What They Are Saying was the train wreck as seen on its first day, the first day of October. The Republican Party and the whole of what the administration has been claiming about most everything for the last six years appeared to be coming off the rails, as they say.
The second day - Monday, October 2 - was more than variations on a theme. It moved beyond the pedophile business in the House, and who let it happen, got really odd with the Secretary of State caught flat-footed (in spite of her love of high-heel boots) saying things she really shouldn't have said, and confirming that in the months before the attacks of September 11, 2001, she was pretty much blowing off official warnings from the top intelligence people that something was going to happen - something not in the definitive commission report on the matter and not in the Disney it-was-all-Clinton's-fault movie - and got just bizarre with the majority leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, announcing he's seen Afghanistan and the Taliban just couldn't be defeated so maybe it was time to get realistic and just get them into the government over there and make the best of it, enraging all the "stay the course" folks on the right.
People can only handle so much news at one time. Three major stories undercutting those in power all at once just didn't seem fair. But then they all get blended together in people's minds - referring to the bulk of the adult population who are not political junkies or policy wonks. There may be a growing sense of "just throw out the bums." What Karl Rove calls the base - the third of the voters who will vote for anyone or anything George Bush wants - will hold firm, of course. The other two-thirds, slapped upside the head with one startling news story after another, may find the slaps really, really irritating. Enough is enough. And whatever wag said the Democrats should run on one simple campaign slogan - Had Enough? - is smiling. That works, or now it works.
Much of this may have to do with the new Bob Woodward book, State of Denial. This is about our "passive, impatient, sophomoric and intellectually incurious leader, presiding over a grossly dysfunctional war cabinet and given to an almost religious certainty that makes him disinclined to rethink or re-evaluate decisions he has made about the war." Of course it was one-tenth news and nine-tenths confirmation of what more and more people already knew, or suspected. It simply laid it all out in a compelling "insider" narrative, with scenes and amazing quotes no one but Woodward, with his access, could uncover. It does take some skill to distill the diffuse and disparate nuggets of events and public statements, and what he learned on his own, into something that makes sense of it all. No, wait. You cannot distill "nuggets" - bad metaphor. But he did a fairly good job of considering what had been said, what had happened, what he found out on his own, and working out what was actually going on. So choose your own metaphor for that and send it along.
Some of what Woodward lays out, not related to the three-part train wreck, could be considered secondary contributing factors to the sudden disintegration of the whole enterprise - the Bush presidency and one party rule of the nation for the last six years. That would be the sophomoric stuff, as Timothy Noah explains in Bush's Fart-Joke Legacy -
Yep, the fart jokes were discussed in these pages here six weeks ago, but not the family history of such humor, nor the long history of such humor.
Bob Woodward reports in his new book, State of Denial, that President Bush loves to swap fart jokes with Karl Rove. Before a morning senior staff meeting in 2005, Woodward reports, Bush schemed to have Rove sit in a chair that triggered some sort of high-tech whoopee cushion activated by remote control. The prank was postponed in deference to news of the al Qaeda bombings in London. When the gag was carried out two weeks later, the room erupted in riotous laughter while Rove hunted down the culprit.
Perhaps you are puzzled that the president of the United States would embrace so eagerly a genre of humor that the typical male Homo sapiens stops finding irresistible around the age of 12. But Woodward is not the first to report on Bush's fondness for fart jokes, and Bush is not the first member of his family to display this particular affliction.
Noah notes this is not a Texas thing, but a patrician WASP thing -
And on and on it goes. Noah provides links to all the source material, of course.
A robust tradition of fart jokes exists within Anglo-Saxon culture, going back at least as far as Chaucer, and the fart joke holds a venerated place in English politics. Legend has it that Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, once farted in the presence of Queen Elizabeth I, whereupon he went into exile for seven years. On his return, the queen reputedly greeted, "My lord, we had quite forgot the fart." The story is no likelier true than the oft-repeated claim that de Vere wrote Shakespeare's plays, but its persistence testifies to a certain fascination. In the early 17th century, a fart during debate in the House of Commons inspired a satirical poem called "The Parliament Fart." It enjoyed wide and enthusiastic circulation for the next half-century. James Joyce's Ulysses, which many consider the United Kingdom's greatest contribution to world literature in the 20th century, has been described - by one of its admirers - as "a giant fart joke" dressed up with "references to English literature and all kinds of obscure learning." (The word itself appears four times, according to Amazon's search engine.)
