There was a moment, back in June of 1992, when I realized that Bill Clinton was the odds-on favorite to become President. George Bush Senior had decided to make a triumphal return to Panama, whose people he had freed from the crushing, US-sponsored embrace of Manuel Noriega in 1989, by blowing up and disabling a good portion of their country.
Oddly enough, many Panamanians seemed to resent this, especially when the destruction had not been addressed three years later.
And so rather than cheering crowds, the Bush Presidential victory tour sparked widespread anti-American riots. Finally, Panamanian authorities decided to tear-gas protestors very near the site of Bush’s only public speech.
A heavy dark cloud of tear-gas eventually wafted over the podium itself, prompting Secret Service agents to brandish semi-automatic weapons and spirit Bush the Elder to safety.
And it was that tear-gas cloud — looming in suddenly like some vast shot of karmic flatulence — that convinced me that Bush Sr. was not simply vulnerable, but doomed.
I thought of that ill-fated visit when I read in the Post that Bush Jr. will be jetting into New Orleans tomorrow for a two-day visit. It gave me a very strong feeling of foreboding, and I think it’s fair to say that Bush will face some strong and vocal pushback on his faltering efforts to address the problems in the Gulf Coast: there is, of course, a Presidential campaign underway that will drive media scrutiny to new heights.
Bush’s advisors know this well; the visit is the best of two bad options, the other being to ignore the anniversary and head out to Crawford. Kennebunkport wasn’t an option: Sheehan and the anti-war Left have occupied crucial swaths of Maine.
So that left a high-profile visit to a sweltering New Orleans, meeting with angry homeowners and outraged local politicians, poking through musty basements and axe-battered attics and promising more and better support than the support Bush promised last August but subsequently failed to deliver.
A brand-new disaster waiting to happen, this visit.
In short, expect George W. to be soundly blackjacked, one way or another — by the media, events on the ground, or more likely both, acting in concert.
Bush has never paid the full price for his curiously blithe response to Katrina, and the aftermath. But this visit, his last as a force of any lingering power in the White House, has the potential to bring it home to him in a way previously unimaginable.
And will VDB shed even one crocodile tear for this man who so desperately wants to climb back aboard his cushioned jet and return to the air-conditioned world of wealthy GOP donors and sycophants?
People think that George W. Bush cares nothing about the Constitution. People are wrong: Bush cares deeply about it.
Why? Because he earnestly believes that it grants him executive authority sweeping enough to justify torture, assassination, and pre-emptive invasion of “opportunity regimes” around the world.
That’s the danger, in a nutshell: Bush is a fundamentalist with regard to the Constitution, not simply the Bible.
That is, his interpretation is the interpretation.
Are you kidding me? Bush loves the Constitution. It deifies George W. Bush, and in his mind that deification is not simply convenient, but quintessentially American.
That’s the danger in any originary document, the danger with bibles, constitutions, sacred writs. Humans begin to use them more or less unthinkingly, reflexively, to justify their own ends.
And that can happen here as well, don’t kid yourself. And on the Left as well as the Right.
True, Vermont has been the winter refuge of Constitutional liberties during the Bush administration, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to the dangers of fundamentalism, as a default mode of thought, and as a bare-knuckle political tactic.
Case in point: yesterday’s press gambit by Newfane activist Dan DeWalt.
DeWalt began calling reporters yesterday, promising that his Vermont impeachment organization would field a candidate against Welch in 2008. Like Cindy Sheehan, DeWalt is up front about using the threat of an independent challenge to try to force movement on the impeachment issue.
“There’s plenty of issues that we and Peter Welch can agree on,” DeWalt argues, “but I don’t think we can allow someone to represent us who ignores the fundamental principles that make this country a constitutional republic.”
Got that? Welch is not just a shade less activist than DeWalt might prefer: Welch doesn’t understand or respect Constitutional Democracy.
In fact, Welch “ignores” the basic principles of American government, which overtly suggests dereliction of duty, but even begins to hint subtly at treason.
And hence, Welch must be attacked.
It all begins to sound a bit like the from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: the righteous begin to stone anyone in sight, including themselves, with equal fervor.
DeWalt’s argument amounts to this: because Welch hasn’t moved to impeach at the pace DeWalt might prefer, he isn’t moving at all; because Welch hasn’t managed to restore habeus corpus or outlaw torture in his first six months, he cares nothing at all for the issues; and because Welch has failed the Constitution so spectacularly in those initial six months, the Constitution itself is crying out for DeWalt’s intervention.
