What Now? Can We Find Peace Amid Rising Waters, Rising Gorge?

God willing and the creek don’t rise…  I wrote earlier this week about the likely election of Hillary Clinton.

The creek rose. And now so will the seas. And now what do those of us, more than half the country, who think Trump is horrendous do to find some equilibrium? Anger shock and griping isn’t a healthy plan for living.

Donald Trump’s first act as president elect will ensure that his son Baron and Baron’s children will live in a world of horror. You think there are refugee problems now, Mr. Trump? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait until your know-nothing policy on global warming has its effects and tens of millions of poor people who don’t look like your voters flee the rising seas. Trump named Myron Ebel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to head his transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. The fox has entered the henhouse. “Mr. Ebel has asserted that whatever warming caused by greenhouse gas pollution is modest and could be beneficial,” The New York Times writes today. Bye Bye Paris climate accord. Bye Bye livable earth.

Every day there will be another outrage like this. But these won’t be like Trump’s campaign outrages. Those could have still been addressed by the voters. Too late now. Too many of these new daily outrages will become policy.

Can I stand to be outraged every day? Angry? Depressed? Clinton in her concession speech said we owe the president elect an open mind. I’ll try. I’ll have to or I’ll go crazy. Or I’ll have to go up in the hills and live alone and become a helmet, as Maynard G. Krebs said.

Perhaps this man will grow in the office. He seems not to have fixed convictions, and he’s certainly not an orthodox Republican. So I suspect he’ll sometimes pleasantly surprise us. He may push for government-supported work repairing infrastructure that was the first thing the Republicans blocked President Obama from doing eight years ago. Clips and pictures of him meeting with Obama yesterday showed Trump looking as if he’s realized what deep water he’s in. That, or he was already bored.

I can’t live in anger for four years. People who thought Obama was an abomination and that his policies were ruining the country felt every day for eight years what I’ll feel now for four. Their representatives in Congress did little but bitch and say no. That wasn’t very satisfying or useful. I don’t want to do that.

So I’ll watch and read less news. Try not to wallow in the daily transgressions. Read more books. Write more books. Watch more movies. Talk with Lisa more instead of sitting next to each other watching MSNBC. Bowl. Do something. Actively try to stop some of the worst things Trump and his backers will do. Are already doing. But I can’t be sad or angry every day or the cats will hide under the bed and Lisa will make me live on the screen porch where my black cloud won’t foul the air.

Half the country is crawling out of their cellars these last three days and looking around at what the tornado rearranged. It’s an apt cliche to say we’re in shock. Moving slow. Staring off in the distance. Wishing it weren’t so.

The dark parts of me want to say to Trump voters, “You picked him, you got him, don’t come to us when you realize he’s screwing you.” And the nasty parts of me want to say to Democratic primary voters, “You picked her, a terrible candidate, and look where that got us.” The late great Molly Ivins wrote a book about George W. Bush’s years as governor of Texas to show voters what Bush would be like as president. And he was (sort of) elected anyway and he acted just like Ivins warned he would. She wrote a second book before Bush’s reelection and said in the introduction “If y’all hadda read my first book I wouldn’t have had to write the second one.” If we’d paid attention to Carl Bernstein’s study of Hillary Clinton’s actions and character “A Woman in Charge” we would have put up someone this year who wasn’t so reviled and could have won.

But that didn’t happen. And I have to stop moaning about it all. For my own peace, and so people and small animals don’t flee from me on sight. Pick a few important causes to back and then back away from the daily deluge. Find quiet corners.

We survived eight years of Reagan (the poor didn’t survive very well as income disparity started to skyrocket under this earlier actor who played a president). We survived eight years under Bush (the soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in Bush’s endless wars didn’t survive very well under this earlier front man who didn’t know much). We can probably survive four years of Trump. But the planet and our progeny?

Get thee to a hammock, Bruce. Squeeze a cat pet a dog love the kids. Turn down the temp inside yourself. And send Elizabeth Warren flowers.

img_4608

— Bruce Benidt

 

The Presidents Club — Presidents are Actually Humans

My cousin Robert handed me The Presidents Club the other day, a book about the years after office of every president since Hoover. It’s a delightful book; I’ve barely put it down.

