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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Cheney, "A Beer or Two" and a Gun -- UPDATED

Vice President Dick Cheney, who was forced to leave Yale University because his penchant for late-night beer drinking exceeded his devotion to his studies, and who is one of the small number of Americans who can count two drunk driving busts on his record, was doing more than hunting quail on the day that he shot a Texas lawyer in the face.

The vice president has admitted that he was drinking on the afternoon of the incident. He claims it was only a beer, according to the transcript of an interview with Fox New Wednesday. But the whole discussion about how much drinking took place on the day of the fateful hunt has been evolving rapidly since Katherine Armstrong, the wealthy Republican lobbyist who is a member of the politically connected family that owns the ranch where Cheney blasted his hunting partner, initially claimed that no one was imbibing before the incident.

Armstrong later acknowledged to a reporter from the NBC investigative unit that alcohol may have been served at a picnic Saturday afternoon on the dude ranch where Cheney shot Harry Whittington.

According to the report, which appeared briefly Tuesday on MSNBC, Armstrong peddled the line that she did not believe that alcohol played a part in the shooting accident. But, she admitted, "There may be a beer or two in there, but remember not everyone in the party was shooting."

The MSNBC story, which appeared only briefly before the website was scrubbed for reasons not yet explained, has been kept alive by the able web investigators at TheRawStory and other progressive blogs. And so it should be, as the prospect that alcohol may have been a factor in the shooting incident takes the story in a whole new direction.

Cheney's admission that he was drinking, along with Armstrong's clumsy attempts to downplay the alcohil issue raises more questions than it answers about an incident involving a Vice President who, like George W. Bush, was a heavy drinker in his youth, but who, unlike Bush, never swore off the bottle.

As with her over-the-top efforts to blame Whittington, the victim, for getting in the way of Cheney's birdshot blast, Armstrong's line on liquor smells a little more like an attempt to cover for the Vice President than full disclosure.

This is where the hunting accident "incident" becomes a serious matter. The role played by the Secret Service in preventing questioning of Cheney on the evening of the shooting takes on new significance when drinking is at issue. If Cheney was in any way impaired at the time of the shooting, it was certainly to the Vice President's advantage to put off the official investigation until the next morning.

Cheney claims that he downed beer hours before he shot Whittington. But he now has a lot more explaining to do than what was seen during the "softball" interview on Fox News, the Administration's house network, which the White House crisis management team arranged for him to do Wednesday.

When legitimate questions arise regarding the role that the Secret Service might have played in undermining the investigation of a shooting in order to protect the vice president from embarrassment, and possible legal charges, those issues have to be addressed fully and completely. And they must be addressed in a setting where reporters are able to press the notoriously cagey Cheney to actually answer all of the questions that are asked.

Up to now, the whole "hunting-accident" controversy has been little more than a diversion from more serious matters involving Cheney--not least among these, the investigation into whether the Vice President authorized the release of classified information as part of a scheme to discredit critics of the Administration's rush to war. But if Cheney used his Secret Service unit to prevent a necessary and proper official inquiry at a time when it might have uncovered relevant information regarding his condition when he shot a man, then the Vice President has abused his office in a most serious manner.

The prospect that such an abuse occurred requires Cheney and any White House aides who were involved in "managing" the story--put Karl Rove at the top of this list--to stop stonewalling and provide a detailed explanation of their actions in the hours that followed the shooting incident. This is certainly not the only issue on which the Vice President needs to come clean, but it is no longer a joking matter--or, more precisely, it is no longer merely a joking matter.

John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney."

John Edwards Should Do a Truman

In her "Editor's Cut" call for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate war profiteering by U.S. corporations -- operating on the ground in Iraq and on the homefront -- Katrina vanden Heuvel makes reference to the role U.S. Senator Harry Truman played in cracking down on war profiteering during World War II.

The Truman model is a good one for today's muckrakers.

The senator from Missouri was blunt. Truman did not fall for the line that words needed to be watched in wartime. Rather, he accused corporations that engaged in war profiteering of "treason."