Turning to the Bush clan, we learn in Kitty Kelley's book The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty that New Yorker writer Brendan Gill was once a guest of George H.W. and Barbara Bush at their summer house in Kennebunkport, Maine. Stumbling through the place late at night in search of something to read, the only volume he could find was The Fart Book. (It was therefore likely in vain that Chairman Mao, attempting to shock Bush père when he was U.S. liaison to China, used a Chinese vulgarism that translated to "dog fart," according to Tom Wicker's George Herbert Walker Bush: A Penguin Life.)
The most flatuphilic Bush family member appears to be Jonathan J. Bush, brother to the 41st president and uncle to the 43rd. In 2003, Lloyd Grove of the New York Daily News reported that Jonathan J., a money manger in Connecticut, stockpiled remote-control fart machines (possibly the same model used against Karl Rove) and gave them away as a gag to friends and relatives.
… Describing his father, Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut, to the Washington Post in 1986, Jonathan J. Bush said: "I never heard him fart." What at the time seemed an aptly humorous way to describe the probity of the Bush family's political patriarch may now require reconsideration as an earnest expression of filial regret.
So there is a long tradition involved in all this, a family history, and everyone likes a good joke - but these are profoundly unserious people. Yes, the two words go together. And they all called Bill Clinton a crass, opportunistic hick, even if over-educated, extraordinarily well-informed and clever. He was trash, really.
But what do these people take seriously?
Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, the "Kos" of the widely-read Daily Kos, suggests it's Power Above Security -
So Zúniga ties the war and the pedophile business in the House together. They may be profoundly unserious about governing and all that, but they are deadly serious about power. Those two words go together even better.
We wonder how Republicans can keep throwing our nation's men and women in uniform - so many under the age of twenty - into the Iraq meat grinder without feeling something, anything at all. There's a disconnect that I had chalked up to simple elitism. Their kids weren't going to be dragged off that hellhole in the dessert anytime soon, so why should they care? Wars are for the unprivileged and voiceless to fight.
But the Foley scandal, and the inability of House Republicans to protect the teens in their own ranks, is positively mind-boggling. This isn't mere elitism at work. It is even worse than that.
What are the common threads here? Iraq has clearly become a political tool for the GOP, used to beat up Democrats as "weak" on "national security". Never mind the people who die on behalf of Rove's political talking points. And when a sexual predator endangers a safe Republican seat while threatening to cost the party a couple millions of dollars, what does the Republican leadership do? They cover it up. Power is everything. The lives of our soldiers and the well-being and safety of teenage House pages are all worth sacrificing in exchange for continued Republican dominance. What else will they sell out?
There is nothing they won't sell out in the pursuit of power.
Tim Grieve offers a narrative of the House business here -
Maybe, but that depends on what's serious and what's not. The seat was safe and you don't mess with that.
House Republicans responded to news that Mark Foley had a creepy interest in a sixteen-year-old page by talking among themselves and then asking Foley whether everything was copasetic. Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander contacts Republican House Speaker Hastert's office. Hastert's office tells Alexander's office to tell House Clerk Jeff Trandahl. Trandahl tells Republican Rep. John Shimkus, the chairman of the House Page Board. Shimkus doesn't tell Rep. Dale Kildee , the only Democrat on the House Page Board. So far as we can tell, he also fails to tell the House sergeant at arms, the law enforcement officer who sits on the House Page Board.
So what did Shimkus do? He says he took "immediate action" to investigate what he'd been told about Foley. And what was that "immediate action"? Shimkus and Trandahl ask Foley about the e-mail exchange. Foley says it's nothing. Shimkus and Trandahl tell him to leave the kid alone and to be mindful of his contacts with pages in the future.
End of story, case closed - except that somewhere along the way, Republican Congressional Campaign Committee chief Tom Reynolds tell Republican House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert about the email exchange. They don't do anything, either, and Hastert tells CNN this afternoon that, while he doesn't dispute that Reynolds told him about Foley, he honestly doesn't remember having had a conversation about it.
It reminds us of the time that Saddam Hussein insisted that he didn't have WMD, and the Republicans in Washington said, "Well, all right then," and got back to the business of fighting terrorism. Or the time that Bill Clinton said that he didn't have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky, and all those House GOPers took him at his word and dropped the matter right there.
… Maybe Shimkus and Trandahl and Reynolds and Hastert wouldn't have learned anything more if they'd performed something resembling an actual investigation after they received word of Foley's emails. But within a day after ABC News put them out on the Web, former pages began coming out of the woodwork with much more serious stories about Foley. Isn't it at least possible that Shimkus and Trandahl and Reynolds and Hastert would have heard about those stories sooner if they'd done even a little bit of probing? Didn't they have a moral obligation to try?
