Monday, December 31, 2007

The 2007 Aberrant Behavior Awards

Before we welcome the new year, let us first bid a fond farewell to the follies of 2007 by celebrating this stellar list of award winners.

The Sam Cooke “Don’t Know Much About History, Don’t Know Much About Geography” Award goes to Mike Huckabee. Following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the GOP’s hottest presidential candidate flashed his foreign policy credentials by contending that more Pakistanis have illegally entered the United States than any other foreigners - an allegation promptly refuted by the Department of Homeland Security. He also stated that Afghanistan shares an eastern border with Pakistan, whereas, in reality, they share a western border. He also suggested that Pakistan remains under martial law, whereas, in reality, martial law was lifted on Dec. 15. And earlier this month, he confessed that he knew nothing about the national intelligence report on Iran’s dormant nuclear program, even though the report had been out for nearly 36 hours. Would the Republican party, which traditionally prides itself on its national security bona fides, really nominate this guy?

The Character Reference of the Year Award goes to Jeanette Maier, a Louisiana woman who extolled U.S. Senator David Vitter as “one of the nicest men and most honorable men I’ve ever met.” The problem for Vitter, a “family values” Republican, was that Maier’s praise came with a caveat. She’s a whorehouse madam who regularly hosted Vitter at her place of business during the 1990s, at $300 a pop.

The Hogan’s Heroes “I Know Nothing!” Award goes to Alberto Gonzales. Before this longtime Bush crony walked away from the smoking wreckage formerly known as the Justice Department, he insisted that he was clueless about the White House campaign to make various U.S. attorneys behave as if they were water carriers for the Republican party. During congressional testimony, he said “I can’t recall” more than 50 times. Back on March 13, he also said that “we never had a discussion about where things stood,” regarding the plan to fire recalcitrant federal prosecutors – and then, lo and behold, it turned out, according to his own appointment calendar, that he had indeed attended a meeting just five months earlier, to discuss where things stood. The firings came shortly thereafter, in a triumph of partisanship over the rule of law.

Regarding The Worst Bedside Manner Award: You might expect a hospital doctor to win this one, the kind of doctor who raves about his ski trip before striding out the door. But no, the winner again is Gonzales. Let’s not forget the congressional testimony last spring, about how Gonzo – acting in 2004 as Bush’s White House counsel – raced to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed in order to inveigle the seriously ill attorney general to sign off on a domestic eavesdropping program that had already been deemed illegal by Ashcroft’s chief deputy. Ashcroft, sick as he was, backed up his deputy and shot Gonzo down. The deputy, and seven other senior figures, including the FBI director, had threatened to resign if Gonzo had parlayed his hospital visit into a victory.

The “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Bundler” Award goes to Hillary Clinton, for her campaign’s strenuous efforts to deny or downplay the role of Norman Hsu – a Democratic donor who had raised $850,000 for Hillary in bundled small contributions, but who turned out to be a fugitive felon. At first the Hillaryites insisted that Hsu was “completely legit,” that he was a man of “integrity,” and that they’d turned up nothing to suggest otherwise. When those spin efforts failed, they said that Hillary would reject the money that Hsu had personally donated (around $25,000), but keep all the rest. When that spin failed, Hillary agreed to reject all the money. Then she insisted that she’s a big supporter of campaign finance reform. The only problem is, her Senate record demonstrates that she has never cared a whit about campaign finance reform.

The Jim Carrey “Liar Liar” Award goes to Fred Thompson. Lawyers have a reputation for being factually slippery, and lobbyists have the same image problem. Ole Fred, who was a Washington lawyer-lobbyist before he started courting GOP conservatives in the ’08 campaign, tried out some slippery moves of his own a few months ago, when reports surfaced that he had done some early-‘90s lobbying for an abortion rights group. At first he said that he had done no such lobbying. Then he softened a bit, and said he had no “recollection” of such lobbying. Then, when all the billing records and lunch meeting records surfaced, he suddenly remembered a lot more, and said that it’s common for lawyer-lobbyists to take all kinds of cases, even when they personally disagree with clients….which made Thompson look like just another DC operator, the antithesis of what conservative GOP voters are looking for. No wonder he has flatlined.