He was also proactive. When Truman heard rumors of war profiteering, he got into his Dodge and, during a Congressional recess, drove 30,000 miles across the U.S., paying unannounced visits to corporate offices and worksites. The Senate committee he chaired launched aggressive investigations into shady wartime business practices and found "waste, inefficiency, mismanagement and profiteering," according to Truman, who argued that such behavior was unpatriotic. Urged on by Truman and others in Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt supported broad increases in the corporate income tax, raised the excess-profits tax to 90 percent and charged the Office of War Mobilization with the task of eliminating illegal profits.

Truman, who became a national hero for his fight against the profiteers, was tapped to be FDR's running mate in 1944.

As has been duly noted, it is unlikely that Republican leaders in the Senate will allow a Truman-style committee to operate under the Capitol Dome. But that does not prevent an intrepid contemporary pol from following Truman's lead.

But who will go down the trail Truman blazed?

Why not John Edwards? He's a skilled trial lawyer who knows how to go after corporate misdeeds. As a former member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former presidential and vice presidential candidate, he's prominent enough to draw media attention to the hunt for profiteers. And Edwards has been on the right side of this issue for a long time.

When he was campaigning for the 2004 Democratic presidential nod, Edwards delivered a stump speech featuring a riff on war profiteering that was well received by voters in early caucus and primary states.

"We need to end the sweetheart deals for Halliburton and stop the war profiteering in Iraq," declared Edwards, who made pointed references to Vice President Dick Cheney's former firm but also to a list of other defense contractors that have contributed heavily to George w. Bush's campaigns and that have profited heavily from his war.

"The American people know there is something wrong going on with war profiteering and Halliburton and the contracts in Iraq," said Edwards, who promised to examine every contract handed out by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his aides "with a magnifying glass" in a hunt to halt "the fleecing of the American people."

Edwards wanted to wield the magnifying glass as president -- and it is no secret that he is still interested in occupying the Oval Office.

What Edwards needs ought to recognize is that the best way to get there is to go down the road Truman took.

Edwards should hop in his Dodge, or, better yet, his hybrid, and take that 30,000 drive across the country. He should bang on the doors of Halliburton and the other profiteers. Sure, critics will call him ambitious. But they said the same thing about Harry Truman. Truman didn't care. He just kept banging away at the profiteers, and the American people kept cheering him on -- the way they always do when a prominent figure has the courage and the conviction to defend the national treasury against the ravages of corporate criminals who use the excuses of wartime to line their deep pockets.

Hackett Exited Ohio Race After Bad Poll

Paul Hackett, who has dropped out of the race for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination with his usual theatrical flourishes, says he quit the contest because of the pressure he claims he felt from national Democratic bigwigs.

That may well have been a factor in Hackett's decision.

But it appears that an even bigger factor was a poll that showed Hackett trailing far behind his progressive primary opponent, U.S. Representative Sherrod Brown. With the filing deadline for the May Democratic primary rapidly approaching, Hackett was confronted with new numbers from his own pollster, which showed Brown was ahead among likely voters by an almost 2-1 margin -- 46 percent for the congressman to 24 percent for Hackett.

Despite the fact that Hackett had been campaigning for the Senate seat since last fall -- while Brown had been tied up in Washington leading the fight against the Central American Free Trade Agreement and other administration initiatives -- the poll, details of which were obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, revealed that Hackett had made few inroads among Democrats outside his southern Ohio base.

This is not to say that Hackett was a bad candidate.

An Iraq War veteran gained national attention with his blunt criticism of President Bush during the campaign for an Ohio U.S. House seat that he almost won in a special election last summer, Hackett would have been serious contender in a Senate race against just about anyone else. But Hackett had a hard time convincing most Ohio Democrats -- particularly more liberal voters in the northern Ohio counties where the party is strongest -- that he would be a bolder or better candidate than Brown, an early and consistently outspoken critic of the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq who is one of the House's leading foes of corporate excess.

Media's Aim Misses Real Cheney Misdeeds

The White House press corps, taking a break from its usual stenography duties, actually roused itself to ask truth-impaired spokesman Scott McClellan some tough questions about Dick Cheney. Unfortunately, while it was good to see a few reporters rise from their bended knees, they were asking the wrong questions about the wrong issue.

