The Has-been

War Is Swell

A vacation guide to the war on terror.

Monday, Aug. 8, 2005

Monday, Aug. 8, 2005

Winners and Losers: Next Monday marks the 60th anniversary of America’s victory in World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, America and its allies needed just three years and nine months to win the bloodiest war and defeat the gravest threat to freedom in human history.

What of our time? Nearly four years have passed since the Sept. 11 attacks – and we’ve not only yet to win the war on terror; we can’t even decide what to call it.

What happened? In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, every American felt the same surge of patriotic anger their grandparents had felt 60 years earlier on Dec. 7. We were ready for four years of Liberty Bonds and Victory Gardens. Instead, over the past four years, our biggest collective sacrifice has been watching reality shows on television.

Sixty years ago, FDR summoned all Americans to do their part for the war effort. This year, the Bush White House summoned a Duke expert on wartime public opinion. The administration concluded that the way to maintain public support for a war is to keep telling the people we’re winning. So much for that theory.

FDR and Harry Truman had a better way to maintain popular support for a war: actually winning it. That’s a novel concept for Americans under the age of 50, who’ve been conditioned to believe that wars are won in an instant (like Grenada and the Gulf War), or drag on until the American people lose interest (like Vietnam and Iraq).

Thirty Days: Democrats sometimes criticize President Bush for being obsessed with the war on terror. His real problem is just the opposite: he’s not obsessed enough. Bush is making history in August 2005 exactly the same way he did in August 2001: by taking a month off for vacation.

Unfortunately, the enemy is not on holiday. You won’t see Osama bin Laden clearing brush outside his cave on the Pakistan border.

FDR worked himself to death during World War II. Woodrow Wilson did the same in World War I. George Bush is in no such danger.

If winning the war against radical totalitarianism were Bush’s single-minded obsession, he’d listen to John McCain: stop Washington from spending like drunken sailors, ask every American to give something back, and hire a defense secretary who stands up for his troops instead of blaming them.

It’s no surprise that a national tragedy like September 11 would make the President feel a divine calling. It’s harder to understand why, when the moment cries out for another FDR, Bush thought God was calling him to be Calvin Coolidge. …  9:19 A.M. (link)

Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

Friday, Aug. 5, 2005

Extra Special: Even Newt Gingrich agrees that Paul Hackett’s strong showing in Ohio’s 2nd District special election is a shot across the bow to the Republican Congressional leadership and the White House. Republicans defied the odds by gaining seats in the 2002 midterm election, but in 2006, they may discover that in the absence of national progress, you can’t keep making political progress forever.

Ironically, the best news for Democrats in the race is the excuse Republicans give for its photo finish: that it was just about Ohio. Republicans were quick to blame low GOP turnout on the unpopularity of the state’s Republican governor, Bob Taft. So much the better: The Ohio’s governor race is the most important contest in America in 2006.

Over the past decade, one of Democrats’ biggest trouble spots has been the inability to win statewide in Ohio. Republican senators have replaced the old Democratic lions, John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum. The governorship has been in Republican hands for the last 15 years.

As 2004 demonstrated, Ohio is the pivotal swing state in presidential elections. Clinton carried it narrowly in 1992 and 1996; Bush did the same in 2000 and 2004. Ohio has always been important—birthplace to more presidents than any state except Virginia. But for Democrats, who have lost every southern state twice in a row, Ohio’s 20 electoral votes are now especially crucial.

Governors Matter Most: Senators and House members of the same party can help presidents succeed in office; governors are the ones who help them get there. Congressmen are unknown beyond their districts; senators run too seldom to keep a political organization in fighting trim.

By contrast, governors have the power to appoint a network of political allies to jobs across the state and the proximity to maintain it. Clinton and Bush both depended heavily on a strong network of governors to win the primaries and the general election.

Thirty-eight governorships are up for grabs in 2005 and 2006, including other open seats in the critical swing states of Florida and Colorado. In Ohio, Democrats have two strong, centrist candidates to choose from next year: Rep. Ted Strickland, from a Republican-leaning district in eastern Ohio, and Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, the state’s largest city. Winning the Ohio governorship would vault either of them straight to the next Democratic nominee’s vice-presidential shortlist.