The Louis XIV “L’etat c’moi” Political Science Award is shared by three Bush administration officials, all of whom sought to rewrite the U.S. Constitution during 2007. Tony Snow, speaking as the press secretary, informed us back in March that “the executive branch is under no compulsion to testify to Congress, because Congress in fact doesn’t have oversight ability,” which would be news to our Founding Fathers. Meanwhile, in June, Dick Cheney informed us that the vice presidency is not “an entity within the executive branch,” which was a fascinating stance, given the fact that it refutes Article II of the Constitution, and given the fact that he had long refused to disclose his energy lobbyist pals, by citing his position in the executive branch. Meanwhile, in July, ex-Bush political director Sara Taylor told Congress that she couldn’t talk about the prosecutor purge scandal because, "I took an oath to the president, and I take that oath very seriously." She was gently informed that, as a federal employee, she had taken an oath only to the Constitution.

The “I Hear That Eating Foie Gras Will Make You Gay” Award goes to Mitt Romney. The Mittster was notorious in 2007 for simply making stuff up – claiming an NRA endorsement that he never received, claiming he saw his father march with Martin Luther King when in fact he saw no such thing, claiming that we invaded Iraq because Saddam had barred the arms inspectors when in fact Hussein had actually let them in – but let’s not forget his fictitious complaint about France, the nation that doubles as a traditional GOP punching bag. Back in May, Romney said: “In France, for instance, I’m told that marriage is now frequently contracted in seven-year terms where either party may move on when their term is up.” The problem is, France has no such law. There is such a law, however, in a science-fiction novel called “The Memory of Earth.” Author Orson Scott Card, who, like Romney, is a Mormon, uses this form of a marriage contract as a plot point - in a saga that takes place in outer space.

The Judy Garland “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” Award goes to Barack Obama. A tornado-tossed house must have hit the candidate in the head when he came out with this line: “"In case you missed it, this week, there was a tragedy in Kansas. Ten thousand people died — an entire town destroyed." Really? More than triple the number of 9/11 casualties were not alive in Kansas anymore? It turned out that Obama was a tad off in his tally. He overstated the death toll by…9988.

The “Closeted Hypocrite” Award: The obvious landslide winner is Larry Craig, the GOP senator who regularly voted against gays but toe-tapped with a wide stance in an airport john, and who did the Senate proud by defending himself on TV with such high-road arguments as “I go to the bathroom to use the bathroom for bathroom's sake.” But let’s honor the runner-ups: Florida GOP legislator Bob Allen, who regularly voted against gays but propositioned a male cop in a rest stop john; and Washington state GOP legislator Richard Curtis, who regulary voted against gays but was caught wearing women’s clothing in a gay porn store.

The Bill Clinton “It All Depends on What the Meaning of the Word ‘Support’ Is” Award goes to Hillary, naturally. Proving that the connubial bond is alive and well, at least in the political realm, Hillary in October offered plenty of Clintonian nuance on the issue of whether New York’s illegal immigrants should receive drivers’ licenses: “The possibility of them having an accident that harms themselves or others is just a matter of the odds. It's probability. So what Governor Spitzer is trying to do is to fill the vacuum...I just want to add, I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it...It makes a lot of sense. What is the governor supposed to do?...Do I think this is the best thing for any governor to do? No."

The Mark Twain “A Lie Can Travel Half Way Around the World While the Truth is Putting on Its Shoes” Award goes to Freedom’s Watch, the White House front group that ran inflammatory TV ads early this autumn in support of the Iraq surge. Long after the myth of a 9/11-Hussein connection had been thoroughly refuted by multiple agencies and commissions, Freedom’s Watch went ahead and aired the myth all over again - showing the Twin Towers under attack while a vet talked about Iraq as the words “They Attacked Us” appeared on screen. Produced with classic sleight of hand, it was the dark art of propaganda at its finest.

