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Eric Alterman

Eric Alterman

Well-chosen words on music, movies and politics, with the occasional special guest.

Slacker Friday

We've got a new Think Again column here called "Conservatives Know the Real Origin of Swine Flu."

This morning I put up this piece on that lunatic Michele Bachmann and I did a short 100 Days post for the Daily Beast.

CHARLES PIERCE
NEWTON, MA.

Hey Doc:

"Mama's in the kitchen, messin' around/Sister's in the parlor, tryin'on a gown/Daddy's on the housetop, won't come down."

Weekly WWOZ Pick To Click: "The Long Black Line" (Spencer Bohren) --I am thinking very seriously of having a 747 fly low over Brian Williams'sapartment, trailed by two F-16's, each pulling a banner listing 35 of the8 million ways I love New Orleans. And it's Jazz Fest, kids. Can't youjust feel the bon temps roulez-ing out to all points of the compass?

Short Takes

Part The First: I'm as big a fan of limitless schadenfreude asanyone, and Arlen Specter's defection has prompted some entertainingaerodynamic displays from the various flying monkeys. But the man needs a primary very badly, if only to force him to define himself as a Democrat beyond being Harry Reid's pal, and the fact that no prominent Democrats seem to realize this makes me despair of the party even further. (Would President Obamaseriously come to Philadelphia to campaign for Arlen Freaking Specteragainst, say, Joe Sestak? I foresee a sudden and unexpected periodontalappointment coming into play there.) Personally, I'd ask Arlen to takeback the magic bullet theory, but that's just me.

Part The Second: That was an interesting column from MoDo lastweekend, whoappears to think that the biggest problem with newspapers dying is that itgives her one less venue to pretend to be Rosalind Russell. Me? I think shemight have mentioned a relevant story in the news, but that's just me.

Part The Third: Minnesota Politics Update: I believe thatCongressloon Bachmann is going to be the source of some dissension within the Gopher delegation when Norm Coleman finally gives up the ghost, and she discovers that Hoot Smalley was Stuart's beloved late uncle.

Part The Fourth: Who--or what--is the tent-pole holding up theGreat Tent Of Freedom? We are entertaining nominations, which ought to be entertaining enough.

Part The Last: As Altercation Interim Papist Correspondent, I wouldlike to caution everyone, but especially the lads and lasses in the press,not to make too much of a big deal about this. I would especially caution Notre Dame not to chicken out. Look, Glendon and people like her make a lot of noise, but within the vast body of American Catholicism, they are seen asmouthpieces for the red-beanie crowd in Rome. The general respect for thatcrowd of unemployables has not recovered in the least from the discoverythat it functioned as an international conspiracy to obstruct justice. In short, Glendon and the Crisis Magazine crowd have no constituency that anyone needs to fear. They are an influential elitist circle-jerk at this point and nothing else. Is the Vatican going to crack down on Notre Dame for inviting the president of the United States to give a speech? Not even the Vatican is that dumb. If Notre Dame turtles on this one, it's going to be the most embarrassingsurrender since that Syracuse game a couple of years back.

I am no longer amazed by the capacity of Parson Meacham to miss the point deliberately so as to guarantee himself a Beltway social life for the foreseeable future. But this passage truly is remarkable for its ability to miss the point not only in 2009, but in 1987 and in 1973 as well. How'd he do this without a time-machine, since it represents three decades of point-missing crammed into two sentences? And this, from a guy who won a Pulitzer Prize for awork of history last month.

"The answer depends, at least in part, on how we turn back the page.Is a Watergate- or Iran-contra-style congressional probe the way to go? No,for public hearings encourage--demand, really--dramatic plays for attentionfrom lawmakers. Such a stage would lead to the expression of extreme views."

Does Meacham really remember the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearingsthat way? Both the Ervin and Rodino hearings into Watergate wereextraordinarly dignified affairs -- The latter, of course, was highlightedby the late Barbara Jordan's passionate defense of the Constitution.

Extreme views?--in which serious crimes were exposed so that a passel of incredibly guilty bastards could get sent off to prison. Theinvestigation of those crimes was short-circuited, not by the kind ofhearings that give the Parson the vapors, but by Gerald Ford's pardon ofthe guiltiest bastard of them all, which is exactly the kind offundamentally infantilizing "conciliatory" gesture that the Parson and hisvarious dinner guests applaud.