Look, let’s bring the discussion down to some durable facts on the ground.
First, by the time the 2008 election yields a new Congress, impeachment will no longer be a subject for debate: it will be physically impossible. Bush will have about two weeks left in his Presidency at that point.
Anyone wishing to impeach Bush or Cheney in January of 2009 will need a time machine to do so.
That being the case, there’s something inherently disingenuous about a challenge based on impeachment. DeWalt knows full well that impeachment will not be possible, but he (like Sheehan) is banking on a grass-roots desire to punish the incumbent for not having produced impeachment while he supposedly had the chance.
And it is that punishment ethic that seems so out of line with reality.
Suddenly Welch is to be sacrificed to pay for Bush’s sins.
Taken together, Patrick Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and Peter Welch comprise perhaps the most left-leaning delegation in the nation. Not incidentally, over the last six months, they together have done more to reverse the course of the Bush Presidency than any other three individuals in Vermont, and quite possibly in America as a whole.
And yet all three have had their offices picketed, and briefly occupied.
Which was, to put it bluntly, plain silliness: the protestors might easily have made the five-hour drive to Joe Lieberman’s office, and there they would have encountered someone worthy of their rhetoric.
There they would have found a true Republican in Democrat’s clothing. There they would have found the hard-core support for the War they seek to end.
But Peter Welch? Please.
Our entire delegation is working to restore habeus corpus; our entire delegation is investigating the Bush Administration; our entire delegation is actively leveraging the increasingly stark divide on Iraq within the GOP.
Those are facts of which we can be justifiably proud.
But let’s stipulate that DeWalt doesn’t share that view; let’s stipulate that there are hundreds or even thousands more ready to follow DeWalt.
Well and good: go ahead and run a third-party challenger to Peter Welch, and take your case to the people. I don’t think they’ll share your distaste for Welch, and the achievements of his first two years in office.
Still, that’s democracy, and God love it.
But don’t wrap yourself in the Constitution as though no one else has righteous access to it, as though no one else can hear its cries for help. Don’t accuse your Democratic opposition of impurity, of treason against the basic principles of this country, as a way of moving votes.
Don’t start calling for heads, based on your higher understanding of the sacred writ, your loyalty to the revolution.
Because it’s a funny thing about guillotines: they’re a great deal easier to trundle out into the Square than they are to eventually trundle back in.
I’ve been re-reading Bob Woodward’s 2002 Bush at War recently. Why? Maybe to try to understand how one mainstream reporter could produce so fawning a tribute to so deficient a President, and in that way become a rotten synechdoche for the way the entire establishment bought the Administration’s post-9/11 hokum.
But there was one passage that must have escaped me the first time around. Because it’s impossible to believe that I wouldn’t remember it, that I wouldn’t have quoted and used it before now.
It’s the story of Bush throwing out the first pitch in the third game of the 2001 World Series.
This was just days after the launch of the attack on Afghanistan, when Bush’s approval ratings were in the stratosphere. The passage was written out of an interview with Karl Rove, who was at the game that night.
The date was Tuesday, October 30.
The President emerged wearing a New York Fire Department windbreaker. He raised his arm and gave a thumbs-up to the crowd on the third base side of the field. Probably 15,000 fans threw their arms in the air imitating the motion.
He then threw a strike from the rubber, and the stadium erupted.
Watching from owner George Steinbrenner’s box, Karl Rove thought, It’s like being at a Nazi rally.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is not the observation of Cindy Sheehan or Michael Moore or Bill Maher. This is the first thing that popped into the mind of the President’s own political director.
This man immediately saw an echo of German fascism, and then went on to frame the coming mid-term election in stridently authoritarian terms, targeting even helpful Democratic Senators as weak on terror.
Rove liked what he saw, in other words, liked it a lot. Unreal, when you think about it.
Or very, very real, when you think about it twice.
If you happened to catch Ann Coulter’s performance at CUPAC, you know that she called John Edwards a “faggot.” Even if you missed her act, you know she called Edwards a “faggot,” because the remark was circulated globally.
And of course, that’s no accident: Coulter ends her speech on the line, for God’s sake. It was meant to be the finale, the take-away, the let’s-have-at-it line.