What got the press corps all hot and bothered was the fact that Cheney and his aides kept details about the vice president shooting a man secret for the better part of 24 hours, and then slipped the story to a local paper in the city nearest the Texas dude ranch where the incident took place.

Most of Monday's 41-minute-long White House press briefing was taken up with questions about the gun-slinger-in-chief's penchant for secrecy and the bloody details of the shot Cheney's hunting buddy took to the face. But what was especially clear was that the members of the press corps do not like to get scooped on the story of a vice presidential shooting sprees by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

McClellan was peppered with pointed questions and sharp asides from the likes of NBC reporter David Gregory, who grumbled about the fact that: "the vice president of the United States shoots a man, and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to the local Corpus Christi newspaper, not the White House press corps at large or notify the public in a national way."

When Gregory accused McClellan of "ducking and weaving," rather than responding frankly to the questions he is paid by the taxpayers of the United States to answer, the press secretary suggested the NBC reporter was grandstanding.

An angry Gregory retorted, "Don't accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras. Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question.''

McClellan told Gregory not to yell. The reporter then pointed to the press secretary's lectern and shouted, "If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong.''

The pair sputtered back and forth until, finally, McClellan said, "I'm sorry you're getting all riled up about," to which Gregory replied: "I am riled up, because you're not answering the question."

More power to Gregory, and to several other members of the usually somnambulant White House press corps, for trying to get McClellan to answer a few questions about the misdeeds of the most powerful vice president in American history.

The only frustrating thing is that Gregory and his compatriots were all excited about the secretive handling of details regarding a hunting accident that – while troubling – can hardly be described as the most serious matter of concern with regard to Cheney.

To be sure, a trigger-happy vice president makes for good feature stories – not to mention good comedy. But where were the demands for answers, where was the cries for accountability, where were the shows of righteous indignation last week, when it was revealed by the National Journal that Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, had told a federal grand jury he was "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information to journalists as part of a plot to defend the Bush administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence to make the "case" for going to war with Iraq.

In the scheme of things, the many unanswered questions about whether the vice president of the United States engaged in a conspiracy to deceive Congress and the American people about reasons for entering a war that has now killed more than 2,200 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians would seem to be a bigger deal than the same vice president's involvement in a hunting accident.

True, it would be foolish to assume that Scott McClellan would be any more forthcoming about the administration's manipulation of pre-war intelligence -- and evidence of Cheney's involvement in efforts to attack those who exposed that manipulation – than he has been about the manipulation of information regarding the vice president's gunplay.

But if the press corps is going to rise from its slumber when it comes to Dick Cheney's secrecy and chicanery, would it make sense to get excited about the Constitutional crisis – as opposed to the veep's itchy trigger finger?

John Nichols' book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney. The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney includes an interview with Joseph Wilson and details the inner workings of the vice president's office at the time of the Plame-Wilson leak.

Cheney Gets His Gun

Sure, it's been fun joking about the fact that Dick Cheney obtained five -- count them, five -- deferments to avoid serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Sure, its been amusing to recount his limp claim that the man who served as George Bush I's Secretary of Defense had "other priorities" than taking up arms in defense of his country. Sure, it was a laugh when the chief cheerleader for the war in Iraq mocked John Kerry for having actually carried a weapon in a time of war.

But it is time to stop laughing at Dick Cheney's expense.

Now that the vice president has accidentally shot and wounded a companion on a quail hunt at the elite Texas ranch where rich men play with guns -- spraying his 78-year-old victim, er, friend, in the face and chest with shotgun pellets and sending the man to the intensive care unit of a Corpus Christi hospital -- it has become clear that Cheney was doing the country a service when he avoided service.

Despite the best efforts of Cheney's apologists to have it otherwise, the man the vice president misstook for a quail, millionaire attorney Harry Whittington, was in plain sight, wearing a bright orange vest at the time the vice president blasted him.

U.S. troops had enough problems in Vietnam without letting a trigger-happy incompetent like Dick Cheney start shooting things up from behind the lines.

Those deferments were well and wisely issued.