If our Rowdy Book Club book brings you down — it’s worse than you think — The Presidents Club will give you some hope — politicians can act like human beings, although maybe only when they’re no longer running for anything.

This book did something amazing — made me feel some compassion for George W. Bush. It couldn’t make me feel the same for Richard Nixon, but that’s asking too much. What the book does show is former presidents still wanting to serve their country, still wanting, in George H.W. Bush’s words, to do something “bigger than your own political lives, or bigger than your own self.”

What do you do after you’ve been president? You get a life back, but some of the cool stuff, like the plane, is gone. Most shocking, you arent as important anymore. Nixon and LBJ had trouble being off center stage, Truman and George W. seem to have quite liked it.

The best part of this book — and one of the best things I’ve read in years — is the chapter on George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The two worked together, at W’s request, to raise and distribute funds after the Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. And they became true friends. The Odd Couple, the brash one beating the reserved one in 1992, but joined after office by that desire to do something that matters. Their friendship, Clinton said, demonstrates something the country longs for — people from opposing sides coming together to do good.

At the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Library in 2004, W and his father were there, and W noticed his dad and Clinton, enjoying animated conversation, were lagging behind the main tour. Bush asked an aide to retrieve the two former presidents so they could all get started on lunch: “Tell 41 and 42 that 43 is hungry.” The elder Bush and Clinton became so close that Bush called Clinton immediately after Clinton had surgery, checking up on him. Later W, at the Gridiron Dinner in D.C., joked that Clinton, after surgery, “woke up surrounded by his loved ones: Hillary, Chelsea…my Dad.”

The book shows Jimmy Carter’s huge ego and huge energy for good causes, shows once again Gerald Ford’s decency (and skips over the fact that he charged people money to play golf with him — his version of giving lucrative speeches), LBJ’s demons, Eisenhower’s straightforwardness, and Nixon’s incessant drive to pretend his Watergate lies didn’t disqualify him from the international stage. Amazingly, Clinton talked often to Nixon, getting advice on issues and on living as the president. A major theme of the book is that former presidents are loyal to the office and the country and try not to damage their successors.

This book, published in April, written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, is the best book on governing and politics I’ve read since Robert Caro’s fourth volume of LBJ’s biography, The Passage of Power. Both show how hard being president is, and how character faults will crack under the office’s pressures. The Presidents Club shows there can be second chances.

— Bruce Benidt
(Photo from time.com)

AWOL George W. and Rove’s Mastery of the Press.

Before it fades away again, and likely for good this time, it is worth remembering the brilliant exercise of the dark arts of political deflection we witnessed in the 2004 George W. Bush AWOL from the Alabama Air National Guard story. The diabolical beauty of that episode urps and oozes in what was — highly likely —  a thoroughly composed strategy to A: Get CBS to bite on a unverifiable document and B: Turning the great moo-ing mass of the media away from The Story — Bush’s flagrant disregard for the sweetheart, jet-jockey duty his daddy cooked up for him in peaceful Alabama — at a peak of the Vietnam War, and concentrate instead on the less directly partisan and more celebrity-driven tale of CBS and Dan Rather’s poor judgment and fall from grace.

The whole tale was re-visited last week thanks to a 10,000 word article in Texas Monthly (still a standard-bearer for quality journalism, among a sea of numbingly inane competitors). Author Joe Hagan doesn’t “solve” the question of where the so-called Killian letter came from, the document conservative bloggers seized upon as bogus — within minutes — of its appearance on “60 Minutes II”. For this conservatives have sniffed at the whole piece as “nothing new”. Which is in effect saying, “It’s as damning as it always was.”

But while Rather looks no better in the context of doing due diligence on that one piece of (Xeroxed) paper, Hagan’s story adds significant depth and context to the vast amount of political energy the Bushies expended dealing with the AWOL story as it re-erupted periodically over the years. Point being: The Killian Letter, supposedly handed to an oddball at a Houston cattle show who then turned it over to Rather’s producer, who had been hounding the oddball for years, may be funky, but its funkiness hardly torpedoed the rest of the story, which a Boston Globe reporter had previously nailed, and USA Today was about to jump on when CBS’s story went to air in September of ’04.