But as the AP reports in analysis, now it's serious -
So Hastert goes on national television and denounces the sexually explicit instant messages Foley is accused of sending in 2003 to more than a few teenagers as "vile and repulsive" - but he and the House leaders didn't know about them until the instant messages surfaced in media reports the Friday before. Who would have thought the emails were the tip of the iceberg? Of course his staff and some Republicans in leadership, like Tom Reynolds, the chairman of the House campaign effort, for months had been aware of an "inappropriate" 2005 email exchange between Foley and a Louisiana teenager who once worked as a page. Reynolds said he told Hastert. Hastert says he doesn't recall the conversation but he doesn't dispute Reynolds' tale - it could be so. Majority Leader John Boehner too had known since spring that Foley had contacted the same kid, but a spokesman for Boehner said Boehner didn't know details of the contact. This might remind you of Condoleezza Rice testifying to the 9/11 Commission - "Who could have known terrorists would hijack airplanes and fly them into buildings?" It's the same sort of thing. There had been reports.
"I don't think this is so much about Foley as it is about the handling of this," Rick Davis, a Republican strategist, said Monday as the drama rocked the House GOP five weeks before midterm elections, much to Democrats' delight.
"The question becomes who's getting thrown overboard besides Foley to get this to go away," said Tony Fabrizio, another GOP consultant.
The six-term Florida congressman resigned abruptly on Friday after reports surfaced that he sent salacious electronic messages to teenage boys who had worked as House pages. The tawdry turn of events set off finger-pointing among House Republicans and overshadowed what the GOP had hoped would be a triumphant final work week highlighting the party's national security credentials before the campaign's homestretch.
Now, the Republican Party - already facing an unfriendly political environment and the fallout from a new book critical of President Bush's handling of the Iraq war - finds itself knocked even further off message and working to contain the political damage.
So now it's serious, as John Dickerson notes here -
And that seems to be the way it's heading - what was minor is now "serious."
The Mark Foley scandal has already accomplished two difficult feats: It has made a deeply unpopular Congress look even worse, and it has replaced Iraq and terrorism as Political Topic A. It's hardly the message-shift GOP leaders were looking for.
In the end, the political story may be that the ickiness of the disgraced congressman's Instant Messages swamps House Republicans. Who cares if GOP House leaders only saw hints of Foley's proclivities? Voters aren't sifting through the fine details. It's all too sickening. The judgment could be swift: Foley was a Republican, and the Republican leadership knew something, so out with the lot of them. If Democratic anger over this doesn't do in congressional Republicans, then disappointment and disillusionment at the whole sordid business will keep Republican voters home on Election Day.
Democrats would be happy with either outcome.
… It's clear that GOP leaders would like the political story to be about Mark Foley's unique sickness. The former congressman has done his best to help. First, he was really sick. Second, he resigned immediately and checked himself into rehab, citing both psychological and alcohol problems. He's literally taken himself out of the picture while at the same time enforcing the narrative that he was depraved but not part of a larger GOP problem.
That hasn't rescued the GOP leadership.
… Based on these e-mails, one of which asked for a young page's picture, GOP leaders met with Foley and told him to cut it out.
The question is whether Republican leaders were grossly negligent or clumsily stupid (great choice!). The former is a political disaster. The latter, less so. Clearly, they should have done more. Simply asking for a picture is beyond the pale. GOP leaders might not have done the right thing because they wanted to protect a safe GOP seat. But my reporting suggests for the moment that instead of being craven, they were just incompetent wimps. They knew Foley was gay and in the closet, and they just didn't want to get into whether he was following through on his flirting. When he explained that his e-mails were just a part of mentoring, they were probably relieved. Foley had given them an excuse they wanted to believe.
The ultimate judgment of this affair may be that it's just more dumb behavior by Republican leaders, and that may be enough to help Democrats with the midterm election, especially if this incident is seen as the final insult.
It was this serious -
Oh my. It really is a train wreck.
Straining to hold the party together five weeks from Election Day amid unfolding revelations about the case, Mr. Hastert and his leadership team held a conference call with House Republicans on Monday night and heard blunt advice and criticism from participants who pressed for further action to reassure voters.
"This is a political problem, and we need to step up and do something dramatic," Representative Ray LaHood of Illinois said afterward, adding that he had proposed abolishing the Congressional page program.
… Federal agents on Monday began contacting men who were in the Congressional page program in recent years, said government officials briefed on the matter, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the inquiry.
… At the White House, Tony Snow, President Bush's press secretary, initially characterized the scandal as "naughty e-mails," drawing a blistering response from Democrats who said his words suggested that Republicans did not understand the gravity of the situation.