 

Feingold's Call for Checks and Balances

Americans ought be listening to Russ Feingold in these defining days for the Republic, because what the Democratic senator from Wisconsin is saying goes to the heart of the question of whether a nation founded in revolt against monarchy will be ruled by laws or by the crude whims of an intemperate sovereign and his out-of-control administration.

Feingold has been fighting for weeks to get the Congress to address the issue of President Bush's illegal approval of warrantless wiretapping of Americans. A small but growing group in Congress, including some prominent Republicans -- most recently, U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., the chair of the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, who this week called for a "complete review" of the National Security Agency domestic spying program -- have begun echoing Feingold's demand that the Constitutional crisis created by the president's wrongdoing be taken seriously.

But too many major media outlets continue to treat the eavesdropping scandal as little more than a political game. They chart the progress of the critics and then measure the extent to which the administration's spin has limited the damage to the president's approval ratings.

Frustrated by the game playing, Feingold went to the floor of the Senate last Tuesday in an effort to break through the spin and speak the blunt truths of the moment.

"Last week the President of the United States gave his State of the Union address, where he spoke of America's leadership in the world, and called on all of us to 'lead this world toward freedom.' Again and again, he invoked the principle of freedom, and how it can transform nations, and empower people around the world," Feingold told the chamber. "But, almost in the same breath, the President openly acknowledged that he has ordered the government to spy on Americans, on American soil, without the warrants required by law. The President issued a call to spread freedom throughout the world, and then he admitted that he has deprived Americans of one of their most basic freedoms under the Fourth Amendment -- to be free from unjustified government intrusion."

The Wisconsinite who emerged as the Capitol's most diligent defender of the Constitution when he cast the sole vote in the Senate against the Patriot Act in 2001 delivered a blistering indictment not just of the president but of those who are treating the debate over the administration's assault on basic liberties as just another fight between political partisans.

"The President was blunt. He said that he had authorized the NSA's domestic spying program, and he made a number of misleading arguments to defend himself. His words got rousing applause from Republicans, and I think even some Democrats," Feingold continued. "The President was blunt, so I will be blunt: This program is breaking the law, and this President is breaking the law. Not only that, he is misleading the American people in his efforts to justify this program."

Noting that many Republican members of the House and Senate cheered the president's defense of his illegal acts, Feingold asked, "How is that worthy of applause? Since when do we celebrate our commander in chief for violating our most basic freedoms, and misleading the American people in the process? When did we start to stand up and cheer for breaking the law? In that moment at the State of the Union, I felt ashamed."

It is time, Feingold explained, for his colleagues to recognize its shame and begin to act honorably.

"Congress," the senator said, "has lost its way if we don't hold this President accountable for his actions."

Feingold is right. But it is not only Congress that must act. The American people need to get into this fight.

The defense of the Constitution against executive lawbreaking is not merely the work of elected legislators.

It must be the work of patriots. Feingold is leading the defense of basic liberties, but we all have a place in this struggle to preserve both the Bill of Rights and an American experiment that is now gravely threatened. Only an outcry from the people will assure that Congress -- and America -- does not lose its way.

Dick Cheney Is Not Above the Law

Twenty-two members of the House have now signed on as co-sponors of the call by Representative John Conyers, D-Michigan, to establish a select committee of the Congress to investigate whether the Bush administration's actions before and after the invasion of Iraq violated Constitutional requirements, statutes and standards in a manner that would merit impeachment of the president or vice president.

Conyers introduced the resolution last December, and only a handful of members agreed to cosponsor the measure before Congress went on its long holiday break: California's Lois Capps, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, New Jersey's Donald Payne, New York's Charles Rangel and Texan Sheila Jackson-Lee. The list of cosponsors swelled after the long holiday break, when ten members from around the country -- California's Barbara Lee and Pete Stark, Hawaii's Neil Abercrombie, Illinois' Jan Schakowsky, Minnesota's Jim Oberstar, Missouri's William Lacy Clay, New York's Jerry Nadler and Major Owens, Washington's Jim McDermott and Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin -- came back to Washington convinced that the American people are a good deal more interested than most DC insiders recognize in reasserting checks and balances on an administration that has spun out of control.

