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"Almost nothing" Admin desperate, frightened, and dangerous
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepp's Commentaries
March 30, 2004

I was at a fundraising dinner the other night, and found myself seated next to retired nine-term Congressman from Oregon, Les AuCoin. AuCoin was speaking at a fundraiser for the local Democrats, and nowadays is a professor of political science at Souther Oregon University and works part time as a political commentator (and a superb one) at the local NPR affiliate, Jefferson Public Radio.

I looked him right in the eye and asked, "Are things in Washington as bad as they appear?"

If that seems a strange question for someone as critical of the Putsch junta as I am to be asking, consider it a reality check. I strongly believe that people should take sides in politics and stand for something. I would much sooner deal with a right winger who is utterly convinced that only Putsch can save America than with someone who flutters their hands helplessly and tells me they don't know of any difference between Democrats and Republicans and don't much care. At least the right winger has the backbone to stand for something. Former speaker Sam Rayburn famously said "the middle of the road is for dead skunks and yellow stripes".

But the pitfall to partisanship is that you risk becoming a True Believer, incapable of judging any situation analytically and honestly, and thus undercutting your own conclusions. The net is full of rah-rah partisans on both sides who are utterly incapable of admitting error on the part of their side, while demonizing those on the other side. They can, depending on your own opinions, be vastly entertaining or a bloody bore to read, but when the chips are down, I wouldn't trust any of them to be able to say "our side screwed up" when, as inevitably happens, our side screws up.

It worried me that I would look at the Putsch junta and see nothing but thuggish, slow evil. Usually, when you see that in political adversaries, the problem lies within yourself.

And AuCoin was the right man to ask. A Political Scientist and a commentator with whom I was familiar -- and one who didn't hesitate to castigate Democrats and liberals when they screwed up -- I knew he was no True Believer. And he had been in the heart of Washington for eighteen years, on the Defense Appropriation Committee as he built an impressive record.

So that's why I looked AuCoin right in the eye and asked, "Are things in Washington as bad as they appear?"

He looked me right in the eye and replied, "It is far worse than you can imagine. These people are power-mad, and they will stop at almost nothing."

Later, as AuCoin gave his speech, mostly elaborating on what he had just said to me, I knew what most of the audience only sensed: that this wasn't just a "rally the troops" political fundraiser speech: AuCoin was speaking straight from the heart, and warning of the very real danger Putsch and his crowd present to the United States of America.

Granted, I didn't really need Les AuCoin to tell me that the GOP has some really vile people associated with it. Indeed, the list is so long I could finish the space needed for an essay right here by listing some of them. Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, Sun Myung Moon, Richard Scaife, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh all spring instantly to mind.

Last week, I was shaking my head at the images of Richard Clarke on TV and thinking, "You poor bastard. They're going to beat you up worse than a Mel Gibson Jesus for stepping out of line like that." And, true to form, the Administration started trying to do just that.

They underestimated Clarke quite badly.

His stunning speech before the 9/11 commission was just the start. It was a remarkable act of courage. He was the anti-terrorism czar, and specialized in anti-terror policy for 30 years, and here he was, in front of CNN, Rush Limbaugh and everybody, saying, "We screwed up. We failed you, and we're sorry." It's not something you hear very often in Washington, not even in fender benders. Americans have become notorious for being unable to apologize or take responsibility when things screw up.

The administration, built on a flammable edifice of deceit and secretiveness and bluster, promptly unraveled. Dick went on Rush Limbaugh's show and said Clarke was out of the loop, while Condi went everywhere else and said he was the central figure in the loop. (Jon Stewart, who has been having a career week as a result of all this, wondered if the anti-terrorism czar was out of the loop, did that mean there was no loop at all?) Then they disputed Clarke's account of Putsch leaning on Clarke to tie the 9/11 can to Saddam's tail the day after in the situation room by claiming the records showed that Putsch had not been in the situation room on that day. (Jon Stewart again: "The President wasn't in the Situation Room on the day after 9/11? What are they saving it for?"). Since then, they've retracted that claim, and a visibly frightened Condoleezza Rice admitted on 60 Minutes that the conversation between Putsch and Clarke did take place, pretty much as described.

If the administration didn't have enough problems, enter Bill Frist. Frist is a man who excelled in medical school, ran a successful practice, got into politics and rose to become majority leader of the Senate, and seems to have managed to accomplish all that without a shred of good sense. Certainly, when he came out and claimed that Clarke's classified testimony, given under oath to the Senate, differed significantly from his public testimony (also given under oath) to the 9/11 Committee, and demanded his Senate testimony be declassified for purposes of political embarrassment, I bet nearly everyone in Washington winced LOUDLY and hoped Bill would just go away and shut his mouth. Who's going to testify under oath in secret if they know they'll get outed if a political cat fight breaks out later? Shades of Wilson and Plame!

Most career people in Washington knew what was going to happen next. They know that Clarke is a career bureaucrat who rose to the top and stayed there for 30 years. You don't do that by being a nice guy who takes it in the rear. You don't do it without being media savvy and being able to shoot back.

Clarke, of course, smiled and told the Senate to go ahead and release his secret testimony.

All of it.

Presumably, there's a few smoking guns in there.

Maybe Frist thought that if you bluffed a 30 year career top bureaucrat, he wouldn't call the bluff even if he thought you were holding a busted flush. As I said, Frist doesn't have much in the way of good sense.

Now the Republicans are truly hoist on their petard and other sensitive parts of their anatomies. It's wonderful to watch. They have to back down. And with the world watching, there's no way to paint it as anything other than a defeat.

Big political fights are always fun to watch. I still grin when I think of the battle royale between Willie Brown and the 1995 California Assembly, which had a Republican majority of one seat.

But a client stopped by my office today, and we talked about Richard Clarke. As he was leaving, he looked back and said, "I hope they've given that man an armed guard. He isn't safe."

Even back in the Nixon days, during the height of Watergate, it never occurred to me that Alex Butterfield (the man who revealed the existence of the Oval Office tapes) might be assassinated. Of course, I didn't believe the President of the United States would plot to break into a Federal Judge's chambers (John Sirrica) in order to steal evidence, either.

But Nixon's administration, even with G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt and John Erlichmann and all the rest, wasn't as savage, as vicious, as desperate as this one.

I hope Richard Clarke has an armed guard, too. Just in case.

Posted: March 31, 2004


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