… Mr. Hastert defended the Republicans' handling of a parent's complaint last year about communication from Mr. Foley to the parent's teenage son. But he acknowledged that the e-mail inquiring about the boy's well being and requesting a photo was potentially troubling.
"I think that raised a red flag, raised a red flag with the kid, raised a red flag with the parents," said Mr. Hastert, who repeated that he could not recall learning of the messages before news of them broke last week. But the speaker said he and others had been "duped" by Mr. Foley, who when questioned about the e-mail said it was an innocent effort to make sure that the young man, who was from Louisiana, had made it through Hurricane Katrina.
Representative John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, and the House clerk, Jeff Trandahl, instructed Mr. Foley to break off any contact with the former page. At the time, Republicans did not purse the matter further, considering the case closed. "Would have, could have, should have," Mr. Hastert said, responding to questions about whether Republicans should have done more.
… Across the country, in competitive and noncompetitive races, Democrats seized on an issue that they said was resonating with voters. In an effort coordinated in Washington by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party's candidates urged their Republican opponents to call for the resignation of Mr. Hastert and other leaders.
In Indiana, Baron Hill, a Democratic candidate for a House seat, asked the incumbent, Representative Mike Sodrel, a first-term Republican, to reject any financial contributions from the national party. In North Carolina, where Representative Robin Hayes, a Republican, is engaged in a tough campaign fight, the state Democratic Party issued a statement asking, "Who does Robin Hayes stand up for - Mark Foley and the Republican House leadership or under-age children?"
Note here you'll find the video of über-Democrat Paul Begala and über-Republican Bay Buchanan on CNN's Situation Room, Monday, October 2, agreeing. Begala - "If somebody said that to my kid they will deal with a law firm Smith and Wesson. It's going to my 12-gauge." Pat Buchanan's sister will not defend Hastert and the rest - she rakes them over the coals. They seem to be reacting as parents, not party functionaries. How odd.
It really was hard to see how Hastert can possibly remain as Speaker when people like far right Michael Reagan are demanding his resignation. Even Michelle "We were right to lock up our Japs and we should look up our Muslims too!" Malkin was ripping the Republicans, including Tony Snow, who are "inclined to pooh-pooh Foley's behavior and carry on about Barney Frank instead." She posts an email from a reader in Oklahoma who agrees with her and who said that he forbade his daughter to accept an offer to be a page because he "wouldn't expose her to those people." The reader also says - "If this crap continues we the people are going to have to take matters in our own hands." And there's more such stuff from the right here, here and here. They will vote Democratic, as the Republicans have abandoned all of the "principles" that got them so excited in the first place. Amazing.
Then there's the case of Matt Drudge, claiming this was all a set-up - oversexed nasty kids trying to trap a good man (see this) - but that seems to be an outlier. No one was impressed with that thinking.
All this almost made people forget the Woodward book and that curious July 10, 2001 meeting where George Tenet and his counterterrorism chief Cofer Black call for an emegency face-to-face with then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. They are "hair on fire" upset. They think al Qaeda is going to attack soon. She blows them off.
See Peter Rundlet, a Counsel to the 9/11 Commission, here saying the 9/11 Commission was never told about this meeting. And he concludes - "At a minimum, the withholding of information about this meeting is an outrage. Very possibly, someone committed a crime. And worst of all, they failed to stop the plot." But Rice didn't think it was important, or so Woodward says.
Monday, October 2, she says it may have never happened -
Then there's this a few hours later -
Rice said she cannot recall then-CIA chief George Tenet warning her of an impending al-Qaida attack in the United States, as a new book claims he did two months before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "What I am quite certain of is that I would remember if I was told, as this account apparently says, that there was about to be an attack in the United States, and the idea that I would somehow have ignored that I find incomprehensible," Rice said.
Or as Duncan Black puts it -
A review of White House records has determined that George J. Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, did brief Condoleezza Rice and other top officials on July 10, 2001, about the looming threat from Al Qaeda, a State Department spokesman said Monday.
The account by Sean McCormack came hours after Ms. Rice, the secretary of state, told reporters aboard her airplane that she did not recall the specific meeting on July 10, 2001, noting that she had met repeatedly with Mr. Tenet that summer about terrorist threats. Ms. Rice, the national security adviser at the time, said it was "incomprehensible" she ignored dire terrorist threats two months before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mr. McCormack also said records show that the Sept. 11 commission was informed about the meeting, a fact that former intelligence officials and members of the commission confirmed on Monday.
When details of the meeting emerged last week in a new book by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, Bush administration officials questioned Mr. Woodward's reporting.
Now, after several days, both current and former Bush administration officials have confirmed parts of Mr. Woodward's account.
