Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rain Bush

I'm an excellent driver.
- Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman) in "Rain Man," screenplay by Ronald Bass

After Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified in front of the Senate Judiciary committee and said some variation of "I don't remember" more often than a teenager caught with a bag of pot in his backpack, and after nearly every senator on the committee, Democrat and Republican alike, expressed dismay at Gonzales's performance, the President of the United States said that the Attorney General "increased my confidence" in him by his testimony. Yahoo!/AP Article Link Bush went on to say that he is positive Betamax will beat out VHS to be the standard U.S. video format, Sharon Stone would win an Academy Award someday for "Basic Instinct 2," and the moon is, in fact, made of cheese.

Virtually everyone at the hearing thought Gonzales came off terribly. But, President Bush, as usual, thinks he knows something that nobody else does. Democratic senators are clamoring for the attorney general's dismissal, Republicans want him to resign, but the decider in chief wants to have him over for a barbecue. Bush is about as grounded in reality right now as Rain Man himself.

The Republican talking points on the U.S. Attorney firings say that it is a non-scandal because there has been no allegation or proof of illegal conduct in the dismissals, since the U.S. attorneys serve "at the pleasure of the President." (As an aside, I cringe every time one of these right wing pundits spits that out like a robot reciting a pre-programmed recording.) But, this argument fails on two counts.

First, just because something is not illegal, it does not mean it is right. People, and certainly government officials, are held to a higher standard than the bare minimum of not committing a felony. While the appointment of U.S. Attorneys is political, the operation of the U.S. Department of Justice is certainly not supposed to be, and previous administrations have recognized that fact. President Clinton was not the head of the Janet Reno fan club, but he did not intervene in her work as the top law enforcement official in the country. Bush treats the Attorney General position as if it was his personal counsel (and a tool of the Republican party), down to the fact that he appointed one of his Texas buddies, who used to be his counsel, to the position.

The idea of the separation between politics and the Justice Department is not a new concept. The "Saturday Night Massacre" in the Nixon administration came when Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus resigned rather than heed the president's demand to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. (then-Solicitor General and future failed Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork finally agreed to dismiss Cox.) It is hard to imagine Gonzales resigning rather than doing the president's bidding. More likely, he would pull a muscle in his haste to comply with the president's request, even bringing him donuts and coffee, too, for good measure.

So, if the U.S. Attorneys were fired because of overtly political reasons, such as who they prosecuted, who they wouldn't prosecute, or how loyal they were perceived to be to the Bush administration, the firings would be wrong and worthy of investigation, even if they were not violative of the law.

Second, even if the underlying dismissals were not illegal, the subsequent cover-up, with shifting explanations by the Attorney General, lost emails, and Gonzales doing a dead-on impression of the guy from "Memento" in front of the Judiciary Committee, is absolutely an appropriate area of investigation. There is nothing "non" about this scandal.

But the most important thing about Bush's defense of Gonzales is that it demonstrates his completed closed-mindedness in light of changing facts. Bush views his steadfast refusal to budge from his positions even in the face of a mountain of contradictory evidence as an example of his integrity. He's wrong. It makes him a stubborn ideologue. We need leaders who can read what is happening and make adjustments on the fly. The enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the ability to adapt. It would be nice if the President of the United States could keep up.

Without Iraq, Bush's solo defense of Gonzales would be silly and good material for the late-night talk show hosts. But, the problem is, Bush shows the same wrongheaded stubbornness in his handling of Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that Bush recently gave a speech in which he said that there were signs of progress in Iraq, and that while the "White House transcript says the president made those remarks in the state of Michigan, I believe he made them in the state of denial." Another Yahoo!/AP Article Link While Reid should never, ever try a second career as a stand-up comic, and, I'm quite sure, there may be civil and criminal penalties to be paid for a line that lame, his point is completely accurate.

Since Bush announced his plan for a so-called "surge" of extra troops in Iraq, his position has been, essentially, "Give me this one last chance to show you I'm right and this will work." To which, I (and the American people in the midterm elections) say, "No." Why should we trust Bush? What has he done to earn another chance? As Bill Maher often says on his HBO show "Real Time With Bill Maher," everything the Bush administration has said about the war has turned out to be wrong. To just hit some highlights: They said there were weapons of mass destruction. They said the troops would be greeted as liberators. They said the mission was accomplished. They said the different sects of Muslims would work together having been freed from the yoke of a dictator. They said we had enough troops to do the job in Iraq and still maintain the victory in Afghanistan, as well as handle threats in North Korea and Iran. They said once there were elections in Iraq, things would fall into place. They said the insurgency was in its dying throes. They said that once we trained the Iraqi army, we could let them take over.

The problem is, he was wrong about each and every one of those items. And we are supposed to give him another chance? I don't think so. Because, again, Bush does not listen, and he does not adapt. He has pursued his personal agenda on Iraq to a tragic end. There is no greater evidence of his inability to listen than his rejection of the conclusions by the bipartisan Iraq study group that was co-chaired by James Baker, the man Maher likes to call the Bush family consigliere. Baker is the man, you will recall, who led the Bush strategy team in the legal proceedings following the 2000 election.

If Bush won't listen to a panel of Republican senators on Gonzales and the man who helped him steal an election, who will he listen to? Apparently, if you want Bush to listen, you have to have to be one of two things: Part of the group of Republicans he hung out with in Texas or the Lord. This is not just an issue of a Republican president resisting input from Democrats, since Bush has found himself on Gonzales and/or Iraq in disagreement with Baker, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) (a man who is so religious, Rolling Stone did an article on him called "God's Senator"), Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) ( a man who compared stem cell research to the medical experiments of the Nazis), and a host of other Republicans.

The Iraq issue is now coming to a head, with Congress saying they will pass a funding bill that contains a timetable for withdrawal this week. Bush says he will veto it, sticking to the same line he has held for weeks that the Democrats are playing politics. Yahoo!/AP article on His Latest Statement on the Issue The country cannot afford to allow Bush to single-handedly plunge the country further into a quagmire in Iraq.

In the article about Reid lambasting Bush's failure to adapt on Iraq, Reid said, "I understand the restlessness that some feel. Many who voted for change in November anticipated dramatic and immediate results in January. But like it or not, George W. Bush is still the commander in chief — and this is his war."

As an excuse for a lack of action, that statement may be acceptable. The Democrats in Congress are in a bit of a squeeze since they do not have enough votes to override a veto, and there may not be support to go any further in challenging the President. But, I think Bush, by virtue of his atrocious performance and the vote of the American people in November, has forfeited his right to lead, and Congress needs to step into the void and become more forceful on the issue. Sending Bush a bill he will veto is a good start, but it is not enough. When Bush vetoes the bill, the Democrats better not cave, or else explanation or no explanation, the voters will not be happy.

Raymond Babbit was delusional about his ability to drive, but he had a tremendous memory and the ability to do things like count the number of toothpicks spilled from a box. Bush is equally delusional about everything from Gonzales to Iraq. Unfortunately, his talent is to drag the country into a bottomless pit of death and disaster in Iraq. Raymond would look for his caretaker V-E-R-N Vern when he was agitated. All I can do is call on R-E-I-D Reid and P-E-L-O-S-I Pelosi to stand firm. They were put into power for this very reason. It's time to send Bush back to his Wallbrook, better known as his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Let him have Gonzales, Cheney, Mires and the rest of his posse over for barbecues. So long as they are not running the country into the ground anymore.