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Ari Berman | The Nation

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Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

The Worst President Ever?

In commemoration of President's Day, I dug up a December column by noted presidential biographer Richard Reeves entitled, "Is George Bush the Worst President--Ever?"

Turns out 415 historians were recently asked by George Mason University to answer that question. And 50 replied that yes, Bush was, while over 80 percent said that W was failing at his job.

Generally speaking, Reeves says James Buchanan, our 15th president, usually earns the worst ever distinction, as "a confused, indecisive president, who may have made the Civil War inevitable by trying to appease or negotiate with the South."

Taking a more modern view, The Nation wrote following Ronald Reagan's death:

 

Until the current occupant side-stepped into the White House, Reagan was the worst American leader since Herbert Hoover.

 

This debate, however, will likely not be settled for quite some time. As Reeves notes, there are other figures in the White House who deserve equal blame:

 

Many of the historians note that however bad Bush seems, they have indeed seen worse men around the White House. Some say Buchanan. Many say Vice President Dick Cheney.

 

And that was before he shot a man in the face.

Listen to Fritz

Former South Carolina Senator Ernest Frederick "Fritz" Hollings came to the Senate in 1966 and retired in 2004, at the age of 82. Still sharp and spirited, he knows better than most what ails our politics today.

 

There is a cancer on the body politic: money.

 

Those words come from a lucid and must-read op-ed published today in the Washington Post.

The Senate used to be in session from Monday morning until Friday afternoon, working on the people's business. Today the average Senator spends nearly one-third of their time raising money.

 

The late senator Richard Russell of Georgia said a senator was given a six-year term -- two years to be a statesman, two to be a politician and two to demagogue. Now we take all six years to raise money.

 

Hollings's solution to this monstrous problem couldn't be more straight forward:

 

What is needed is a simple one-line amendment to the Constitution. It would authorize Congress to regulate or control spending in federal elections.

 

Because, as he notes:

 

The money crowd has the money, and representatives and senators need the money. But no one wants to touch the reason for the ethical misconduct. Excise the cancer of money, and most of the misconduct will disappear.

 

Amen.

Dick Should've Enlisted

The best zinger of the week on Dick Cheney's now infamous hunting accident came not from Jon Stewart or any of the late night comics but courtesy of Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel:

If he'd been in the military, he would have learned gun safety.

That wasn't all. In an interview with thirty national security journalists on Thursday, Hagel provided a much needed dose of sanity on Iran:

I think one thing we ought to be doing is engaging the Iranians. Why aren't we talking to them? That's the essence of good foreign policy.

For more on Hagel, read Joe Lelyveld's impressive profile in last week's New York Times Magazine.

I have my doubts about how far Hagel will go in challenging the Republican establishment, but as John McCain makes nice with right-wingers, Hagel is emerging as the GOP maverick to watch.

Failing Upwards

One of the perplexing things about the Democratic Party is how it rewards and glorifies consultants and experts who get major issues so wrong. Back in 2002, former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm, convinced a wide swath of the Democratic intelligentsia that Saddam possessed WMD's and thus had to be removed. Needless to say, he was wrong.

Undeterred, Pollack returned two years later with The Persian Puzzle, a book about Iran, which met with glowing reviews. Senator Jay Rockefeller, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, gave his House counterpart, Rep. Jane Harman, a copy with the inscription: "Jane, read this and you will know what you're talking about."

"When Ken Pollack talks, I listen," Harman said yesterday at the Brookings Institution. You see, Pollack has just authored a mammoth new report on Iraq which tells the Bush Administration and the Democrats how to make that mess right. For the last two weeks, Pollack has been selling his recommendations in meetings with Congress and the Executive Branch. Though the report contains a lot of good, detailed information and analysis, Pollack's central thesis reinforces the view of many foreign policy elites that prolonging the American occupation will benefit Iraq.

That's a stark contrast to Rep. Jack Murtha, who states boldly:

 

Our troops are the targets, and they're unifying Iraq against us...Once we get out of there, it will be more stable in Iraq.

 

Words to the wise.

Impeachment Is Coming?

Has Paul Weyrich, a founding father of the modern conservative movement, been reading The Nation?