In other words, it was not an instance of casual speech treated as hate-speech by knee-jerk liberals, but the reverse: hate-speech deliberately deployed under cover of tweaking political correctness.
Three other things you may not know, at this point:
1) Clearly seeking to boost the power of the original outrage, Coulter repeated the slur at a Christian Conference on March 3, adding some sympathetic words for those who shoot abortion doctors: “Those few abortionists were shot, or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure with a rifle performed on them. I’m not justifying it, but I do understand how it happened . . .”
2) Six newspapers carrying Coulter’s syndicated column have now dropped it, for obvious reasons. These include papers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennesee, North Carolina, and Louisiana, hardly liberal hotbeds, any of them.
3) And yes, The Caledonian-Record, published right here in St. Johnsbury, is one of the forty newspapers still keeping Coulter in slit leather skirts.
Yes, the Caledonian-Record is a conservative paper, but we find it hard to believe that any self-respecting publication in the state of Vermont can continue to justify carrying Coulter’s particular brand of poison. Just a few days ago, the editorial board referred to Cindy Sheehan as “a notoriously controversial peace activist who is . . . vicious and non-discriminating in her hate-filled broadsides,” and the board seemed to indicate that this was a bad thing.
Of course, pop out the phrase “peace activist” and insert “shock pundit” and you have Coulter in a nutshell. The Sheehan editorial was titled, “We’d Like Some Answers.”
Well, with regard to Coulter, so would VDB.
So let us suggest the following: Call the Record, or email them at , and ask politely that they drop Coulter’s column. It’s beneath them, and it’s beneath the state of Vermont, frankly.
Especially given that Drs. Bernard Slepian and David Gandell were both shot with high-powered sniper rifles only hours from where the editors of the Record go about their daily business. It is unconscionable that Vermont dollars should still be finding their way into the fat bank account of someone writing applause lines about their murders.
It’s time for Coulter’s intervention, and VDB would like to see Vermont help lead the way.
[Hat tip to reader Ben, for passing on the list of the forty remaining enablers.]
Late Update, 2:12 pm:
The Good news: a seventh newspaper has let Coulter go for cause. And the Bad: no, it wasn’t the Caledonian-Record.
Apologies for light posting. VDB is on the road, moving from one political hot spot to another, putting out fires, stoking others, but due back in Burlington later today. Currently holed up in the lovely home of a dear but inexplicably Right Wing cousin, and so couldn’t resist blogging this particular piece from his home computer.
Got a call last week from a Fox News reporter named Kelley Vlahos, who wanted to chat about a number of issues. At the tail end of the conversation, she casually mentioned Cindy Sheehan, and we talked about the anti-War movement for a minute.
It’s fair to assume that Sheehan was the topic all along, and the first 15 minutes of talk just a bit of journalistic misdirection.
And the story that came out of the conversation is predictably biased. But Vlahos was fair to the spirit of our conversation, surprisingly so, in fact.
In any event, if you can handle the cognitive dissonance (VDB/Fox mashed up in one window on your computer screen) check it out.
It’s a near-textbook example of Fox journalism: Is Cindy Sheehan a Complete or Merely a Partial Whack-Job? We Report, etc. and so on.
Late Update, 5:16 pm:
Turns out the above Sheehan post is more relevant than we knew: Sheehan was apparently arrested yesterday in Crawford, outside the Bush compound.
Cheney’s motorcade was said to have been slightly delayed. And hence, VDB can be said to be slightly pleased.
Given that tomorrow the Legislature will select a new Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard by secret ballot, it’s only right and fitting that this week’s MMRS address the challenges of the 21st-century Guard.
So address the Guard’s challenges VDB intends to do. And most of them come directly from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, turns out.
The nation’s governors — Republicans and Democrats alike — released a letter yesterday, deploring the Bush administration’s policies as they affect the Guard’s general readiness. The letter, signed by all fifty governors, allows the New York Times to say with perfect frankness what it has broadly hinted at over the last two years:
“Governors of both parties said Sunday that Bush administration policies were stripping the National Guard of equipment and personnel needed to respond to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, forest fires and other emergencies.”
For “hurricanes . . . and other emergencies,” of course, read Katrina and Rita. Clearly bad blood lingers, even with Republicans like Governor Haley Barbour. For an organization still dominated by a Republican majority — at least until the 2006 election cycle — this letter is a pretty open-handed slap.
And a pretty neat little MMRS.
