Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Clinton's Sin Pt.II:Hillary

Hillary Clinton has been listening to her political advisors again, and I'll bet that Bill is not one of them because she's getting bad advice. Her "Congress as Plantation" remark in a church in Harlem on Martin Luther King Day was hamfisted and insulting. Bill would have been much more nuanced and said something like, "the Republicans run Congress like a company store." Then he could have made his black reference so appealing that all those listening would believe they were in on the same inside joke. Bill grew up in 1950s Arkansas, and the cadence and pitch of black oratory come naturally to him. Hillary grew up in a Chicago suburb and attended private schools. Her attempt at relating to an African American church congregation sounded more like Vivian Leigh than Hattie McDaniels. Something happens to white people when they address a black audience. Their speech becomes more Southern and measured and if they receive a response from the audience, it starts feeling good to them and they believe that they, too, can pontificate like Martin Luther King,Jr. And before you know it, they're talking about plantations and what-not. This manner of speech coming from Mrs. Clinton in that setting can be called only one thing; pandering.

Since it is no secret that Mrs. Clinton is the frontrunner for the 2008 Democratic Party's presidential nomination, she is attempting to position herself to become more palatable to middle America. Thus, last month she announced her co-sponsoring of a bill in Congress with Republican Senator Robert Bennett to criminalize flag burning, even though the Supreme Court has already determined that the symbolic act of burning the flag is free speech protected by the First Amendment. That was then and this is now. A new Supreme Court with a decidedly conservative bent may decide to revisit the issue. If the bill has Hillary's name on it, she may look more patriotic to the yee-haws but ultimately, it won't work. Liberals know who she is and where she came from and so do Conservatives. Her stance in this matter is pure posturing and everyone can see it but her. This insults both the left and the right and though Hillary may well capture the 2008 nomination, I believe she will get rolled like George McGovern in 1972. She is as polarizing a figure as Bush and is perceived as someone who cares more about political power than the issues. The real shame is that this is a perception of her own construction.

So it is also with my hometown Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. who is running for the Senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist. Junior is the son of the patriarch of the most powerful black political dynasty the city of Memphis has ever seen. He has been cautious to avoid the sort of rough racial politics his uncles and aunts played in the 70s and 80s. Yet, because he is positioning himself to be acceptable to the conservative voters of East Tennessee, he voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. This from a young man educated at the University of Michigan who inherited his father's congressional seat before he even graduated. This smacks of hypocrisy. I don't think he really believes in his vote, and instead tried to execute a "stealth" vote after the issue was already decided to show conservative voters he was no liberal like Dad. If Congressman Ford, Jr. actually believes that an amendment to the Constitution is needed to prevent gays from marrying, then it is doubly troubling. Regardless of how you feel about Jr.'s controversial family, they were political and civil rights pioneers, and it would be deeply upsetting to know that a person who benefited from the advances in civil rights would attempt to pass a constitutional amendment denying those same rights to others.

I am sick to death of political posturing and the ever increasing influence of the political advisor. It was widely reported and heavily criticized that in one phone conversation between Bill Clinton and his advisor Dick Morris, Morris put one of his call girls on the line to listen in on the President. When Bush was elected, however, Karl Rove went ahead and moved the entire whorehouse into the West Wing. Rove has proven how so much power in the hands of an unelected official can be misused with impunity. My sense is that voters are also tired of the political advisor and yearn for someone to emerge with real convictions and sincere intentions.

Last month, Senator Barack Obama spoke about his political philosophy and leveled a sober critique of the current government in a speech sponsored by the family of the late Senator Robert Kennedy. Ethel Kennedy was so impressed, she was quoted as saying that Obama reminded her of Bobby at that age because of his intelligence and his conviction. Obama is a freshman senator and needs more experience in office, but he seems to be the type of honest and forthright speaker this nation is seeking in a candidate. And in the three years before the next election, perhaps someone will rise from obscurity to capture that national imagination like Jimmy Carter did in 1976. Or a man of the people like West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin could be thrust into the forefront by unpredictable events.