Via TAPPED, I see that Weyrich is ringing alarm bells over the possibility of Democrats impeaching the President should they take over the House in 2006. Quite frankly the chances of Dems recapturing the House, despite all the recent GOP missteps, remain slim, and the prospects for impeachment even slimmer. But listen to Weyrich voice conservative frustrations, citing government spending, immigration and the war:

 

I can tell you, if the e-mail and snail-mail traffic I receive is any indication, lots and lots of people are telling me they do not intend to vote in the 2006 election. Others are saying they will vote for third-party candidates. I hear that every election. Little comes of it. But staying at home is a huge problem for Republicans. To say that the grassroots are discouraged is an understatement.

 

Having exhausted gay marriage and showed their hand on the terror card, Republicans need a new boogeyman to drive base voters to the polls. Weyrich says impeachment is it:

 

Perhaps you haven't heard it before. Well, you have now. Impeachment. Coming your way if there are changes in who controls the House eight months from now. If the President and Congress get their act together, and with the possibility of another Supreme Court appointment in the background, and impeachment on the horizon, maybe, just maybe, conservatives would not stay at home after all.

 

We need Liz Holtzman on the blog!

 

Remind You of Something?

Few events are as tailor made for Comedy Central's The Daily Show as Dick Cheney's accidental shooting of 78-year-old Harry Whittington, a moment that had Jon Stewart exclaiming "Thank you Jesus!"

Stewart, via Crooks & Liars:

 

Don't let your kids go hunting with the Vice President. I don't care what kind of lucrative contracts they're trying to land or energy regulations they're trying to get lifted. He'll shoot them in the face.

 

Though there were more than a few bird jokes, the show's Vice Presidential Firearms Mishap Expert Rob Corddry invoked an eerily similar Administration defense:

 

Jon, tonight the Vice President is standing by his decision to shoot Harry Whittington. Now according to the best intelligence available, there were quail hidden in the brush. Everyone believed at the time there were quail in the brush. And while the quail turned out to be the 78 year old man, even knowing that today, Mr. Cheney insists-he still would have shot Mr. Whittington in the face.

 

Corddry continued:

 

He [Cheney] believes the world is a better place for spreading buckshot throughout the entire region of Mr. Whittington's face.

 

 

In a post 9/11 world, the American people expect their leaders to be decisive. To not have shot his friend in the face would have sent a message to the quail that America is weak.

 

 

A Fitting Heir to Bush

George Allen, the not-so-bright, tobacco-dipping, football-quoting Senator from Virginia, is quickly emerging as the right wing's potential answer to John McCain come 2008. Allen solidified his standing as an inside the Beltway rising star by winning the Conservative Political Action Conference's '08 straw poll on Saturday, besting McCain 22 to 20 percent. He also won the title of "America's Best Senator" from Muslims for Bush.

Since we're likely to be hearing Allen's name more and more in the coming months, let's take a look back at what he thinks of the pressing issues of the day, starting with the selection of Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve. From the New York Times, January 31, 2006:

Here is what Senator George Allen of Virginia, who is considering a bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said when asked his opinion of the Bernanke nomination.

''For what?''

Told that Mr. Bernanke was up for the Fed chairman's job, Mr. Allen hedged a little, said he had not been focused on it, and wondered aloud when the hearings would be. Told that the Senate Banking Committee hearings had concluded in November, the senator responded: ''You mean I missed them all? I paid no attention to them.''

The heir to Bush, only dumber.

Coulter Gone Wild

To truly understand conservatives, you need to experience them in their element. The largest such gathering of true believers is the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which took place this weekend in Washington, DC. CPAC is a rite of passage for young conservatives, graced by the likes of Dick Cheney, John Bolton and Bill Frist.

I and The Nation's Max Blumenthal stopped by on Friday, hoping to catch Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, the subject of Jeff Sharlet's masterful profile in this month's Rolling Stone. Brownback didn't show, but luckily Ann Coulter was on the menu later in the day. She didn't disappoint--characterizing Muslims as "ragheads," comparing moderate Republicans to slave plantations and wishing she'd assassinated Bill Clinton. Go read Max's blog for the full account.