It used to be that when Bush said jump, Republicans at all levels said: how high. But that was then. Now when the President says jump, apparently, Republicans at all levels say: you’re high.
And VDB is absolutely loving it.
So, yes, this week’s MMRS ultimately went to the New York Times, but an organization with a tiny fraction of the budget ran all but neck-and-neck.
BurlingtonPol.com, written by Burlingtonian Haik Bedrosian, ran a highly detailed and amusing post this morning on an event with Progressive Mayoral candidate Bob Kiss: “Kid Friendly Breakfast with Bob Kiss.” Haik’s coverage of the campaign has been sharp in general, but this piece is choice.
The highlights? In a pinch, Haik is driven to taking notes with crayons. And this bit near the end:
“Just when it seemed the dealy-o was going to wrap up without any surprises, my wife’s friend Autumn asked Bob how his platform differed from [Democratic candidate] Hinda Miller’s. ‘Oooh,’ I thought. ‘This ought to be interesting.’
“And it was. Because for an answer Kiss repackaged the litany of experiences he would bring to the corner office, while failing to enumerate any differences between his platform and Hinda’s.”
You can read the whole enchilada at the link. Interesting stuff, regardless of your political stripe.
The Legislature has set Feb. 27 as the date for the election of an adjutant general to replace Major Gen. Martha Rainville. Three or four names have already been floated, with the idea that one of them will lock up the secret ballot.
But not so fast: VDB got a dog in this fight too.
For a couple of months I’ve been corresponding with a regular visitor to the site, an experienced military type, who sees the post-911 world with admirable clarity. Jude, she signs her emails.
Only this morning did she let drop in a note that she’s recently declared herself a late candidate for Rainville’s AG position. She’s flying here from her station in Macedonia to stand in the election.
Turns out her full name is Lt. Col. Judith Sheehan of South Hero. Jude, to her friends.
I asked for her bio, and it’s a fairly jaw-dropping document. Some excerpts:
“1. Current and relevant education: Master of Arts in International Security and Civil-Military Affairs, from the School of International Studies, Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.(2002)
“Thesis was on the Democratic Consolidation Efforts of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 1991-2001. Half way through a second Masters of Strategic Studies, U.S. Army War College, developing a thesis on U.S. Strategy in Africa.
“2. Current and relevant duties now: 3 Years experience working for the United States Embassy. Current duties have me in the Macedonian Ministry of Defense. I am the Bilateral Affairs Officer in the Office of Defense Cooperation.
“3. Current achievements: Worked with the Ministry of Defense to formalize the Non Commissioned Officer Corp in Macedonia (Law passed last month). Worked with the Ministry of Defense to develop an Officer Career Program (schooling, training, promotions, assignments). Concept accepted by the Minister of Defense a few weeks ago. Working with the Training Command to develop a National School System, from Basic Training, to Non-Commissioned Officer Training, to Officer Training.
“4. Currently working with the Military Police Battalion (one of their declared forces) to develop training programs, get their equipment, and personnel, to prepare them for mobilization (probably Iraq or Afghanistan) by 2007. (It’s a $10M project.)
“5. Relevant Past Positions: 8 Years experience working in the field of Military Support to Civil Authorities. I wrote the first plans of Vermont National Guard support to Vermont Civil Authorities in in Counter-Drug Operations. Worked with Montpelier, and their Emergency Managment Team.
“Three years experience developing the a Regional Training Institute. (That great building located at Camp Johnson.) Training Officer In charge of developing the Programs of Instruction for Infantry (Basic Skills, and Non-Commissioned Officer courses).
“Under my direction, Ft. Benning accredited our courses 1 year before the deadline (Received the Mertorious Service Medal). We proceeded to train all the infantry soldiers from the New England states. We also taught the National Guard Officer Candidate School, and common core Non-Commissioned Officer courses.
“Four years experience as a Force Integration Officer. In charge of recommending to the Adjutant General for changes in force structure, mobilizing units, decommissioning units, and commissioning new units in the National Guard Force Structure.
“Ten years experience in Counter Terrorism training. Was a qualified Level II instructor, which basically means, I was responsible to ensure the the entire National Guard received Counter Terrorism instruction.
“Three years experience working with an Active Duty Combatant Command (European Comand). Also working with their subordinate commands, U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Airforce Europe, Marine Forces Europe and Navy Europe. Charged with ensuring the Combatant Commanders Theater Objectives are realized here in Macedonia (peace and stabilty, entrance into NATO).
