since he never seems to wear a necktie, the haberdashery industry (if there is still such a thing) won't sign on as followers, but he seems so non-threatening that almost no one could be blamed for giving his candidacy a second look. The right has left him alone except for the claim that he attended a Muslim madrassah in Indonesia as a child. They then blamed the accusation itself on the Clinton camp. Both accusations were untrue. So they're stuck with attacking his middle name - Hussein. Breath easy, folks. He's a Christian.
John Edwards has already withstood attacks of a particularly nasty kind in his 2004 run with Kerry. The "Breck Girl", they sneer at the former senator whose misfortune it is to look younger than his 50-some years. The Right's pinup girl, Ann Coulter, called him a "faggot", using Cheney's favorite source, none. His message of "Two Americas" has found good traction with the Democratic base, and folks like it that Edwards repudiated his pro-Iraq war vote, something Clinton refuses to do. The wild card could be the cancer his wife suffers from, but most people understand that it's their decision to keep campaigning if possible. I think Republicans hate that he became rich in the Republican way (litigating), making some of them losers in the process.
Some other candidates start the race with a more uphill fight. Senators Biden and Dodd have both been around long enough to add weight to any ticket, but neither has a big base just because of geography. Biden's from Delaware, and Dodd is from Connecticut. Bill Richardson has lots of experience in big assignments, but too many Americans think you need a passport to get to New Mexico, where he's the governor. Still, he got a nice mention this past week in a national column by Cokie and Steve Roberts, who note that he's the Hispanic in the race.
Democrats this time around have some real momentum for which they can thank the stumbling Bush administration. It's not a lock like 1964, but the nominee won't have to carry baggage that the GOP candidate will have to tote. Hey, it's long way to the end of '08, but today you have to like the Democratic chances.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

2008 Part One

I just can't start without repeating a story I just read regarding my least favorite public servant, Dick Cheney. Answering a question about his former chief of staff Scooter Libby, Old Cuddly Dick revealed that he hadn't so much as phoned Libby to offer sympathy for his legal woes in the six months Libby's been gone from the Cheney staff. Why not? "I haven't had occasion to." said the Big Guy. Guess he doesn't want a new reputation as some kind of sob sister.

Just for fun, lets take a look at the next presidential election, first from the Republican side. They don't suffer from a shortage of guys (all of them guys) who think they're up to the job, and they have a variety of backgrounds. You can get a who's who anywhere, but what seems odd is that the rank and file seem to be asking for even more would-be Deciders because all the candidates on the stump now seem a little....flawed.
There's John McCain, for instance. He's trying to make this tricky move from Party Maverick to Middle Right Regular Party Guy. In the process he's seen making nice with certain types he couldn't stand back in 2000 like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson, unelected GOP kingmakers whose day job is supposed to be serving the King of Kings. McCain got outmaneuvered by the Bush folks in what was meant to be anti-torture legislation, then meekly voted for the version that guaranteed he'd been ignored on the whole subject. Big John also tied his wagon to the Bush Iraq "surge" and can only hope it bears some fruit while innocent folks keep getting blown up. His campaign is so far an underachiever, lagging behind his competitors in money raising and organization. The senator is also on his second wife, which is a problem unless you're Reagan.
There's Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor. Rudy's a doer and a natural Boss, but he's not the most likable fellow, nor the type of speaker people flock to follow. His views on certain issues like abortion don't coincide with that all-important Party base, and his marital history is even worse than McCain's. His Mrs. is number three. As the closest thing to a 9/11 victim in the race, he's also bound to favor any "tough-guy" approach to Terror, whether it's workable or not.
Anyone for Mitt Romney, recent governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? He has no ties to the Bush folks, lives near New Hampshire and has proven he can get votes in a Democratic area. What's not to like? He flipped his views on a couple of those "red blood" issues the Party has no tolerance for, and though he's happily married to his first wife, he has the misfortune of being a Mormon, which evidently people confuse with "Muslim". There's another quality about him I don't like. Whenever he proposes something, you get the feeling he's fitting the idea to the target audience, GOP primary voters, rather than really getting behind something that's original. His latest proposal? Spend more on defense. How totally unique! He looked bad last week trying to claim he's a hunter when it turns out he's not even a gun owner.
And we could go on and on. Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor, is the smiling conservative in the race, but he's not well known except for having lost a hundred pounds and run a marathon. Colorado's Ton Tancredo is against illegal immigrants, but that's about it. Sam Brownback of Kansas is a younger Bob Dole. Tommy Thompson used to be something, but no one remembers what. Fred Thompson is thinking about running even though he has a history of cancer and has steady work acting on "Law and Order" every week. And there are others.
Here's this week's bottom line. No Republican gets nominated without being somewhere on the pro-war scale. Trouble is, that war now enjoys about 30% popularity. So while any number of these guys could be good enough to make us forget Roosevelt, it's hard to move up in the polls while wearing that dopey blunder around your neck like an albatross. Historians will soon note (but you heard it here first) that the situation for Republicans resembles the Democrats' dilemma in 1968. Support the war to be nominated, then lose the election, OR oppose the war and get shredded in the primaries by members of the President's pro-war Party.
Next week, the Democratic side.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Great Disconnect

