Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist
Other Matters: More Than The Vice President Shooting An Attorney
Almost all the news, and the discussion of the news, and the meta-news (discussion of the discussion of the news), on Monday, February 13, was all about the Vice President and the hunting accident two days prior. (Covered here - an Elmer Fudd moment, perhaps.) Since this was the first vice president to actually shoot someone since Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton back in 1804 - Burr killed the guy, making Cheney seem somewhat an amateur - this naturally was almost the sole topic of the day.
There was an amazing White House press conference where questions were raised concerning all sorts of things - the president learning of the shooting Saturday night but not being told Cheney was the one whole pulled the trigger until the next day, the Vice President deciding to let the owner of the ranch where the shooting occurred leak the story to one local reporter Sunday morning, perhaps intending that no one find out, staff members brainstorming how to deal with it all but not telling the press secretary anything at all until late Sunday or early Monday, the Secret Service telling the local police, no, they could not talk to the Vice President about what happened, and Bush and Cheney apparent not talking to each other at all. This included Scott McClelland, the press secretary, mixing it up with David Gregory of NBC - Gregory: "Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question.'' It wasn't pretty.
Everyone seemed concerned about the reporting lag - and add to this Cheney didn't have the right stamp on his hunting license (seven dollars and he sent them a late check to cover that). And the third hunter involved? Pamela Willeford, our Ambassador to Switzerland. That prompted this, someone finding it odd that two men are out hunting with two women that are not their wives, and maybe this is the reason for the White House cover-up. Geez!
Look, the Vice President shot another man in the face with a shotgun. But it was a hunting accident, and no big deal. He'll be fine (that is, the big-gun Republican attorney who was shot will be fine, and he's joking about it now). These guys seem genuinely surprised people think this is a big news story. It is clear they didn't want to release it as news - let the owner of the ranch, Katherine Armstrong, speak to the press, if she wishes, but even she didn't really have to do that. One senses the White House was puzzled and a little angry that people think this is a big deal, and that it means anything at all. Cheney is saying nothing. It's nobody's business but his own (see this, the lyrics to the 1923 recording of Bessie Smith singing "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do" - as that's the attitude). Is it nobody's business? Maybe.
Of course, many a wag has been saying the whole incident provides a new marketing slogan for the Democrats - "Join Us! We Don't Shoot Our Own!" Whatever.
In the long run, does any of this matter much? It may speak to character, insofar as what you do for fun, and what can happen when you do it, does say something about you. But then CNN recently hired a new commentator, Bill Bennett, the pious man who wrote The Book of Virtues and all the sequels, and who gambled away millions in Vegas and Atlantic City - "Ain't Nobody's Business If I Do."
Maybe this is a private matter, as the White House is implying.
But there are public matters. These may need a bit more spin. It's hard to say "it's just not your business" about these.
There's this, the Washington Post on Monday reporting on something slated for release on Wednesday - the eleven member Republican-only congressional committee's six hundred page report on how the government at all levels responded when Hurricane Katrina hit last fall, pretty much destroying New Orleans and flattening the Gulf Coast. If the Post hasn't been faked out the Bush administration's handling of the response will not get the usual praise from the "he can do no wrong" crowd. The Post: "Regarding Bush, the report found that 'earlier presidential involvement could have speeded the response' because he alone could have cut through all bureaucratic resistance." He was on vacation. He needed his rest? And they didn't think much of the "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees" line. Yep, they note that more than two days before Katrina hit the National Hurricane Center had warned there was an "extremely high probability" that New Orleans would be flooded, and that lots of people could die.
The Republicans are saying this? Well, you may want to tow the White House line, and reap the benefits of the Rove stamp of party approval, but then again, you might want to get reelected in November. They fear voters may have bullshit detectors that are starting to work again. Saying the magic words "9/11 changed everything" for all issues doesn't seem to do the trick.
There are a lot of things that need some major spin. That, and all sort of issues, noted in this list from Arianna Huffington. She notes that Republicans are getting restless and are picking on the president a tad. Heck, Cheney can't shoot them all.
There was Chuck Hagel, appearing on CNN's Late Edition on Sunday. He breaks with the administration on Iraq. He doesn't think things are going just fine over there - "In my opinion, three years in Iraq, things haven't gone the way the administration said and others said it was going to go. In fact, I think we're in more trouble today than we've ever been in Iraq."
Oh my! But he's an odd Republican, the maverick that McCain only pretends to be - see the New York Times Magazine profile the same day - "With a bluntness that seems habitual - and more than occasionally strikes fellow Republicans as disloyal - Senator Chuck Hagel started voicing skepticism about the Bush administration's fixation on Iraq as a place to fight the Global War on Terror more than half a year before the president gave the go-ahead for the assault."
He's "off the reservation" as they say. But if the ill-tempered and cranky Bob Novak is to believed here, senate leader Bill "Diagnose at a Distance" Frist is doing the same - "I would have probably put more troops in [Iraq] if the decision had been up to me." But then Frist wants to be the next president. He needs "cred." He needs to say such things. Well, President Bush can tell without any review which American citizen who should be locked up with no charges and no trail, but give Frist a videotape and he can tell you who is brain dead and who isn't.
This Iraq thing is where lots of loyalists are breaking rank. Huffington lists more - congressman Walter Jones, Brent Scowcroft (famously), Richard Mellon Scaife, the man who bankrolls the hard right, of all people, and Colin Powel's former chief of staff Larry Wilkerson.
