The Breakfast Table

The Hand of Fate

Dear Tim,

Danforth? No way. He just exonerated the feds at Waco. With Pat Buchanan lurking in the wings, Bush can ill afford to piss off the evangelical pedophilic survivalist vote. And why does everyone think Powell is more of a Desert Storm hero than Cheney was? The meanest weapons Powell handled in that war were an easel and pointer. Remember what he said about the Iraqi army at that press conference, jabbing his stick into a map of Kuwait? “First we’re gonna cut it off, and then we’re gonna kill it.” We? Somebody tell that to the grunts.

You’re preaching to the choir about Bradley. He’s a pious simpleton. But reporters, like readers, reserve scrutiny for those with whom they disagree. If a columnist takes a position you favor, you don’t question how he reached that conclusion. He got the right answer, so you don’t check his math. Bradley gave all the right (read: liberal) answers, so the press gave him a pass. And his language was so poetic. We thought he spoke slowly and vaguely because that’s all the masses could understand. It turned out that he spoke that way because that’s all he could understand.

Last fall, I worried that I might have to choose between Bush and Bradley in the general election. I decided that if that happened, voting for Bush was worth sleeping on the couch for a week or two. The way I figured it, given a choice between two simpletons, you should always vote for the one who knows he’s a simpleton. Bush, unlike Bradley, struck me as a guy who knew his limits and would turn to others for advice and a balance of perspectives. But the more I see of Bush, the more I lose confidence in his lack of confidence. Fielding questions about missile defense, Social Security privatization, and death penalty administration, he clings to certainty where none is justified. His confidence is a reflex. Look at the Washington Post’s series on the influences that have shaped his thinking: absolute loyalty, dismissive anti-intellectualism, and a simplistic, self-reassuring brand of religion. What makes Gore grating is that he oversimplifies the truth when he knows better. But at least he knows better.

While we’re on the subject of veep speculation, let’s not let the Democrats off the hook. Today’s Times includes a political obit of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, whose “name is no longer on any list” of potential running mates for Gore, thanks to the Los Alamos security fiasco and the explosion of gas prices. The Times portrays this as a tragedy, since Richardson was supposed to be the Great Hispanic Hope. But Richardson is exactly what Gore doesn’t need: another politician who can’t resist taking credit when things go well and can’t accept blame when things go wrong. As self-appointed U.S. ambassador to tyrants and terrorists, Richardson inserted himself in the middle of every inevitable hostage- or prisoner-release. But now that his promises to protect U.S. nuclear secrets have been exposed as a farce, he tells the Times, “My conscience is very clear that I’ve done everything I can on security. … I happen to be the fall guy for some of this.” So who’s to blame for Richardson’s exit from the veep list?  “I believe in fate,” he muses. “It’s a decision based on a lot of factors that I can’t control.” Factors you can’t control? You mean, like the Internet?