To get going on this edition, I need to make a disclosure or two. My college days (starting almost 40 years back) were spent at Brigham Young University - the one in Utah, the nation's largest private university. And like roughly 95% of BYU grads, I'm a Latter-Day Saint, one of those folks other folks call "Mormons".
The church affiliation sets "The Y", as it's known to locals, a bit apart from the rest of higher education. Not different from the standpoint of course content if you're speaking of engineering, Spanish or nursing, but different in its atmosphere. The place has high (others might use the word "strict") standards of conduct that apply to students on or off campus, or on the moon. This isn't a huge problem to most students, since they are accustomed to these standards and come to the school knowing what campus life is like. In fact, it's mainly a happy place with plenty of things to see and hear, a lively social scene without fraternities or sororities, a full slate of athletics and lots of chances for service. Many a family gets started at BYU, where like minded young people pair up for life in huge numbers. That was our family's story, too, although we only lived in Utah until graduation.
Campus opinion regarding the outside world tends, unlike most colleges, to be quite conservative, though not unanimously so. Even with all that, it came as a bit of a surprise last week when it became official that the 2007 Commencement speaker will be.............Dick Cheney. Here's where the disconnect referred to in this week's title comes about. Even a hard line Bushie would have to agree that Cheney's style is blunt, combative and absolutely partisan, not what we tend to revere when they talk about Jesus, which they do at BYU every single day.
Mr Cheney looks for ways to keep the USA dominant in world affairs. Jesus wasn't much of a nationalist. Cheney is the one, when Jesus' followers turn the other cheek, who could do some real damage. He's been profane in public and vulgar, not above character assassination, a war profiteer and a back room schemer. His fear mongering is without peer, though it failed to carry the day in last November's election. He takes a drink, he's often untruthful in speeches and wrong in predictions. This is a man who publicly STANDS UP for the torture of prisoners, and for the toughest treatment possible of anyone we happen to get our hands on. He may not have personally abused anyone, but he did shoot a guy in the face, then leave his hostess to explain what had happened. Mother Teresa he ain't, and it's hard to see him as any kind of role model for young Mormons, even if their degree is in corporate intrigue.
In fact, let me say that the mismatch of our Veep and the fresh-faced grads of BYU is about as big a contrast as I can imagine. A fair question would be: What dope signed off on this invitation? His approval rating is somewhere in the 20's, his boss' popularity is in the toilet to stay, a new scandal hits the presses every week and this guy should be thanking his stars he hasn't ended up like Spiro Agnew. WHO made the deal for Cheney?
This is where it gets even more unfathomable. Turns out that Cheney didn't get the call from anyone on campus, but from Church Headquarters itself, in the form of Gordon B. Hinckley, the church's 96 year-old president, who says he did it out of respect for Cheney's OFFICE, as if he were just a more menacing-looking version of Dan Quayle. In the Church, we NEVER want to be seen on the other side from President Hinckley (whom we also refer to as "The Prophet"), not because he ever threatens anyone, but because the tradition of the church puts great emphasis on obedience, even for hard-to-boss Americans. There is a little wiggle room when it comes to politics, and so the University agreed to an almost unheard of on-campus protest march opposing the Veep, the War, or anything else they could cram in . You can be sure that this will be very peaceful, or at least that any blood shed will be from a protester, not a security guard or spectator.
I think it was Yogi Berra who said he never made predictions, especially about the future. That's probably smart, but here's a few: Cheney's message won't change, though he might acknowledge the grads, he'll put the muscle of his speech into the usual blah, blah, surging, bombing, threatening, be afraid, this is an important tool in the War on Blah, blah, helping the Enemy, follow our soldiers home, Israel, islamofascists, etc. Also, most of the red state crowd will eat up Cheney's speech like jelly beans and display their brave patriotism about 9000 miles from any hostile action. And when it's over, and money has been spent by the state, the University and the Church to get the penultimate bigshot to see our new library, the hosts will simply feel that they were used, on top of which, they'll be worried that any grad would actually take Cheney as a role model. Now THAT, according to a past proposition in this space, would be an unintended consequence. Finally - and you can put this one in stone - Dick Cheney will be unfazed by any protest, either on-campus or off.