Monday, April 05, 2004

Sometimes Being Contrarian Is Contrary To Our Best Interests

I was curious about The Tribune copybook policy on Yiddish. For those of you similarly curious, these days you don't even need to put "chutzpah" in italics in the East Valley. Go figure. Newspaper version here. Any time "Bush" and "extreme" appear in the same headline, it's a minor victory for my team.

Cycling news: El Tour de Phoenix 2004 on Saturday, 3:16:24, making me 202nd out of 590 finishers in the 70 mile event. It's 7 minutes faster than my time last year, but while still 3 minutes off my best time, the overall race was slower; the winning times were 12 minutes slower than last year, so I'm interpreting it as a major victory. It was hard work for the last 30 miles (thanks, Chris!). All 70 mile results here.

In line with the Seinfeld reference, maybe that's what happened to the budget surplus: Shrinkage, Jerry, shrinkage!

East Valley Tribune, Apr. 4, 2004

One thing missing in the well-coordinated GOP attacks on Richard Clarke -- top billing on the Tribune op-ed page twice last week! -- is any factual dispute. Of course Bush, as he told Bob Woodward, had different defense and foreign policy priorities than Clinton.

If Clinton considered non-state terrorism our greatest threat, then Bush automatically disagreed. Bush didn’t make Middle East peace a top priority, calling Clinton’s personal involvement counterproductive. Spokesman Ari Fleischer even said Clinton, by raising expectations, bore some blame for Palestinian terrorism. Fleischer soon apologized, but he certainly revealed the Bush administration’s thinking.

The Bush people rejected everything Clinton. It was their organizing principle. Like the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza decides that success lies in doing the exact opposite of what he’d normally do, the Bush administration was determined to differ from Clinton in every way.

There are positives; where the Clintonites leaked fast and furiously, the Bushies are fiercely loyal, disciplined, and relentlessly on message. While Clinton famously made decisions at the last minute, and only when forced, Bush only knows two things: cutting taxes and invading Iraq. Those are his cures for everything.

Now, this “opposite” business may go too far. Clinton left the largest budget surplus in history, so Bush presides over the largest deficit. Clinton oversaw the greatest post-war expansion in employment, so Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover where the economy actually loses jobs during his tenure. We had a strong dollar under Clinton, so it’s weaker under Bush; gas prices dropped, so now they’re rising.

The Republicans applied their opposite strategy to Iraq, too. In December, 1998, they kept referring to the movie “Wag the Dog” in response to Clinton’s air campaign against Iraq. They accused him of bombing some unimportant country to distract people from that oh-so-vital impeachment business.

We now know two things we didn’t in 1998. First, those air strikes were extraordinarily successful. Using intelligence provided by U.N. inspectors, the joint U.S.-U.K. campaign destroyed whatever advanced weapons programs Saddam had. Second, four years later, many of the same people who dismissed the 1998 campaign as a distraction suddenly considered a toothless Iraq our greatest threat. The same people who, on George Bush’s cue, called Iraq the most pressing, immediate, and imminent danger to the U.S. in 2002, considered it an unimportant sideshow in 1998. Apparently, that’s what happens when they stop being distracted by sex -- among heterosexuals, anyway.

And last week we learned that not only will the Bush administration declassify absolutely anything that makes their opponents (or Clinton) look bad, but if there is anything that makes Clinton look good in hindsight, Bush will make sure it stays classified. Can’t let the 9/11 commission see thousands of pages of what Clinton administration documents. To Bush, there are some things just more important than the truth.

Most of the GOP personal attacks on Clarke have a bizarre quality for people whose memories stretch back to, say, 1998. They claim Clarke is a “weasel” because he’s betrayed friendship and loyalty -- but Linda Tripp, the most famous betrayer in my lifetime, is still a hero because her perfidy was just so darn useful. They say you can’t trust Clarke because he’s friends with a senior advisory to Kerry’s campaign, but it’s just peachy for Justice Scalia to decide a case where his duck-hunting buddy, Dick Cheney, is the defendant.

No wonder Republicans object to the 9/11 commission and insist that we look forward -- because anybody who remembers what they said and did five years ago can only laugh, in amazement and in sorrow, at their chutzpah.

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