Day of Reckoning for the Current Occupant
By Garrison Keillor
The Chicago Tribune
Wednesday 15 March 2006
Spring arrived in New York last week for previews, a sunny day with chill in the air, but you could smell mud, and with a little imagination you could sort of smell grass. I put on a gray jacket, instead of black, and went to the opera and saw Verdi's "Luisa Miller," a Republican opera in which love is crushed by the perfidiousness of government. A helpful lesson for these times. I am referring to the Current Occupant.
The Republican Revolution has gone the way of all flesh. It took over Congress and the White House, horns blew, church bells rang, sailors kissed each other, and what happened? The Republicans led us into a reckless foreign war and steered the economy toward receivership and wielded power as if there were no rules. Democrats are accused of having no new ideas, but Republicans are making some of the old ideas look awfully good, such as constitutional checks and balances, fiscal responsibility, and the notion of realism in foreign affairs and taking actions that serve the national interest. What one might call "conservatism."
The head of the National Security Agency under President Ronald Reagan, Lt. Gen. William Odom, writes on the Web site NiemanWatchdog.org that he sees clear parallels between Vietnam and Iraq: "The difference lies in the consequences. Vietnam did not have the devastating effects on US power that Iraq is already having." He draws the parallels in three stages and says that staying the course will only make the damage to US power greater. It's a chilling analysis, and one that isn't going to come from the Democratic Party. It's starting to come from Republicans, and they are the ones who must rescue the country from themselves.
I ran into a gray eminence from the Bush I era the other day in an airport, and he said that what most offended him about Bush II is the naked incompetence. "You may disagree with Republicans, but you always had to recognize that they knew what they were doing," he said. "I keep going back to that intelligence memo of August 2001, that said that terrorists had plans to hijack planes and crash them into buildings. The president read it, and he didn't even call a staff meeting to discuss it. That is lack of attention of a high order."
Over the course of time, the Chief Occupant has been cruelly exposed over and over. He sat and was briefed on the danger of a hurricane wiping out a major American city, and without asking a single question, he got up from the table and walked away and resumed his vacation. He played guitar as New Orleans was flooded. It took him four days to realize his responsibility to do something. When the tsunami killed 100,000 people in Southeast Asia, he was on vacation and it took him 72 hours to issue a statement of sympathy.
The Republicans tied their wagon to him and, as a result, their revolution is bankrupt. He has played the terrorism card for all it is worth and campaigned successfully against Adam and Steve and co-opted whole vast flocks of Christians, but he is done now, kaput, out of gas, for one simple reason. He doesn't represent the best that is our country. Not even close.
He openly, brazenly, countenanced crimes of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram. He engaged in illegal surveillance, authorized the arrest of people without charge and "disappeared" them to foreign jails. And he finagled this war, which, after three years of violence, does not look to be heading toward a happy ending. And now it's up to Republicans to put their country first and call the gentleman to account.
The Current Occupant is smart about handling a political mess. The best strategy is to cut and run and change the subject. You defend the Dubai ports deal in manly terms until you lose a vote in a House committee and then you retreat - actually, you get the Dubai people to do it for you - and that's it, End of Story.
Harriet Miers was fully qualified one day and gone the next. Social Security was going to be overhauled to give us the Ownership Society, and then the stock market went in the toilet and Republicans got nervous, and suddenly it was Never Mind and on to the next new thing.
Let's bring the boys home. Otherwise, let's send this man back to Texas and see what sort of work he is capable of and let him start making a contribution to the world.
Garrison Keillor is an author and the radio host of "A Prairie Home Companion."