Play It Again, Slam
Reader Lou Costello caught this recent piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker. It is an interesting read, not the least of which because I'm having trouble figuring out just exactly what perspective Mr. Goldberg is trying to have come out on top, if any.
Disillusionment with the Administration has become widespread among the conservatives who once were Bush’s strongest supporters. Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, said recently, “The Republican Administration has shown itself to be completely incompetent to the point that, of Republicans in Iowa, fifty-two per cent thought we should be out of Iraq in six months.” Edwards, who left Congress in 1993 and now teaches at Princeton, is helping to lead an effort among some conservatives to curtail the President’s power in such areas as warrantless wiretapping. “This Administration is beyond the pale in terms of arrogance and incompetence,” he said. “This guy thinks he’s a monarch, and that’s scary as hell.” The grievances against the Administration seem limitless. Many congressional Republicans, for instance, were upset that Bush waited to fire Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld until after the midterm elections.
Even if events in Iraq do eventually turn in the direction that the Administration hopes, history is weighted against the Republicans. Only once since the death of Franklin Roosevelt has a party kept the Presidency for three consecutive terms—when George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis, in 1988. Bush the Elder, though, had the advantage of being Ronald Reagan’s Vice-President, and Reagan, despite being damaged by the Iran-Contra scandal, was greatly esteemed by his party. Few of the men running now for the Republican nomination are likely to embrace George W. Bush’s record. “If the Democrats can’t win the Presidency in 2008, they’ll never win the Presidency,” David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said not long ago.
And now Karl Rove, the man Bush has called his “boy genius,” is among those being blamed by conservatives for the Party’s problems—blame that he shares with others who have attempted to transform the party. One is Newt Gingrich, the strategist behind the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, who could not hold together his coalition, and resigned. (Gingrich also faced ethics problems—he was accused of using tax-deductible donations for political purposes.) Another is Tom DeLay, who served as House whip under Gingrich and became Majority Leader under Gingrich’s successor, Dennis Hastert, and who left facing charges relating to campaign finance. Perhaps most of all, conservatives blame Rove’s boss, George W. Bush.
Goldberg alternates from claiming that Republicans no longer want to listen to Karl Rove to asserting that Rove's "cleverness, combined with his joie de combat, that made him insufferable to Democrats." (Note to Goldberg: no, it was his propensity to break the law, not give a shit about the consequences of his actions, and then his sick need to gloat about the media not giving a rats ass about covering the details that pissed us off. Try talking to a Democrat next time before you write about what they think.) He also suffers from the same Janus'ed eye toward Tom DeLay: "guardian of conservative ideals" or, as Dick Armey puts it, "keeping the majority was about keeping power for himself." (Armey would know, having had his ass shoved out the door by an over-eager DeLay back in the day.)
But it is the sloppy, wet kisses for Gingrich that raised my hackles:
Gingrich’s ego is robust—Barack Obama is not the only national politician to fashion himself as an inheritor of Lincoln’s mantle. He seems convinced that the Republican Party’s salvation lies in his fecund mind, and believes that truly transformative conservative ideas, when well articulated, will be enough to attract large majorities. He cited global warming as an example. Very few Republicans these days talk about global warming as a reality, the way Gingrich does. Before a recent debate on Capitol Hill with John Kerry (reporters were promised a “smack-down”), Kerry seemed flustered when Gingrich shifted the debate from the basic science to a discussion of market-based solutions to the problem. Gingrich explained it this way: “There’s a short-term way out of this and a long-term way out of this. The long-term way is to create a new intellectual battleground, which you can’t do if you start out by saying ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ But if you say, ‘O.K., let’s talk about, for example, how you best have conservation in America, do you think trial lawyers, regulators, bureaucrats, and higher taxes are the answer, then you ought to be with Al Gore. If you think that markets, incentives, prizes, and entrepreneurs are the answer, you ought to be with us.’ ”
I asked Gingrich if it was a mistake to appeal to the religious-conservative base of the Party on such issues as the fate of Terri Schiavo, a woman who was living in a persistent vegetative state. In 2005, Republicans—supported by, among others, DeLay, and the former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist—engineered quick passage of a special law requiring that Schiavo be kept on a feeding tube, against her husband’s wishes but in accord with her parents’ demands and the demands of many evangelicals and conservative Catholics. (Frist, a physician, diagnosed Schiavo, noting that she was “clearly responsive,” after watching her on videotape.) The courts intervened, and the feeding tube that kept Schiavo alive was removed; she died thirteen days afterward. That episode, though, frightened members of what the anti-tax agitator Grover Norquist calls the “leave-me-alone coalition.” It certainly frightened centrists, without whom neither party could flourish.
No one says "religious right friendly" so much as an unctuous, twice-divorced man, who left both wives while they were ill and facing life-threatening diseases, who has a penchant for inflated ego-indulging self-aggrandizing suck-up-ery, and who got run out of a corrupt party for being the most debauched of all at his highest moment on the political stage. Boy howdy, if that is the best the GOP can do for strategic thinking and values marketing, someone pass me the popcorn.
It is worth a mention that Goldberg himself is no stranger to the word "controversy." Having served as the Eve to Judy Miller's Chalabi apologia performances as our gal Margot, Goldberg deserves at least as much credit for whipping up the horses in front of the Bush Administration's Iraq war chariot back in those heady days perfumed with mushroom clouds. Goldberg was the oil that greased a number of skids all on his own without Judy's help, let's say, but he hasn't gotten nearly as much scrutiny for this as he ought.
To say that Goldberg's perspective in all of this deserves as much scrutiny in all of this as what he's actually saying and quoting is an understatement. On the whole, the piece appears to benefit Gingrich, at least in my first read through. But if that is the case, is Newt eyeing Rove's substantial political consulting income and empire — or is he covetous of a more oval office? Interesting that just under the surface of the GOP these days is a rapidly rising boil. Today's boil just happens to be named Newt. Again.
(Yes, it's really an excuse to use a Casablanca clip. You caught me. But the fundamental things do apply here: the interviewer and the interviewees in The New Yorker piece all have some history that factors in a large way. As time goes by, we'd all do well to remember that certain devils can always be found in the details. Enjoy the clip — it is Ingrid Bergman at her most radiant, and I have always loved this song. "The fundamental things apply, as time goes by…")