Officials now agree that on July 10, 2001, Mr. Tenet and his counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black, were so alarmed about an impending Al Qaeda attack that they demanded an emergency meeting at the White House with Ms. Rice and her National Security Council staff.
Cute. These are not serious people.
So, Rice briefed that an attack was coming. A month later the president is briefed that an attack was coming. He tells the briefer that he's covered his ass. A month later an attack happens. And Rice magically forgets all this stuff.
Well, they ARE serious about fighting terrorism, except for this - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Calls for Efforts to Bring Taliban into Afghan Government - which says something about the famed Republican toughness on national security
It's quite simple -
And he's not alone -
QALAT, Afghanistan U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday that the Afghan guerrilla war can never be won militarily and called for efforts to bring the Taliban and their supporters into the Afghan government.
The Tennessee Republican said he had learned from briefings that Taliban fighters were too numerous and had too much popular support to be defeated by military means.
"You need to bring them into a more transparent type of government," Frist said during a brief visit to a U.S. and Romanian military base in the southern Taliban stronghold of Qalat. "And if that's accomplished we'll be successful."
Cheney must have called Frist on the satellite phone, as Frist then backs off a little.
Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican from Florida accompanying Frist, said negotiating with the Taliban was not "out of the question" but that fighters who refused to join the political process would have to be defeated.
"A political solution is how it's all going to be solved," he said.
Too late - the train wreck continues, with Michelle Malkin and her folks with items like this -
And at the far right Ace of Spades, this -
If we're going to do this, just pull everyone out. Don't lend an imprimatur of legitimacy to it by shepherding these medieval savages into a U.S.-backed government. Pull out, admit defeat, and let the Taliban take back the country through force. Then we can really and truly be back to September 10, 2001. Minus a skyscraper or two.
It almost as if those in power cannot help themselves. Everything turns out wrong.
Perhaps we should make peace with Zawahiri as well? Let's negotiate, and see what terms we can get as good dhimmis.
The hell with the lot of them.
… I don't need the goddamned Republican Party in power to sign "peace" deals with terrorists. I can get that easily enough from the Democratic Party. I've supported these vacuous, cowardly, inept, corrupt idiots for one reason - to fight terrorists.
If they want to sign peace deals with them, that's their decision. I and others can make another decision. The country may move in this direction, but we hardly have to endorse the decision by voting in favor of Quislings.
At least the Democrats talk tough about sending more troops to Afghanistan and killing Taliban fighters and capturing bin Laden.
If that really is no longer a GOP priority, then I am no longer a member of the GOP.
You stupid jagoffs [sic]. You've done just about everything possible to lose this election; it's only the base - ever hopeful and ever self-deluding - that's kept you from your goal.
Was governing too much a chore for you? Was it too distracting, taking you away from fundraisers and fucking Congressional pages?
The Democrats have complained for years the GOP wasn't serious enough about defeating Al Qaeda and the Taliban, that it was too focused on Iraq. Congratulations - you just took a talking point and made it an established fact.
Well, enjoy your minority status. The rest of us will try to rebuild to the extent we can a party that actually sees ending the Taliban and Al Qaeda as somewhat more critical than ending internet poker.
More... I had hoped that the GOP's fear of losing power had shook them out of their moronic, corrupt stupor. I thought July and August were enough to send them a message.
I guess not. They don't learn easy.
It will, in fact, take an electoral drubbing to make them understand.
So let the enlightening begin.
But Bill Montgomery thinks something is up -
Okay, but the president WILL sign that bill outlawing internet gambling. It probably won't stop the train wreck.
First the Pakistanis cut a truce deal with Al Qaeda and its tribal allies in the frontier territories, and now Frist and his sidekick Mel Martinez fly to Kabul and float this trial balloon.
Something big is up. Who knows? Maybe Dr. K doing his Nixon-goes-to-China thing.
But it's awfully hard to believe the Rovians are actually going to try to sell a negotiated settlement with the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda to the American public - not even after the election and certainly not as some sort of October surprise/political miracle weapon.
What would come next? A state visit from Bin Laden?
More likely, this is part of some half-hearted, fumbling effort to peel away the Taliban "moderates" and "bring them into the process," like the attempt to bring the Sunni into the big tent in Iraq - a ploy which, we now know, almost worked too well.
Either way, I think we can take a guess at the larger motive: To shore up (or at least simmer down) the Afghanistan front in advance of the attack on Iran.
… And now the Brits
- "British troops battling the Taliban are to withdraw from one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan after agreeing a secret deal with the local people. It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same."
My, this seems to be quite the day for cutting and running.