This week’s news offered another reminder of governors’ power to make or break presidential elections, as Senate candidate Katherine Harris whined that in 2000, the media doctored her makeup. Winning the Ohio governorship next year would give Democrats the chance to forget Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris and show the country what a Democrat is made of. … 11:12 A.M. (link)

Closer Than You Think: The House Committee on Steroids doesn’t believe Rafael Palmeiro after all. According to the Post, Rep. Tom Davis’ committee will take 2 months to 3 months to determine whether to ask the Justice Dept. to prosecute Palmeiro for perjury.

Most unfortunate soundbite by a congressman asking for drug tests: “We’re nowhere near the ‘p-word.’ “7:27 A.M.

The Plot Thickens, Part I: Under perhaps the best Washington Post headline of the summer—”Bush Backs Rove, Palmeiro, ‘Intelligent Design’  ”—Dan Froomkin reports that the president goes along with the ex-Ranger’s story: “Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him.”

The Plot Thickens, Part I: Under perhaps the best Washington Post headline of the summer—”Bush Backs Rove, Palmeiro, ‘Intelligent Design’  ”—Dan Froomkin reports that the president goes along with the ex-Ranger’s story: “Rafael Palmeiro is a friend. He testified in public and I believe him.”

But which Palmeiro does Bush believe? The one who said, “I have never used steroids. Period,” in March—or the one who said Monday, “I have never intentionally used steroids. Never. Ever. Period.”?

More Bush: “He’s the kind of person that’s going to stand up in front of the klieg lights and say he didn’t use steroids, and I believe him. Still do.” Even though Bush hasn’t been a baseball owner in more than a decade, he hasn’t forgotten how to look the other way. Somehow he still finds time to practice.

Fool Us Once: Meanwhile, the ever-vigilant Congress wants Palmeiro to cheer up. While he may have blown his chance to join the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, he earned the next best thing: a chance to testify again before the House Government Reform Committee.

Palmeiro spoke yesterday with the committee chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA). Committee staffers told the New York Times that Palmeiro wouldn’t face perjury charges because the steroid test he failed was “some weeks” after he denied he’d ever used them. In other words, they “believe him.”

The committee plans to ask Major League Baseball for “all of the specifics on the Palmeiro testing.” That can mean only one thing: random drug testing for future congressional witnesses. Raising your right hand just isn’t good enough anymore.

The Plot Thickens, Part 2: Can Livin’ La Vida Lo-Carb be right that Bush is “leading by example,” when the rest of America isn’t following? The Post says that in January 2004, more than 9 percent of Americans were on low-carb diets. Now that number had shrunk to 2.2 percent. The same weekend Bush took his physical, Atkins Nutritionals Inc., the premier producer of low-carb foods, declared bankruptcy. The reason: The dogs don’t like it.

So, if Bush has lost weight by giving up donuts, he’s the only one. Moreover, he tested positive for carbohydrates. The Has-Been’s new theory: Bush didn’t use steroids intentionally.

Hard Workout: Not everyone in the Washington area is taking steroids. With a flurry of legislation last week, the all-you-can-eat Congress showed how to put on weight the old-fashioned way: all fat, no muscle. In the old days, Republicans like Ronald Reagan used to veto bloated highway bills. Bush and Congress agreed on one that costs $286 billion, including a $2.3 million earmark for landscaping on the Ronald Reagan Freeway. As a candidate, Bush used to say, “It’s your money.” Now he just spends it.

Why does a man who cares so much about getting thinner let the government get fatter? Bush is addicted to big-government, interest-group conservatism, which offers one of the most irresistible diet pitches of all time: Eat all you want—you’ll grow your way out of it.

