Quantcast

Ari Berman | The Nation

  •  
Ari Berman

Ari Berman

 On American politics and policy.

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.

Fightin' Dems

Those critics who systematically caricature the Democratic Party as "soft on defense" should've headed down to the National Mall in Washington on this brisk Wednesday morning. Against the backdrop of the US Capitol, 40 of the 55 veterans running as Democrats for Congress in 2006 assembled "to take the flag out of the hands of Karl Rove and his political assasins," said Eric Massa, a 24-year Navy Officer vying for a seat in upstate New York.

These "Band of Brothers," including nine Iraq veterans, saluted their country but implored the need for a "change of course" on the war, Congressional corruption, VA health care and basic bread-and-butter issues.

The Fighting Dems include:

** Bill Winter, a 10-year Marine Corps and Navy vet who's running against the vile immigrant-basher Rep. Tom Tancredo in suburban Denver, Colorado.

** Jim Nelson, a self-described "military veteran, Methodist minister and moderate Democrat" who's seeking the Georgia seat of Rep. Jack Kingston, one of Tom DeLay's closest allies in the House.

** Joe Sulzer, a Vietnam vet and mayor of Chillicothe, Ohio, who wants to oust the soon-to-be-indicted Rep. Bob Ney.

** Mishonda Baldwin, a Desert Storm vet who's trying to become the first African-American woman elected to the House from Maryland.

GOP attack dogs may have been able to swift boat the hapless John Kerry. Let them try and do it to over fifty vets. As Tim Dunn, an Iraq war vet from Fayetteville, North Carolina, put it: "It's time to take the Hill."

McCain vs. Obama

In case you weren't paying attention, since yesterday there's been a very public war of words between the Senate's two most hyped members, Barack Obama and John McCain, over lobbying reform.

Rather then tell the entire backstory, which you can read here and here, I'll make three points.

1. McCain's lobbying reform bill is incredibly weak compared to the Democrats "Honest Leadership Act." That's why only two Senate Democrats, Joe Lieberman and Bill Nelson, have signed on.

2. As Josh Marshall noted today, it was McCain who assured anxious Republicans that his Indian Affairs Committee investigation of Jack Abramoff wouldn't touch any prominent elected officials in his own party, including Tom DeLay.

3. McCain's a political opportunist. He only became a "reformer" after he was implicated in the Senate's Keating Five scandal. And as my profile of him last November made clear, there's no greater opportunity than the Presidency in '08. Which helps explain why he's acting like such an ass.

Why We Fight

The twin headlines on the front page of the Washington Post today, "Gonzales Defends Surveillance," and "Bush's Budget Bolsters Pentagon," made me think of Eugene Jarecki's stirring documentary about the military-industrial complex, Why We Fight.

Jarecki not only provides a historical overview of an arms buildup that dates back to President Eisenhower--who warned of the military establishment's "acquisition of unwarranted influence"--he shows how a lack of opportunities at home helps drive enlistment for foreign interventions abroad. Bush's appalling new budget will only exacerbate this trend by starving domestic programs, cutting taxes and boosting defense spending to a record $439.3 billion at a time of ever-increasing deficits. Defense spending has grown by 45 percent since Bush took office, accounting for more than half of all government programs. And that doesn't include the $120 billion needed this year to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What has over half a trillion dollars bought in terms of America's security? Shoddy intelligence, quagmire in Iraq and a nucular (née nuclear) Iran? Bin Laden's still alive and Hamas is running Palestine.

Democrats (and a few sensible Republicans) are rightfully incensed about Bush's proposed spending and tax cuts. "More deficits, more debt, and more denial," said John Spratt, ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. But these criticisms contain nary a peep about the size and scope of America's bloated and wasteful military budgets. Out in Abilene, Kansas, General Eisenhower is rolling over in his grave.

Boehner's Broken Promises

In his victory over Roy Blunt to replace Tom DeLay as House Majority Leader, John Boehner ran as the reformer. This weekend he hit the Sunday talk shows to explain just which reforms he had in mind.

Banning earmarks, as he promised to do during his campaign? "I don't know that it's appropriate to eliminate all of them," he told Tim Russert.

Banning privately-funded travel, as suggested by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert? "I've got my doubts about that."

Curtailing contact between lawmakers and lobbyists? "I've got a very open relationship with lobbyists in town."

Empowering the dormant House Ethics Committee? "I think the Ethics Committee process really, in fact, is back up, it's working. They know what the rules are, they interpret the rules."

Returning money from Jack Abramoff-related Indian tribes? "No. Those tribes gave money to my political action committee. It had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff...Some of his under--underlings worked with some low-level employees in my office."

Regaining the trust of the American people? On Fox News Sunday: "Taking actions to ban this and ban that, when there's no appearance of a problem, there's no foundation of a problem, I think, in fact, does not serve the institution well."

But enough about reform this and reform that. On to the other pressing issues Fox host Chris Wallace quizzed Boehner about:

 

WALLACE: I do have to ask you the one question that a lot of people asked me this week. How do you keep that tan?

 

 

BOEHNER: I was born dark, but I do like to play a little golf, and it's myescape from all of the pressures of my job.

 

Reformers yell fore!

Your New House Majority Leader

Rep. John Boehner, the Congressman of K Street, Sallie Mae, big tobacco and Jack Abramoff.

In other words, a fitting heir to Tom DeLay.

Syndicate content