In the past week, six additional members have signed on: California's Mike Honda and Sam Farr, Georgia's John Lewis and Cynthia McKinney, and New York's Carolyn Maloney and Maurice Hinchey.

There's a reason why this measure is beginning to draw broader support.

In addition to seeking a review of whether the administration began planning to go to war before obtaining authorization from Congress, along with investigations of the White House's manipulation of pre-war intelligence and encouragement and countenancing of torture, the Conyers resolution proposes to examine steps taken by the administration to retaliate against critics.

It is that final concern that could prove to be the most immediate threat to a member of the administration -- now that National Journal is reporting that Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, has told a federal grand jury that he was "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" to disclose classified information to journalists as part of a scheme to defend the Bush administration's manipulation of prewar intelligence in order to make the "case" for going to war with Iraq.

No one who has followed the workings of this White House has ever doubted that Cheney -- the administration's most over-the-top proponent of the war -- would turn out to be the ripest target for impeachment. But the leap from Scooter Libby's charges, if they are confirmed, to actual articles of impeachment is not a long one.

An essential step in that process has already been taken. One of the cosponsors of the Conyers resolution, Maurice Hinchey, is calling for an aggressive Congressional inquiry into the issue, arguing that, "[The] revelation in National Journal that Vice President Cheney and other White House superiors authorized Scooter Libby to disclose classified information to the news media in order to defend the Administration's use of pre-war intelligence on Iraq is alarming. That the vice president would put his own political gain before the safety and security of the American people by approving the release of classified information to the press warrants a full congressional investigation, including testimony from the vice president himself."

Hinchey has been dogged in demanding that Cheney come clean about his role in the scandal that has arisen with regard to the administration's leaking of classified information in an attempt to discredit Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had raised damning questions with regard to the administration's pre-war claims about the threat posed by Iraq.

In a statement released after the latest revelations about Cheney, Hinchey said, "While many of us in Congress had long suspected that Vice President Cheney played a central role in the leaking of Valerie Wilson's name to the press, today's news report confirms that there is merit to that belief. The leaking of Valerie Wilson's identity as a covert CIA agent is a very serious crime that jeopardized national security and everyone who was involved must be held accountable and brought to justice. No one, including, Vice President Cheney, should be shielded from prosecution."

Hinchey, who actually believes in a system of checks and balances where the legislative branch embraces its responsibility to hold the executive branch to account, argues that Cheney -- who began his career as a White House aide in the administration of former President Richard Nixon -- can no longer be allowed to stonewall this investigation.

"On November 3, 2005, I, along with Congressmen Conyers and Waxman, sent a letter to Vice President Cheney asking that he come to Congress to testify about his involvement in the CIA leak case. The vice president disregarded that letter and never responded. Congress and the American people deserve more than silence from the vice president about such a serious matter. Now is the time for the Vice President Cheney to step forward and answer questions, under oath, as to what his involvement was in the CIA leak case and whether he ever authorized the disclosure of classified information to the press in order to justify going to war in Iraq," says Hinchey.

"I also renew the call I made in September with 40 House members for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to closely examine the motive behind the White House's disclosure of Valerie Wilson's name, which I believe was to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was refuting the White House's claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. The National Journal article reports that Libby testified to the grand jury in the CIA leak case that he worked closely with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to determine what information the White House should leak to the press in order to gain support for the war in Iraq. It is clear that Libby, Hadley, and Rove worked together to twist, manipulate, and selectively release the intelligence on Iraq in order to gain public approval for the war. All those who leaked classified information and deliberately misled the American people and Congress into thinking Iraq had weapons of mass destruction must be brought to justice so the world can see that the United States holds those accountable who break the law."

John Nichols' book, The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney. The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney includes an interview with Joseph Wilson and details the inner workings of the vice president's office at the time of the Plame-Wilson leak.

Jose Bove's Not Welcome in Bush's USA

Few figures have contributed more to the debate about corporate globalization than Jose Bove, the French farmer whose dismantling of a McDonald's restaurant that was under construction near his sheep farm was something of a "shot-heard-round-the-world" in the struggle against the homogenization of food, culture and lifestyles.