The president believes in individual responsibility. It’s not government’s job to keep him fit; that’s his job. It’s not his job to trim government; that’s government’s job. … 9:01 A.M. (link)

Moore Is Less: On his blog “Livin’ La Vida Lo-Carb,” which sets out “to combat the daily lies” by opponents of the Atkins Diet, half-the-man-he-used-to-be Jimmy Moore offers his own theory of how the president lost eight pounds. “I thought my heart rate was low until I discovered that President Bush’s resting heart rate is 47 beats per minute,” says Moore, who puts his own “bpm” at 45. “You can’t blame Bush for our nation’s poor health!” Moore goes on to gush that Bush “limits his caffeine intake to coffee and diet sodas.” Apparently, the president’s renowned willpower enables him to forgo Dexatrim and No-Doz. … 2:38 A.M.Monday, Aug. 1, 2005

Friday, July 29, 2005 Ask Not: Since 9/11, many of us have criticized President Bush for asking nothing more of the American people than to fly and shop. At last, the administration has responded. As the Washington Post reported earlier this week, Chief of Staff Andrew Card challenged 2,000 interns at a public service job fair to do more:

I don’t think that everyone who is looking for a job should expect or even want a job with the federal government or one of our agencies. In fact, our economy would not do very well if people just worked for the government.
We can’t afford to waste the best and the brightest in keeping America safe, finding cures to chronic diseases, or winning the war on terror. Youth of America, if you love your country, set aside your selfish desire to enter public service and heed the private sector’s call! Card’s career is a testament to that noble sense of duty. All his life, this son of Massachusetts has longed to be a bureaucrat. He studied at the Kennedy School. He spent a decade in the federal government under Reagan and Bush, eventually reaching the bureaucratic pinnacle with a brief Cabinet stint as secretary of transportation. With Card’s résumé, he could have qualified for any career job in the federal government. But in 1993, at great personal sacrifice, he left government to serve his country as head of the automakers’ trade association. Later, he volunteered to become chief lobbyist at General Motors, where he hoped his inside knowledge of government could help save the nation’s ailing auto giant. Card believed deeply in what another generation’s role model, former GM CEO Charles E. Wilson, said at his confirmation hearing to become Eisenhower’s defense secretary: “What was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” Card has returned to government, so his own years of sacrifice for his country are over. Now he wants to pass the torch of private sector service to the next generation. Small-minded cynics have criticized Card for championing the interests of an industry that used to pay him $600,000 a year. As Card showed again this week, he’s just looking for a way to give something back. Pay Any Price, Bear Any Burden: All of us honor Andy Card’s patriotic sacrifice as an advocate for America’s auto industry. But as we take up his call to private-sector service, we have to ask: Is lobbying really part of the private sector? Corporate lobbyists advocate for private interests, and arguably create jobs—the more lobbyists one interest hires, the more lobbyists other opposing interests have to hire. On the other hand, a lobbyist’s entire job is to influence the federal government—and as Card told the interns, “our economy would not do very well” if everybody worked here in Washington. Yet at $600,000 a year, we can’t lump business lobbyists in with non-profit lobbyists for causes like protecting the environment or opposing immigration. You owe it to your country to come up with a name for this booming sector of corporate lobbyists in the seam between private and public. Send your suggestions to … 11:45 A.M. (link)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Firm:John Roberts may soon become a Supreme Court justice, but he isn’t a lawyer. He’s “a lawyer’s lawyer.” Editorialists say so. The Christian right says so. People who should know say so.

As a “lawyer’s son” and “lawyer’s husband,” I’ve spent enough time around lawyers to know that “lawyer’s lawyer” is like “congressman’s congressman“: not always the compliment that it might seem. When firms can tout themselves as “lawyer’s lawyers,” such words become cheaper than the hourly rates might suggest. One congressional floor speech went so far as to praise “a lawyer’s lawyer’s lawyer.”

Law students learn early on that “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” But a “lawyer’s lawyer” isn’t a lawyer who represents another lawyer. It means a lawyer so devoted to the profession that he or she can argue either side of any question, and take on any fool for a client.

In other professions, even lesser ones like politics, such moral flexibility would be dismissed as an abject lack of principle. In the law, the ability to argue for it before arguing against it is sometimes lionized as the highest form of principle.

The phrase “lawyer’s lawyer” has the ring of money, and a rich, ironic history to go with it. In 1930, when Herbert Hoover returned Charles Evan Hughes to the Supreme Court as Chief Justice, Time’s cover profile dubbed him “Lawyer’s Lawyer.” Like Roberts, Hughes had spent his younger days in Republican politics: in 1916, he actually resigned as an associate Supreme Court justice to become the GOP’s presidential nominee against Wilson.