And the Iran-Contra investigations were not a carnival of partisanfulmination. (I can't even remember a single decent speech that came out ofeither side.) They were, however, a towering botch. Even within the media,the possibility of investigating Ronald Reagan's involvement was off theboards almost immediately. (Mark Hertsgaard's On Bended Knee is excellent on why this happened.) The Tower Commission was one of the Parson's belovedgatherings-of-wise-men that was rigged from the start to speak only in thepassive voice -- "Mistakes were made" and all that. And the jointcongressional committee bungled its own mandate so badly that a half-madcrook like Ollie North became a star, and the piddling little convictionsthat were won got tossed because the Congress immunized people whoshouldn't have been. (I believe this was the first time Lee Hamilton essayedhis ongoing role as our national anesthetic.) Meanwhile, poor LawrenceWalsh found his probe utterly hamstrung, and nearly got to the truth0anyway, only to have Poppy Bush pardon everyone except Shoeless Joe Jacksonon his way out of town in 1992.

Iran-Contra was a series of crimes stemming from a reckless anddangerous theory of executive power, one that came back to Washington witha vengeance in 2000. And why shouldn't it have come back? People like DickCheney and Elliott Abrams all got hired into government again, largelybecause Cheney wasn't discredited the way Charles Sandman was back in 1974,and Abrams had his Iran-Contra conviction overturned, so he was free topretend to be rehabilitated. Say what you will about Haldeman andEhrlichman, but nobody was scrambling to put them back into an importantgovernment job when they got out of the sneezer.

Therefore, not only is Meacham's point spectacularly ahistorical, itis utterly foolish as public policy. There are only two proper venues toexamine the crimes of the previous administration. Either the Department ofJustice can do so as a formal criminal investigation, or the relevantcommittees of the Congress can open up their own investigations, in fulland open hearings. I am sorry that some of the people the Parson sees onthe weekend might then have to spend some time on a government cot, butthat's not sufficient reason to truncate the responsibilities aself-governing people has to investigate the crimes committed in its name.

Michael Green
Las Vegas, NV

Brother Pierce has pricked this historian in just the right placeswith two of his comments.

First, as to Justice Breyer and the Clueless Court, anyone who has read"The Brethren" will appreciate that. One of the stories shared with Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong was when then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist brought in a National Lampoon cartoon of the justices engaged in various sexual activities. Chief Justice Warren Burgerwas predictably offended, and Justice Thurgood Marshall sent out aclerk to buy copies for his kids. Harry Blackmun was depicted engagedin extracurricular activity with a kangaroo and told his clerks thecartoon was funny, but he couldn't figure out what he was supposedto be doing. But the great one was William J. Brennan, the great liberal,who was shown standing in front of some children, holding his robe open.He said other justices were having sex, but he was protecting children from the sight. His clerks then explained to him what "flashing" was. So, Breyer and company aren't the first.

As to Tom Ricks's modest proposal, during the Civil War, Senator BenjaminWade of Ohio tried to get West Point abolished. A Radical Republican,he chaired the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and felt that the West Point generals were too aristocratic, pro-southern, and interestedin maneuver as opposed to fighting. That can be argued, but for what it's worth,that perfectly described George McClellan. But Ulysses Grant was a West Pointer--it's just that he wasn't fond of the military theory taught there.

Jim Bearse
Topeka, KS

Now we have Condi Rice telling us that the former president would only order people to torture prisoners because the OLC says it was legal.

We have our media, and our current president, excusing torturers because higher-ups told them that torture was legal.

It seems to me that it has now been accepted by the public at large that an average American is not capable of knowing the laws of his country, and therefore it is not reasonable for others to expect him to know the laws. Only the lawyers know what the law is, so how can we be wrong listening to their advice?

Steve Thorne
Somewhere in California

Comparing the President's message to learning Everything You Needed to Know in Kindergarten? No thanks. Everything I needed to know I learned in the Infantry:

You can always improve your posiiton. Thus, we have stores like Home Depot, Lowes, etc.

Never volunteer. Wait until you are sentenced to public service for something you did on payday night in the barracks.

Keep your weapon clean at all times. (Ask the survivors of a certain Maintenance Company about this one.)

Don't bunch up, but stay spread out and tactical. Where do you think "personal space" comes from, huh?

Never leave a man behind. Unless he's covering the bar tab.

There's the right way, the wrong way and the Army way. If the Army way didn't work most of the time, there'd be somebody else's flag out there on the pole.

Steven Portela
Fresno, CA

I'll agree that the famous 5/8/77 Cornell show is probably overrated, but it's still an incredible performance. Before the soundboard version was in wide circulation, I had muddy audience recording of it, and the intensity still came through--and this was before I knew enough to know that I was supposed to like that show.

Mike
D.C.

Eric,

You'll probably appreciate this: last year the missus and I saw Maude Maggart in a retirement community's tiny theater in suburban Virginia, next to a strip mall just outside D.C. She was on her way to the Oak Room to premier her new show (called "Good Girls, Bad Girls," I think) and decided to practice it along the way.

We sat in the front for around $10/ticket. Like you say, there's no place like New York City, but this time it worked to our benefit here in D.C.

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