While his assault on the local manifestation of the restaurant chain that has come to symbolize the one-size-fits-all character of globalization was a blunt act, Bove is known in France and abroad as a thoughtful theorist and strategist whose critique of the World Trade Organization's pro-corporate agenda has done much to alert activists around the world to the threats posed to workers, farmers, communities and democracy by WTO moves that allow multinational firms to disregard the laws and traditions of countries in which they operate.

But Bove, who has been a frequent visitor to the United States since he played an important part in the 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, is no longer welcome in George W. Bush's America.

When he arrived Wednesday at New York's JFK Airport on a trip that was supposed to take him to Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations for events sponsored by Cornell's Global Labor Institute, Bove was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who told him he was suddenly "ineligible" to enter the U.S.Before the night was done, Bove was hustled onto an Air France flight that returned him to his homeland.

Why can't Bove, one of the most influential political activists on the planet, speak in the U.S.?

According to Bove, the agents told him he was being denied entry because of his past prosecutions for "moral crimes."

The French activist's "crimes" may have been motivated by a deep sense of morality. But they were, more precisely, political acts, usually involving nonviolent civil disobedience or symbolic gestures meant to raise the awareness of the French regarding globalization -- most notably the 1999 dismantling of the restaurant McDonald's was developing in Millau, a community in southern France that is not far from the cooperative farm where Bove has lived and worked for decades.

And Bove's political views are not in synch with those of a president who used his recent State of the Union address to talk up his commitment to globalization with a corporate face.

Bove does not for a second believe that the U.S. officials who blocked his entry were concerned about morality, or particular "crimes." Rather, he suggested to reporters on Wednesday evening, the militantly pro-free trade Bush administration has found a new avenue to constrain the debate about its policies.

"I think this administration is crazy," Bove explained. "They don't want any discussion that can affect all the things going on with globalization. They don't want people coming from outside to discuss it."

Coming at a time when the Bush administration faces scrutiny for warrantless wiretapping and other assaults on basic liberties, when new evidence of domestic spying on dissidents surfaceson a regular basis, and when we just witnessed the removal of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan from the Capitol before the president delivered his State of the Union address, that's hardly an unreasonable claim.

Certainly, it is a matter that merits a Congressional inquiry -- not just into this incident but into the whole question of whether customs and border operations have, like so many other functions of the federal government, been abused for political purposes by an administration that is far more committed to advancing the agenda of its corporate contributors that it is to respecting the rule of law.

A Healthy Dose of Reality for Mr. Bush

Just as they did following the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002, Republican operatives and their acolytes in the media are now claiming that there was something inappropriate about the manner in which those who knew Coretta Scott King best mourned her passing. So great is the determination of the spin doctors for a White House that seeks to protect George Bush from even the mildest expressions of dissent that commentators rushed Tuesday to television studios even before the service for Mrs. King was done to denounce former President Jimmy Carter, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin for expressing sentiments not usually heard by this protected president.

But don't think that anything untoward actually took place in the Atlanta suburb where thousands gathered to celebrate the life, the work and the politics of Mrs. King. The service provided the president with a healthy -- if all too rare -- dose of reality. Bush's policies are not popular, particularly with the African-American community, and the president needed a gentle reminder of the fact. Indeed, the president was far more graceful in the receipt of the dissenting messages that were uttered at the service for Mrs. King than were those who rushed to condemn his critics.

What got the Republican spin machine humming Wednesday?

The see no evil, hear no evil, acknowledge no evil crowd was furious that several speakers used their brief portions of the six-hour remembrance service for the widow of the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to pointedly echo the anti-war, anti-poverty and anti-racist themes that were so central to Mrs. King's life and work. The event featured no direct attacks on President Bush, who seated himself prominently on the stage of the vast New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in an Atlanta suburb. Instead, there were the sort of knowing, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted, prods that often are heard at memorial services of this kind.

Atlanta Mayor Franklin, whose address followed that of the president, made reference to Mrs. King criticism of "the senselessness of war" and recalled, correctly, that the late civil rights activist's voice was heard "from the tin-top roofs of Soweto to the bomb shelters of Baghdad."

That did not sit well with those who believe the president's precious ears must be protected from the sound of any and all dissents with regard to the quagmire that is Iraq.