The “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Home Boy” Award goes to Rudy Giuliani, loyal enabler of his good buddy, the indomitable Bernie Kerik. Rudy is trying to sell himself as a man whose judgment we can trust in a crisis, yet, despite many warnings over the years, he somehow failed to notice that the guy he steadily promoted (from mayoral chauffer all the way to police commissioner) was mobbed up. Today, Kerik is under federal indictment for taking bribes and cheating on his taxes. But maybe Kerik’s best gig was his failed three-month stint as Bush’s emissary to the Iraqi police in 2003. He was supposed to train the Iraqi cops, but, by all accounts, did nothing. No matter. When he returned, Bush praised him in the Rose Garden and said, “Bernie, you’re a good man.” Naturally.

The “Dog Ate My Homework” Award goes to Tommy Thompson. You may remember Tommy; the ex-Wisconsin governor and ex-Cabinet official was a GOP presidential candidate for what seemed to be only 17 minutes. Tommy had some creatively lame excuses for his bad performances in debates and on the stump, including (a) his hearing aid wasn’t working, (b) he was anxious to go to the bathroom, and (c) he had a heavy cold. The latter excuse was offered after he attempted to praise a Jewish audience by noting that “earning money” was “sort of part of the Jewish tradition…You've been outstanding business people, and I compliment you for that." Presumably, if Tommy’s nasal passages had been clear, he would have recognized that the Christians who ran Wall Street and dominated the economy during America’s first 100 years were pretty darn good at “earning money” before most of the Jewish immigrants ever showed up.

The “Yeah, Right, And Guys Only Buy Playboy for the Articles” Award goes to John Edwards, for insisting that he spent a year working for a hedge fund (earning more than $500,000) only because he wanted to get a better understanding of poverty in America. When a reporter pointed out that he could have “learned” more about the relations between the markets and poverty simply by taking a university course, he replied, “That’s true.” On the other hand, if he had merely taken a college course, would he have been able to collect $160,000 in campaign money from the employes of that hedge fund?

The “Oh Swell, NOW They Tell Us” Award is shared by three prominent Republicans who waited until they were long gone before dishing essential dirt about the Bush team. First came Dick Armey, former House GOP leader, who confessed last February that he regretted voting for Bush’s war in 2002, because it meant “invading a country that had in no way declared any war on us…Had I been ore true to myself and the principles I believed in at the time, I would have openly opposed the whole adventure vocally and aggressively.” Next came ex-Bush pollster Matthew Dowd, who said in April that he was fed up with what he called Bush’s “my way or the highway” approach, and added, “I’m so disappointed in things. I think (Bush) has become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in…(He's) not the person I thought.” And then came ex-Bush flak Scott McClellan, who previewed his upcoming book in November by informing us that the Bush team – either recklessly or deliberately, it wasn’t clear which - sent him out to spread “false information” to the public during the Valerie Plame affair.

Updating FDR, The “We Have Nothing to Spin But Fear Itself” Award goes to President Bush, for invoking the specter of “World War III” while discussing Iran’s nukes in October - even though he had been privately tipped off months earlier that an impending intelligence community report would reassess whether Iran had any nukes in the first place. Turns out, the intelligence community concluded that the nuke program was halted in 2003. But after this report surfaced earlier this month, Bush (true to form) insisted that his bellicose talk remains entirely appropriate, because, even though he acknowledges that the Iranians did halt the program, they might some day opt to restart the program…which apparently means that “World War III” rhetoric is justified regardless of the circumstances. Sort of like tax cuts for the wealthy.

And The "Ouch, that Hurts! Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?" Award naturally goes to the Democrats of Capitol Hill, for their year-long inability to thwart an unpopular president’s unpopular war. Granted, they did show courage on a few major matters of statecraft – such as voting to condemn for its nasty newspaper ad about General David Petraeus, and voting to condemn some mass atrocities committed by the Ottoman Turks 92 years ago. But it seems like a lifetime ago – it was actually only last January - when the Democrats warned that if Bush didn’t change course in Iraq, the new majority would be “showing him the way.” Dream on. I’ll stick with what Washington analyst Charlie Cook said to me back in 2002, when the Democrats were first fumbling for a response to Bush on Iraq: “They couldn’t find a unified message if it was tattooed on their butts.”

Feel free to add your own awards. Otherwise, Happy New Year and drive safely.