What Hagan lays out is a story of how well the Bushies, Karl Rove in particular, understand the news instincts, fears and herd mentality of the American media. If you ignored the story in ’04 … well hell, you’re not even reading this … but if details have gotten foggy, Hagan’s timeline reminds you of the highly suspicious, instantaneous reaction that exploded across the conservative blogosphere, as I say, within minutes of the CBS broadcast. (One blogger filed … while the piece was still on the air). It also reminds you that Rove’s right-hand man, Dan Bartlett, had an e-mail blast pre-loaded to go out to not just one or two reliable conservative reporters who might quarrel with the piece, but to 500 reporters and bloggers (including Minnesota’s Power Line boys), copying the funky document, and eviscerating the Rather story for dealing in fraudulent paperwork … hardly the sort attention-getting “defensive” strike a White House  dares unless it is … absolutely certain … the paperwork in question is a fraud.

The implication? At the very least Rove and Bartlett were completely confident that the Killian Letter was bogus. At the very most, they created The Killian Letter, knowing full well that a CBS/Dan Rather/liberal bias/shoddy journalism scandal would send the press herd stampeding off in another direction, happily abandoning the 30 year-old Bush AWOL story, which the press was already taking fire for hyping “in the middle of an election campaign”.

It was never the not-exactly revelatory thunderstrike that rich kids got safe, cushy war-time assignments while the less privileged were dying in the swamps of Vietnam. At the time the context was that the Bushies were simultaneously selling a wholly fabricated set of lies about John Kerry’s Vietnam service — for which he volunteered and served, and during which he took more serious fire than a bar fight for making a pass at another drunk’s girlfriend.

The Kerry Swift Boat story had legs in part because the mainstream press took a deeper interest in how Kerry would defend himself against outrageous lies than who was spreading them. With the Bush AWOL story, the press, as Rove almost certainly predicted, would not be able to resist swinging the interrogation lights around on CBS and Rather’s blunder. Furthermore, with the scent of seared “liberal bias” in the air very few editors (and owners) anywhere had the stomach to continue pressing a story — the AWOL one — that many “low information” readers/viewers/voters thought was both totally inaccurate (not just the letter in question) and, after 30 years, meaningless.

It was, as I say, a strategy of obsidian brilliance, totally in keeping with Rovian politics and their masterful understanding of the mind of mainstream corporate journalism.

And now, I expect it is a story submerging for good.

Romney Rally Anthem

Don’t be angry. Don’t be sad.
And don’t sit cryin’ over good times you’ve had.
There’s a girl right next to you.
And she’s just waitin’ for something to do.

And there’s a rose in the fisted glove.
And the eagle flies with the dove.
And if you can’t be with the one you love,
honey, love the one you’re with.

Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.
Love the one you’re with.

– Stephen Stills

Expectations for Tonight’s Debate

Political junkies looking for an excuse to avoid organizing their sock drawers will be gathered ’round the tellies and laptops this evening to watch the latest GOP presidential debate.  You can watch it on MSNBC or streaming on  Politico.  Festivities kick off at 7:00 pm CST though there’s sure to be pre-game coverage beforehand.

Tonight’s debate will feature 8 candidates and because of the Crowd’s remarkable connections, we can give you access to the last-minute advice each one is receiving from their handlers and debate coaches about what needs to be achieved, what needs to be avoided and how to get there.  Let’s listen in:

Michele Bachmann: “…what we really need tonight, Congresswoman, is for you to show that you’re still relevant to this race.  Yes, we’ve lost all the momentum we had coming out of Ames.  Yes, we’ve lost our campaign manager and our #2 manager this weekend.  Yes, there’s a danger every time you open your mouth, but your job this evening is to own the stage like you did at the New Hampshire debate in June (boy, doesn’t that seem like a long time ago?).  We’re trying like hell to get the moderators to ask you a ‘gotcha’ question about Marcus or the counseling or the farm so you can do the moral outrage thing again, but we can’t count on it.  Ignore everyone except Romney and Perry and attack them whenever possible:  Romney’s a flipflopper, Perry’s governed Texas for 11 years by selling it off bit by bit to his buddies.  Steal Palin’s ‘crony capitalism’ line if you see the opening to use it.  Hit Obama as often as possible – it might be time to bring back ‘gangster government.’  And, please, please, please…try not to knock us off-message with a ‘freelance’ answer; if it isn’t in the briefing book, please don’t say it. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he’s from Iowa like you!”

Herman Cain: “Herman, just go out and enjoy yourself tonight.  Our best guess is that this might be the last debate you’re invited to; your polling numbers are down there with Gary Johnson.  Because of that, the moderators are probably not going to give you a lot of openings so you’re going to have to jump in whenever you have a chance.  You’re articulate, you’re good on your feet, so just roll with it.  Who knows, we might get a “this is my microphone Mr. Green” moment that will keep us alive another month or two. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  You were both on the radio!”

Newt Gingrich: “Mr. Speaker, I’m not sure what to tell you to do.  I mean, just a month ago I was a volunteer in your campaign’s New Hampshire office and now I’m your campaign manager so I’m a little over my head here.  I guess you could talk about your ideas…you always have really cool sounding ideas…and maybe quote some Greek philosopher… that always sounds good.  Does your wife have any advice? Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all,  he was out of office for as long as you before he won the presidency!”

Jon Huntsman: “Governor, we really see this as your first appearance on the national stage.  Our polling tells us that a good percentage of likely Republican voters have forgotten you’re running for president.  Even worse, among those who do they don’t like you much because you’re seen as too moderate or are out of the consideration set because you worked for the Great Satan (Obama).  Tonight, you’re going to have really show a little leg in the sense of showing the base you can hate Obama and what he’s done to our country as much as the craziest, most jingoistic candidate out there.  You know who we’re talking about.  We need you to be aggressive and energetic – here take a couple of these…no, they’re perfectly legal (somewhere) – and to work as many of these words – “failure,” “bankrupt,” “traitor,” “un-American,” “disaster” – into your responses as possible.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he was a governor just like you!

Ron Paul: “Congressman, we’ve seeded the audience with as many supporters as we could get into the building – our guys have been standing on line for two weeks to get seats in the hall – so you can count on applause every time you open your mouth.  Hell, they’ll cheer if you break wind!  Just keep doing what you’ve been doing at every debate – tell the truth that we’re bankrupt as a country, that drugs should be legalized, that we should pull every troop back to the U.S. border, that the Fed ought to be eliminated and the gold standard readopted – and it’ll be great.  You can’t count on the moderators giving you equal time – remember how they ignored us after Ames – but let’s all remember that we’re really setting you up for the 2020 race. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, for years people thought he was an extremist just like you!

Rick Perry: “Governor, I know you don’t like debate formats so I know you’re not looking forward to tonight.  And, you can expect that everyone will be gunning for you.  Even so, our goals for tonight are easy: no mistakes, no gaffes, no scary language.  Keep your answers short, serious and to the point.  We’re lapping the other candidates in the polls among likely GOP voters so this approach will also help us with another long-term goal; persuading moderates and independents you’re a viable choice.  Work the brush fires into a couple of responses – how brave the people of Texas are, how resilient they are, how much they represent the best of America, something like that – but remember – as hard as it is to believe – not everyone loves Texas.   We’re also trying to position you as the outsider who can go to Washington and fix what’s wrong there, but this is a fine line to walk; the more we talk about that, the more we remind people of George Bush.  Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he used to wear cowboy boots just like you!”