Even more unsettling to the critics were the words of the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who worked for decades with the Kings. Of Mrs. King, Lowery recalled, "She extended Martin's message against poverty, racism and war. She deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here." As the crowd cheered, Lowery boomed: "Millions without health insurance. Poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor."

Ultimately, however, it was not Lowery but Carter who took the hardest hits for daring to dissent. Noting the slow and inept response to Hurricane Katrina, Carter pointed out that, "We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans."

For this comment, and for recalling the historical fact that the Kings were victims of "secret government wiretapping and surveillance" -- a sore point for a president who is under fire for ordering warrantless wiretaps -- Carter was denounced as "shameless" by the New York Post and ridiculed by Republican commentators.

To his credit, Bush seemed to take the criticism is stride, even shaking hands with and embracing Lowery, Carter and other speakers. And that may be the most important point that can be made about this rare moment in which the president heard actual dissent -- as opposed to the manufactured applause that usually accompanies his stage-managed public appearances. As someone who covered Bush long before he took office in 2001, I have always believed him to be a more gracious and thoughtful man than his presidency has made him out to be. Bush and his presidency suffer from having been placed in the bubble to which his neoconservative handlers have consigned him. Indeed, despite the ranting and raving of the spin doctors who would have us believe that it was wrong to honor Mrs. King by echoing the dissents she made during her lifetime, both President Bush and the American discourse surely benefitted from a real moment in these surreal times.

Lieberman's Lapdog Act Not Playing Well

It is no secret that Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is President Bush's favorite Democrat. With his see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, admit-no-evil defense of the administration's frequent betrayals of public trust before the U.S. invaded Iraq, with his refusal to recognize that the occupation of that country has degenerated into disaster, and with his regular repetition of neoconservative spin on every foreign-policy concern that arises, the man Democrats nominated for vice president in 2000 is a more loyal ally of the president than are many Republicans.

But Lieberman's lapdog act is not playing well in his home state, where grassroots Democrats are furious about the fact that their senator is propping up a failed Republican president. "I think it is one thing to be an independent thinker. It's another thing to be a Democratic senator who is acting as a lobbyist for King George and his Chancellor Cheney," Dorothy Brindamour of Manchester told a meeting of Democrats that gathered last month to take the senator to task.

Since the start of the year, Democratic town committees in two communities have officially chastised Lieberman for providing bipartisan cover for Bush's policies. Town committees are the backbone of Democratic political activism in Connecticut, and these rebukes of Lieberman -- an embarrassing development in a year when he is seeking reelection -- are making 2006 a more contentious year than anyone had expected for the veteran pol.

In January, Democrats in Manchester overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution that declared: "We, the Manchester Democratic Town Committee, do not believe that Sen. Joseph Lieberman is acting in the best interest of the American public or the Democratic Party by supporting President Bush in the handling of the Iraq conflict."

The resolution, which questioned whether Lieberman "fully appreciates the human cost of war" and expressed concern that the Iraq war has "served to galvanize the Arab world against the United States," was blunt in its demand.

"We respectfully ask Sen. Lieberman to reconsider his unconditional support of President Bush," the committee announced.

The censure of Lieberman by Manchester Democrats has now been echoed by the Windsor Democratic Town Committee, which on February 2 voted 34-2 for a resolution expressing frustration with Lieberman's support of the Bush administration in general and his support of the war in particular.

"My goal is to seek a pattern -- a groundswell -- of Democratic town committee motions in Connecticut that will really get the senator's attention," explained Len Swade, a committee member in Windsor, who sponsored the resolution there.

Lieberman does seem to be paying attention. His aides have been trying to promote him as a progressive in communications to town committee members that note the senator's support for abortion rights and environmental protection. And Lieberman has volunteered to discuss the issue of the war with his critics on key town committees.

None of this means that Lieberman is preparing to change his position. But it does suggest that he is feeling the heat in an election year when he might yet face an anti-war foe in his Democratic primary or a general election challenge from Lowell Weicker, a former Connecticut senator and governor, who has entertained the prospect of challenging Lieberman as an anti-war independent.

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