Sometimes at the end of a sentence, I'll come out with the wrong fusebox.
- Burrows (Eric Idle) describing his speech malady in episode #36 of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" (http://www.ibras.dk/montypython/episode36.htm)
This weekend featured some of the best use of misdirection I have seen in a long time. And it had nothing to do with the NCAA basketball tournament.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), a member of the committee, were interviewed together on "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" yesterday morning. The topic was the investigation into the U.S. Attorney firings that rocketed to the number one slot on this week's Billboard Hot 100 Scandals in the Bush Administration chart, pushing the mold and rodent infestation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to the second position. The statement by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that homosexuality is immoral, debuted at number three. Holding firm at number four is Vice President Dick Cheney's existence, marking its 324th straight week on the chart.
The U.S. Attorney firings is hardly a strictly partisan issue. Sen. John E. Sununu (R-NH) called this week for the dismissal of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070315/ap_on_go_ca_st_pe/gonzales_prosecutors_34). Even President Bush told the press he was disappointed with Gonzales's handling of the issue (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003618748_attorneys15.html?syndication=rss). I'll bet at the next cabinet meeting, Bush will mete out his most stringent punishment, referring to Gonzales as "Mr. Attorney General" instead of the usual "Gonzo." He may even forgo the morning ritual of patting Gonzales's back and telling him, "Subtract the 'O', and you have the same name as the guy whose butt I kicked in 2000. Loser!"
When Leahy expressed his willingness to use his committee's subpoena power to compel members of the Bush administration to testify, Cronyn respectfully disagreed, using a detailed explanation of constitutional law and the history of the U.S. Senate to illustrate his contrary position. And if you believe that, you also probably had Cal Tech, M.I.T., Harvard and Brandeis in the NCAA Final Four. No, Cronyn, who earlier in the show admitted that there were very real questions about Gonzales's handling of Congress's look into the U.S. Attorney firings, said using the subpoena power was tantamount to allowing Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to conduct a "witch hunt." He proceeded to answer several other questions with that same contention. If you heard a faint loud noise in the distance yesterday morning, it was the sound of my head exploding.
Where to begin? First of all, this is not a Monica-gate situation where only one of the parties acknowledged an issue. Republicans, including Cronyn himself, admitted that an investigation was appropriate. So, while reasonable men can differ as to the proper extent of an investigation, how can you admit there is a problem, and then call an attempt to get to the bottom of it a "witch hunt"? The implication of a witch hunt is that there is no real wrongdoing, but a transgression is being invented for the gain of the people investigating it. For example, like spending years and millions of dollars to determine if the President was not truthful when he said he did not receive oral sex from an intern. If everyone agrees the U.S. Attorney firings is a real issue, the investigation of that issue cannot be a witch hunt. I kept waiting for Stephanopoulos to point this out and explain what a witch hunt was, but I forgot that since more people attend the average knitting circle than watch his show, he cannot afford to alienate his guests.
Even more importantly, there are 19 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but to hear Cronyn tell it, a hearing would consist of Schumer on a witch hunt while the other 18 members shoot craps in the corner. Other than misdirecting the issue from the very uncomfortable fact that there is real evidence that not only did the administration do something bad, but the Attorney General got proverbially caught with his pants around his ankles as he botched his explanation to Congress, there is no constructive reason for bringing up Schumer's name. It was gamesmanship and diversion, pure and simple. Stephanopoulos didn't feel the need to point this out, either. What does he do while his guests speak? Check his tournament bracket? Work on his next book? Read over his contract with the devil?
And, putting aside how inappropriate it was to raise Schumer's role in the first place, is Cronyn making the argument that because Schumer is the chair of the DSCC, he is banned from taking part in any Senate investigations? Is he promising that John Ensign (R-NV), the current chairman of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, will not get involved in any investigations of Democrats while in office? And, of course, he is arguing that no RSCC chairman has ever been involved in the investigation of a Democrat, right? I mean, I'm sure Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was silent on the Clinton investigations when he served as RSCC chairman from 1997-2001, right? I'm sure McConnell had the Clintons over for a pancake breakfast every morning where they traded recipes for key lime pie.
To me, the most outrageous aspect of Cronyn's LeBron James-level misdirection move was that he was making the implication that Schumer, as the DSCC chairman, would be too biased to act fairly, when Cronyn is a Republican from Texas talking about the role of the Attorney General, a Republican from Texas, and the rest of the administration of a president who is, say it with me, a Republican from Texas. Not to mention that some of the key people Leahy may want to subpoena are Harriet Miers, Bush's counsel, who is from Texas, and Karl Rove, who has worked for Bush since his campaign in Texas. Cronyn accusing Schumer of being biased in this matter holds as much integrity as Ted Haggard. Look in the mirror, Senator.
Cronyn's song-and-dance routine was shameful. But, you cannot blame him. Remember, this is the party that successfully convinced the American people in 2004 that the guy who went to Vietnam despite coming from a wealthy family and got wounded while on duty was somehow less credible on military issues than a guy who got his father to pull strings to get him into the National Guard where, evidence suggests, he promptly failed to even finish his service. Hell, when the host of the damn show, who worked on Clinton's first presidential campaign, does not call you on your hypocrisy, why not spin the issue so far and so fast that anyone in viewing distance gets motion sickness? It's not like the American people are really paying attention when they have more important things on their minds, like how they are doing in their office tournament pool. As I have written in this space before, if your neighbor sends his dog into your yard everyday to do his business, you cannot blame the dog.
National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley displayed some of his own NBA All-Star caliber misdirection moves on his Sunday morning talk show appearance yesterday, but as the hosts of those shows like to say, "Sorry, we are out of time."
Hopefully, as the Judiciary Committee pursues the truth behind the U.S. Attorney firings, more responsible Republicans like Sununu will join the pursuit of the true story, whatever it is. And, issue-dodging loyalists like Cronyn will find their acts "out of time," too.
Eric Idle's Monty Python character who uttered the quote at the top of this piece had a sickness that caused him to confuse his audience. Alas, Republicans like Cronyn don't have that excuse. Then again, Idle wasn't trying to protect his cronies from his home state. Cronyn should choose his battles more carefully, though. Not one of Stephanopoulos's panel members, including noted conservative George Will, thought Gonzales would survive this scandal. It looks like even the Knights Who Say "Ni," the Holy Grail and a shrubbery could not get him out of this mess.
I have to offer a mea culpa relating to my March 15 piece Hey Hey, My My, Rock and Roll Will Never Die ... Right?. In it, I named "critically-acclaimed, out-of-the-mainstream critics' (and geeks') darlings" the "Arcade Fire clan." While I stand by my larger point about the current state of rock music, it seems that I chose poorly in tapping Arcade Fire as the poster boys and girls for non-commercial critics' darlings. The band's new album, "Neon Bible," debuted at the number two spot on the Billboard album chart (http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/charts/chart_display.jsp?g=Albums&f=The+Billboard+200). Granted, it was a week with very few major new releases, but it is an impressive achievement nonetheless. Maybe I should rename the category the "Wolf Parade clan," keeping things in the Montreal indie rock family. I like Wolf Parade better than Arcade Fire, so hopefully now their next album will debut in the top spot.