I hope that whoever is the eventual Democratic nominee will get there without pandering or talking down to the American voter. And if there is to be any tampering with the constitution to garner votes, I hope someone will propose to do away with the 22nd Amendment setting Presidential term limits. This bill was forced into law by Republicans who were tired of being clobbered by FDR. Term limits thwart the will of the people by setting an artificial and arbitrary time for the President to retire. This seems to be the antithesis of true Democracy and counter-productive to our society. If we could repeal the 22nd, it would put an end to the problem of lame duckism and allow our chief executive to concentrate on the problems of the nation other than raising money for the next election. What I'm attempting to say is that I believe Bill Clinton is now ready to be President. Why settle for a pandering Hillary when we could have a contrite and polished Bill?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Quid Pro Quo

To understand what is at the heart of the Washington lobbying scandal you don't even need to know Latin to discern the meaning of "Quid Pro Quo." Quid is English slang for what used to be the British Pound Sterling, as in, "Hey mate, how 'bout half a quid for an old soldier?" Pro is who you give the quid to in Washington in order to spread it around to all the crooked legislators willing to accept cash to vote a certain way, as in, "that Jack Abramoff is a real Pro at stealing from the Native Americans." The quo is a little more difficult to understand. We're still looking for the "quo" because it's hard to prove whether a Congressman is stealing or if he just votes that way anyway. "Quo" could be the quorum you need to pass earmarks and pork barrel projects. Or it could be the mathematical quotient to figure which Congressman, plus how much laundered cash, equals a vote. Or it could reference the novel, "Quo Vadis," in which Nero fiddles while Rome burns. If whatever is on the wire that former Representative "Duke" Cunningham was wearing for the FBI can prove which other representatives gave up the "quo," there's going to be hell to pay.

I understand that Democrats are implicated in this potential bribery scandal as well as Republicans. Just not as many. Because only the Republicans could self immolate in such a spectacular way. They have control of both houses of Congress, the executive branch, and the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, and they turn it into a food fight. This is positive proof about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Here they were with no one to monitor their bad behavior, intoxicated with the perks of office, and puffed up with power. They put their wives and their staffers on the lobbyist's teat with no qualms at all. They took and took until there was no more to take and then they started devouring each other like cannibals. Wave some cash around and the vaunted Republican discipline comes tumbling down and it's every man for himself. They are reminiscent of the ruthless, shipwrecked schoolboys in William Golding's "Lord of the Flies" who reward the strong and punish the weak. And if you recall the mid-sixties, black and white film of that novel, Karl Rove looks exactly like "Piggy." You can almost hear them screaming, "kill the pig," bash it's head." Only the Republicans self destruct in this way. Ask John Dean or Ollie North.

It's good for the party that was elected by promising to protect our "morals and values" to show themselves as so utterly valueless. It helps to keep in mind between election cycles that we vote for individuals to represent us and not some monolithic party philosophy. If someone is elected because they tow the party line, then you can expect them to behave like the party leadership. And Tom DeLay still doesn't know what he did wrong. He thinks all those rounds of golf are his reward for putting his friends in positions of power in Texas while serving as the Majority Leader in Washington.

And this cash cow that once was Jack Abramoff has been turned into a pinata at a children's party. Everyone is trying to throw away the goodies he gave out to children's charities as if that will cleanse the giver. It's great to have a second Christmas in January, especially since the one in December had a war waged upon it, but it won't protect all the little cash receiving elves, or Santa Claus either, from investigations of bribery and special favors. Instead of "quid pro quo," these dirty legislators should consider another Latin phrase; "ex post facto." Giving their ill gotten gains to charity after the fact will not help anything but their mortal souls and the charity of choice.