Mitt Romney: “OK, let’s all get on the same page here: the ‘running as the defacto nominee’ strategy is no longer working.  As page 17 of the Powerpoint clearly indicates, GOP voters are still ‘unenthused’ about the Governor as the Republican nominee.  Accordingly, if you’ll flip to page 27, we’ve set ought a 5-point plan for tonight’s debate: 1) be less scripted; 2) make more use of pre-screened one-liners to convey spontaneity; 3) include at least two key messages from focus group testing in each answer; 4) smile between 1.5 and 3 times per answer depending on content; 5) attack Governor Perry as unelectable, dangerous and clone of George W. Bush. Oh, and claim that you’re the one true heir to Ronald Reagan’s legacy.  After all, he ran for president twice just like you!”

Rick Santorum: “Honey, you know the kids and I are behind you 100 percent.  We love being with you in the RV, we love all the Motel 6s we’ve stayed at when we could afford them and – if it were up to us – you’d be the nominee in a walk.  After tonight, though, maybe we could take a couple of days off?  See Disneyland?  Take the tour here?  Then we can claim you’re just like Ronald Reagan.  You could get a pin from the gift shop.”

For those looking for something to do between the guffawing and sputtering, let’s do this:  let’s count how many times each candidate says “Reagan” and let’s put our bets down about how many minutes will pass before someone invokes Nancy Reagan as an American heroine.  I’m guessing 12 minutes in and it will be Perry.

– Austin

How Shall We Go to War Today?

The news that 10 members of Congress have filed suit against President Obama claiming he has violated the War Powers Resolution should come as no surprise.  President Obama is simply the latest in a long line of presidents – all of them – to claim for himself the unilateral right to determine when, where, how and how long are armed forces can be deployed in the field.

This is not a  right/left, liberal/conservative thing.  Dennis Kucinich and John Boehner man one side of the debate and Barack Obama and George W. Bush man the other. Hell, Senator Barack Obama the senator doesn’t agree with President Barack Obama on this topic.

Instead, the debate is an institutional one.  Congress takes seriously the Constitutional words in Article I, Section 8 that it alone has the power to declare war.  Each president takes just as seriously his duties as commander-in-chief and the oath of office to protect and defend the country as enumerated in Article II.

An that’s all it takes to start a Constitutional tug-of-war that has lasted until today.

Everybody pretty much agrees that the President doesn’t need Congressional authorization to deploy troops in response to an attack or to stop an attack that is imminent.  Over the years, however, succeeding presidents have used those exceptions to stretch their usage at least into controversial if not outright distorted grounds.

Even more effectively, though, presidents have gotten around the Constitutional requirements by simply defining a deployment as something other than “war.”  Hence the long line of “police actions,” “peacekeeping missions.” and “limited kinetic engagements” that populate our history of going to other countries and tearing up big chunks of it.

The 1973 War Powers Resolution came about when frustration about our involvement in Vietnam – which to many was an unauthorized war – reached a peak in Congress.  The joint resolution passed both house overwhelmingly and then was passed again over President Nixon’s veto.

The resolution actually represents a major concession by the Congress in that it allowed the president to deploy troops pretty much as he sees fit for up to 60 days with only an after-the-fact notice to Congress.  While a retreat in the eyes of some Constitutional scholars, it also was a recognition that the framers’ worldview – in which the development of threats and responses took months or years and that most armed conflict was nation versus nation in nature – no longer applied.

Good intentions, perhaps, but in practice  the War Powers Resolution has simply given executives another way to deploy troops as they wish.  When it suits their purpose, presidents cite their compliance with the resolution as a post-hoc justification for their actions.  When it doesn’t, as Mr. Obama did today, they assert that the Resolution doesn’t apply and is un-Constitutional to boot.

In case you’re wondering why the Constitutionality of these actions and resolutions are still in question, the answer is that no branch of government – not the executive, not the legislative and certainly not the judiciary – wants this question cleared up.  The legislative and executive branches both worry that the courts will weaken their current powers and the judicial branch does not want the job of parsing the Constitutionality of such a touchy subject.  A ruling one way or the other could put one of the branches of government into direct conflict with the finding and bring to the fore a Constitutional crisis that we’ve all managed to mostly ignore for nearly 225 years.

Accordingly, expect this lawsuit to go pretty much nowhere because – after the press conferences are over – the last thing anybody really wants is a speedy trial.

– Austin