Scowcroft and Wilkerson have been discussed in these pages before, but this does seem like a pattern. These are the "new" Republicans, or maybe the old ones returning. Can't shoot them all.
Ah, that's all Iraq stuff. Old news. The action now is Iran. Will they get the bomb?
What, they've got the American military occupying the country directly to the west, a nuclear-armed Pakistan, our ally, directly to the east, and just over the horizon, nearly leaderless Israel with its two hundred nukes, a country that never signed on to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and we say they're a charter member of the Axis of Evil and we want regime change there. Why would they want the bomb? What are they worried about?
Ah, but what are we worried about?
New polling, Monday, February 13th -Bush's Approval Rating Drops To 39 Percent, with the subhead, "Americans are nervous about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, but also worry about the ability of the United States and the United Nations to deal with the situation, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday suggests."
Yep, Iran says it is developing its nuclear program "to provide energy." The United States, France, England and Germany don't buy that. And last month Iran removed the monitoring seals from its equipment and said they'd do what they would, then the International Atomic Energy Agency voted to report Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions - and Iran ended its cooperation with that agency and said it would begin uranium enrichment and stop snap inspections, even though they say there's a possibility of further negotiations.
This a bother, and Gallup asked folks what they thought - "they fear the Bush administration will be too quick to use military force if diplomacy fails, and at the same time are concerned the administration won't do enough to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons."
The general idea is people see "the bomb" being used against Israel, or us, directly by Iran or given to terrorists to do the same.
What to do? Unclear -
So the Republican loyalists turn on the president, and the general population gives the president low marks, and no indication of what to do to regain their trust.
Don't let Cheney near a shotgun.
And the hits keep coming - new details about the unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003, maybe at the direction of the Vice President. What was she working on, undercover stuff trying to stop the bad guys from getting the bomb? Which bad guys, specifically? Iran. Oops.
Yep, we're in this pickle because, to prove something or other about her husband being a jerk about Saddam Hussein not really buying up yellowcake uranium ore in Niger, they destroyed her cover. Shoot a lawyer in the face, after shooting yourself in the foot.
This is not good. And this comes out the day after Republican senator George Allen, said, on Fox News of all places, it's time for a full investigation into whether Cheney and other Bush administration officials authorized Scooter Libby to leak classified information to reporters to try to justify the invasion of Iraq. That's here - "I don't think anybody should be releasing classified information - period - whether in the Congress, executive branch, or some underling in the bureaucracy."
George Allen, of course, like Bill Frist, would like to be the next president. He's polling well on that with the Republicans. He's establishing something here.
But then, George Allen has his worries, as Mackubin Thomas Owens notes here in the conservative National Review - James Webb is likely to run against Allen in the fall senate elections, and George Allen may not only not be a senator running for president soon, he may not be a senator at all.
Who's this James Webb? Owens -
Reagan military big-wig drops out of the Republican Party, declares himself a Democrat, and runs against the bumbling son of the late eccentric Washington Redskins football coach? Owens says the Republicans can't afford to lose such people. They lost Webb.
Don't let Karl Rove near a shotgun.
Then there was, the week before the Cheney shotgun blast, the Conservative Political Action Conference that got wide coverage, mostly because Ann Coulter was ranting about "ragheads" wanting to take over the world and how she considered killing Bill Clinton herself but decided it would be bad for her career. (Quotes here.) Many reported on Bob Barr, who managed the impeachment of Bill Clinton, giving his little appeal -
It was like that. A love-fest for the president.
But Huffington notes that wasn't entirely true. There were cracks in the armor, so to speak, or those who momentarily stepped away from the cult of personality. And the issue was immigration policy.
Texas governor Rick Perry - immigration is linked to national security - and he said this - "How can we fight this war on foreign fronts while leaving the front door to our nation vulnerable?" And the quite frightening Phyllis Schlafly here is reported to have said Bush's middle-ground ideas on dealing with the problems were "a bad mistake." And Tom Tancredo seems to have said the president was "out of step with his party."
Cheney's hunting mishap may be the least of the White House worries.
Well, every Republican is behind the president's proposed budget, except for Senator Charles Grassley here having a problem with eliminating the Social Security death benefit and cutting off payments to teenagers of the deceased - "I can't see how ending a pittance for widows and widowers, and modest benefits for kids who have lost a parent would be good policy decisions." And looking at all the cuts to healthcare and education Arlen Specter here calls them "scandalous." Huffington lists a few more - Maine's Olympia snow "disappointed and even surprised" and Bill Frist (again) unhappy. She even quotes Jonah Goldberg, who loves Bush, saying Bush is "spending money like a pimp with a week to live."
Spend too much, spend too little - you cannot win. Maybe Huffington is grasping at straws in seeing something is up with all this, the Bush presidency crumbling.
What's the opposition offering? Not much.
On the other hand, Michael Brown said some awful things about the administration the week before. The Abramoff stuff continues in the background. And there's that UN report on the way - "A draft report by UN Human Rights experts has demanded the closure of the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, and accuses the US of practices there amounting to torture."
If anyone in the White House invites you to go bird hunting in Texas, say thank you, but you just can't make it. This is not the time to hang around these guys. You don't want to stand next to someone with a gun who feels everyone has been picking on him. He may get weird.