There is nothing more to do but wait and watch. Abramoff, who likes to quote "The Godfather," ends up like Sammy the Bull, first facilitating and then ratting out his mentors. This will be great entertainment, except for there's a war going on and the distraction could prolong it. But it's necessary to root out the corrupt and contemptible members of the Republican juggernaught before the mid-term elections in order to sod the political ground for new leadership. Peter Clemenza said, "You need to have a war every ten years or so to get rid of all the bad blood." If this bribery/lobbying scandal can be used as a stepping stone in replacing the Republican majorities in Congress, then the legislative branch can begin some real investigations into the Bush doctrine of preemption and whether this administration intentionally misled this nation into war. Perhaps then we may see the return of checks and balances, and not the bankbook kind that this Congress is obsessed with.
With a few honest legislators leading some genuine reforms, this administration may see a little "quid pro quo" of it's own.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Bush Has A Fit

I've heard that the best defense is a good offense, but the President's sputtering hissy fit over the disclosure of his domestic spying ring is about as offensive as it gets. Is he angry at the New York Times who sat on the story for a year? Maybe they finally developed a conscience after the Bush administration used their reporter to leak preferential information during the build-up to the Iraqi war. In the words of George the First, "This will not stand."

Bush may say he's only eavesdropping on swarthy men telephoning the Middle East, but anyone who lived through the Nixon era knows that the next step is the "Enemies List." And when we are discussing domestic enemies, that may include anyone who ever crossed Karl Rove or pushed Cheney around when he worked for Gerald Ford. We already know the Republican blueprint for illegal domestic surveillance. Nixon was impeached for it and half of his cabinet went to jail. Bloggers and journalists of every stripe are wearing out that old Santayana quote about those not learning from the past being condemned to repeat it. This has to be the lamest lame duck we have ever had.

And it's not that there were any obstacles in the administration's way. A special court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is already in place and ready to sign warrants within hours of their request. And if they don't answer the door quickly enough, the Bush Leaguers had up to four days to inform them of any action taken to tap a cell phone. Even in the Bush copywrited "Global War On Terror,"
it is necessary to go through the motions just to give a wink to the Constitution. They make laws preventing tuna fishermen from casting nets so large and tightly woven that they catch dolphins. The same principle applies here. While fishing for evil-doers, a lot of patriotic Americans that just don't happen to agree with the President get tangled up in the net.

Bush is upset that he was caught in yet another in a string of stunning illegalities. And, let's face it, judging from the President's history, he didn't just make an end run around Congress and the Courts because they impeded his path. Bush is a slacker of historic proportion, so if he did not obtain court orders it was either because he was too lazy or no one explained the meaning of the law to him. For him to come out swinging and say these revelations will hurt our troops is the worst sort of demagoguery. Russ Feingold said it best, "Bush is not king."

Simply put, the Bush Leaguers' attempt to ignore the law and then to paint their critics as unpatriotic, stinks. This attempt at unchecked power to spy on American citizens is the moral equivalent of Joseph McCarthy snooping for Commies in the 50s. Maybe the Communist witch hunts were well intended at the beginning. But history shows that they were bad for our country and put a shroud over political dissent that ruined lives and lasted for decades. It finally got repugnant enough for people of good will to stand up and stop it. And all the Bushies had to do, and all they have to do now, is ask for a warrant.

These disclosures won't prevent the government from monitoring electronic messages. It will just make the evil-doers more clever about not using any "red flag" terms that might give them up. For instance, they won't be able to use any words that are inflammatory, err, make that volatile, or maybe, upsetting. And you can't mention by name that very real terrorist organization that means to hurt us, or the name of that tall, skinny, bearded guy who leads them. And don't discuss the new information regarding our military command structure outsourcing the job of capturing that tall guy to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Make that; the rag-tag bunch of scamps that we financed to kick the Russians out in that far away place where the most recent unpleasantness was concocted. They let the tall guy go because, after all, he was one of them.

If the government intends to eavesdrop on American citizens, they should actually have to read the transcripts or listen to the conversations rather than collect masses of data and look for something that might be suspicious. Anyone who has ever been critical of Bush could end up in that naked pyramid. Correct that to say, anyone who says unkind things regarding the imperial power of the current regime runs the danger of being lumped together with people who really don't like us and wish to harm us in a very real way. Wait, that's not going to work either. How about, loose lips equal danger of arrest and incarceration without legal representation for indefinite periods of time. Well, never mind.