“We expect an announcement at this year’s NATO summit that Macedonia will enter into NATO in 2008. A BIG achievement these last three years.”
Like I said, jaw-dropping — and highly relevant — experience. Add to that Jude’s ten year’s experience both as a Vermont Farmer (Swallow Quick Farm), and as Vice President of the Burlington Farmers Market — with special training in Vermont Range Chicken — and we’re talking the complete package.
Now look, this is a site that aims to enliven your day with a little bit of wicked humor, as well as the politics that make the world go round. And no apologies for that.
But the humor can make it difficult to be taken seriously some times, when the issue at hand calls for seriousness of purpose. Judith Sheehan has the military, diplomatic, and organizational skills to handle this crucial position, and she deserves more than a quick look. She has thought a great deal about the role of the Guard in today’s world.
VDB endorses her whole-heartedly.
Perhaps the immortal Paul McCartney said it best:
Hey jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.
Somehow it’s become tradition for my wife and I to host the yearly Santa Lucia party for our Swedish-American group. The group is made up of Swedes and Americans married to Swedes, and we host all the Swedish holidays by turns. Santa Lucia has fallen to our lot, and I’ve come to feel that winter would be incomplete without it.
So the other day I’m home making saffron buns for the party, and the phone rings and — I know this sounds namedroppy — but it’s Dick Cheney. Now, a long time ago, for reasons I won’t go into here, Dick spent a night under my porch. Okay, real quickly, he needed a secure location while he was in Burlington, and my porch is really secure because I used to have this skunk that was getting in there at night, and I had to padlock it down.
Long story short, Dick still has my number and he calls to ask if he can come to the Lucia party.
Talk about awkward.
First, Dick isn’t Swedish, and neither is his wife, Lynn. Second, Dick despises pickled herring, can’t even take one bite to be polite, which is the least an American can do. And third, well, Dick’s not real popular around my house these days, if you know what I mean.
But it turns out that’s exactly why he’s calling. His voice is grim.
“Phil, my poll numbers have dropped like a rock of late. Frankly, my staff and I were hoping we could use your, uh, ethnic celebration to show me in a softer light.”
My gut tells me, just say no. But Dick starts reminiscing about the night he spent under the porch, and I hear myself telling him to come on ahead, the more the merrier.
Not a good decision. On the big night, everyone’s standing around eating fermented fish, and in sweeps the Secret Service looking for firearms. And then Dick trudges in, and the Swedes see who it is, and a palpable chill goes through the room. You gotta understand, Socialism is middle of the road in Sweden. So I go into hyper-festive-host mode, trying to draw everybody together, but it’s no use.
You ever have one of those doomed parties where friends from two really different parts of your life show up and it just never gels? It’s like that.
Until it’s time for the Santa Lucia procession. This is when all of the kids and the mothers slip away into the cellar, and dress themselves in long white robes with red sashes, and put crowns of leaves in their hair. We turn off the lights and they slowly march back upstairs, singing Swedish songs about winter and the power of light itself.
But just before I hit the lights, Dick tells me he has to be in the procession. His staff desperately wants a picture of him in one of the white robes. I try to tell him that it’s a gender sort of thing, that men don’t march. But Dick’s adamant, and he’s brought his own robe and leaf-crown.
Eventually you’ll see the picture on the front page of the New York Times: all the Swedish woman, all our children — and Dick — holding candles in the darkened living room. But what you won’t see is what I see standing just a few feet off to one side. The Lucia procession always changes you somehow, it calls out your humanity. And as the candlelight flickers over Dick’s face, I see tears forming behind his big thick glasses.
I know what’s happening in his heart.
A seed is growing.
And when the singing is done, and everyone heads back to the buffet table, Dick takes my arm, and he pitches his voice for my ears only, and he whispers, “Give Cindy Sheehan my love, Phil.” He pauses, broods a second. “And — and Michael Moore. Will you do that for me?” Dick pats my arm, and then he heads to the buffet table with a determined look on his face.
But after a few more steps, he stops, then makes his way all the way back across the room to me, and this time he whispers: “And Alec Baldwin, I suppose. Him as well, Phil.”
I tell him I will, and he gives a nod. This time when he heads off to the buffet he lets nothing stop him. And once there, he makes a point of helping himself to a few fat chunks of herring, just to be polite.