Lawyer’s Lawyer is also the title of a biography about John W. Davis, the Democratic nominee who lost to Coolidge in 1924. He earned the label by going on to oppose the New Deal on behalf of big corporate clients and to represent the losing, segregationist side in Brown v. Board of Education.

Echo’s Echoes: The phrase isn’t new to John Roberts. In 2003, Senator Orrin Hatch praised Roberts’s record at Hogan & Hartson: “He has argued on different sides of a variety of different issues, firmly establishing his reputation as a lawyer’s lawyer.” By that point, thanks to such nimble minds, Hogan had passed the half-billion-dollar mark in annual revenues – just behind the firm John W. Davis founded: Davis, Polk & Wardwell.

Ironically, the phrase is the subtitle of a 2003 treatise from the right-wing Committee for Justice extolling the virtues of one of the most conservative ideologues Bush has put on the bench: “Jeffrey Sutton: A Lawyer’s Lawyer.” Before his narrow, party-line confirmation to the 6th Circuit, Sutton took on several cases to weaken federal civil rights and disability laws. The Committee for Justice insisted that “Sutton does what all good lawyers do: subordinate his interests to those of the client, and do everything possible, within the bounds of the law, to win.”

Moral Dodge: By that standard, calling someone a “lawyer’s lawyer” is just a high-minded way of saying “don’t judge a lawyer by his clients.” But if we can’t judge a man by his works, and he won’t tell us his views, we don’t have much to go on.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Reality Bites: Even with thousands still standing in line to vote in Ohio,  Diebold  can project the winner of yesterday’s ideas-or-donuts referendum. The results are in: the donuts have it.

With eerie echoes from the 2004 presidential race, the campaign came down to a simple question: should we pick a president based on ideas, or on who looks most like a pile of donuts? Despite a late surge by Bob “The Thinker” DeLay, Dan “The Homer” Johnson cruised to victory with an estimated 93% of the vote.

Our panel of election analysts, The Has-Been Gang, gave Bob credit for running a positive campaign about ideas, but said that in the end, voters couldn’t pull the lever for anyone named DeLay. Dan’s carefully orchestrated image as “just a guy who likes donuts” played well with every major demographic group, especially those who voted around breakfast. Voters praised him as “brilliant,” “pure genius,” and “a man of integrity.” Voters who have met Dan personally used different terms (such as “crowbar” and “Scott Baio“), but supported him anyway.

Reached for comment, Dan tried to claim a mandate: “Ideas will always lose a head to head battle with fat-laden pastry.” But the electorate was sending a different message. Dan’s plan to replace the nominating process with a donut sculpture viewing contest marked him as a true reformer – in the words of one voter, “clearly the only candidate with new ideas.” As Bill Clinton might say, voters believe it’s time to move beyond the false choice between donuts and ideas, and build a cause larger than ourselves.

Homer’s Odyssey: It remains to be seen whether the Democratic National Committee will adopt the Homer Plan. A 40-member DNC commission on the nominating calendar, chaired by Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) and former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, has until the end of this year to recommend changes for 2008.

The commission is almost certain to keep the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary first in the queue. With luck, it also will scrap the ill-fated changes from the last cycle, when a frontloaded calendar made primaries fall like dominoes for the early frontrunner, John Kerry. Former DNC chair Terry McAuliffe thought frontloading would protect the nominee from finishing the primaries bloodied and penniless. Instead, thanks to the Internet, Kerry had more money than he could spend – while frontloading gave the GOP three extra months to destroy him before he had time to catch his breath and figure out how to spend it.

The Commission can keep the race going longer by putting a two- or three-week window between major primaries, so the contest is about more than momentum. It could also give some prominence to a red-state primary in the Eastern time zone, such as Ohio, Florida, and South Carolina.

While Dan Johnson didn’t win over Slate readers in time to present it at the Price-Herman Commission’s recent meeting, the Homer Plan may still have the inside track. Secretary Herman once received a prestigious award from Sara Lee, a leading producer of fat-laden breakfast pastries. David Price, one of the smartest members of Congress, is no Homer Simpson. But guess where many of his North Carolina constituents work: the world headquarters of Krispy Kreme donuts.