Before Coulter's speech we strolled around the exhibit hall, home to such vendors as the "ex-gay is OK" table and "Muslims for Bush." We stopped by the booth of one man opposed to affirmative action in South Africa, of all places. Much to our surprise, he was not a fan of the current Republican Party or its followers. When Max told him to go see Coulter he responded, "my friend warned me about her."

Even white nationalists from South Africa are more mainstream than Republican activists in this country.

Rove Comes Calling

 

Is the White House coming begging to Senate Minority Leader HarryReid? "Karl Rove's back and there's no doubt about that," Reid remarkedat a one-hour on-the-record breakfast sponsored by The AmericanProspect that I attended today. "He's so desperate he's called methree times in the last few weeks." The White House knows it's going toexceed the government's debt limit, Reid said, and they want his help.But there's little agreement between Rove and Reid on the deficit ormany other issues these days. "I don't think Karl Rove's message, ifhe's still out of jail [in 2006], will have the same sound as it did."

 

 

Reid, a pro-life, pro-gun Mormon from Nevada, vacillated betweenthe left and the center before the group of progressive journalists. Herepeatedly praised Russ Feingold as an example of a Democrat who standsup for what he believes in but refused to endorse a timetable for thewithdrawal of troops from Iraq, as Feingold advocates. "I met with theJoints Chiefs of Staff recently and troops are gonna be pulled out ofIraq this year," Reid said, without specifying whether all the troopsshould leave. Feingold was "still really upset" about the compromise reached on the Patriot Act last night, Reid indicated,and will try to slow its passage.

 

 

After the unveiling of their anti-corruption "Honest LeadershipAct," Senate Democrats will focus on "real security," including a planby Indiana Senator Evan Bayh to increase the size of the Army by100,000 troops. "On a number of different directions we're going afternational defense," he said. "We'll be more competitive on that issuethan ever before."

 

 

Reid dismissed an Associated Press story linking him to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, alleging that"no one that gave me any money did anything wrong," though he jokedthat billionaire financier Howard Hughes did hand him $10,000 in cashat the beginning of his political career. He indicated that hesupported the efforts of Senators Dick Durbin and Chris Dodd to promotepublicly financed elections.

 

 

And he seemed downright buoyant about the prospects for Democraticgains in the Senate this year. "If the election were held today theSenate would be tied 50-50," he boasted. "I used to say it would be amiracle to take the Senate. It's not a miracle any more." As to whenthe Democrats would actually unveil a comprehensive agenda, Reid notedthat the GOP's "Contract with America" in 1994 didn't come out untillate September of that year. "We'll roll out one [issue] at a time. BySeptember it will all be out."

 

 

Until then, he'll have his hands full stalling the GOP'slegislative priorities and keeping his divided Democratic caucus inline.

 

 

Beyond Chanukah

So George doesn't know Jack? How then to explain the emails between Abramoff and Washingtonian editor Kim Eisler, published today by Think Progress?

First, Abramoff explains his decision not to travel to Bush's Crawford ranch after he received an invite in 2003:

 

NO, IT WAS THAT I WOULD HAVE HAD TO TRAVEL ON SATURDAY (SHABBOS). YES, I WAS INVITED, DURING THE 2004 CAMPAIGN. IT WAS SATURDAY AUGUST 9, 2003 AT THE RANCH IN CRAWFORD.

 

Second, Abramoff describes nearly a dozen meetings with Bush:

 

HE HAS ONE OF THE BEST MEMORIES OF ANY POLITICIAN I HAVE EVER MET. IT WAS ONE IF [sic] HIS TRADEMARKS, THOUGH OF COURSE HE CAN'T RECALL THAT HE HAS A GREAT MEMORY! THE GUY SAW ME IN ALMOST A DOZEN SETTINGS, AND JOKED WITH ME ABOUT A BUNCH OF THINGS, INCLUDING DETAILS OF MY KIDS. PERHAPS HE HAS FORGOTTEN EVERYTHING. WHO KNOWS.

 

I guess the scandal's moved beyond Chanukah parties. Let's see Scotty spin this.

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