Friday, March 30, 2007


Honest to a Fault

I listened to recent commentary over at National Public Radio (NPR), in which one of the “anchors” was discussing with a correspondent the replacement of 8 Federal Prosecutors by the Bush Administration. As all of mainstream media is doing with this story, the NPR apparatchiks were conflating politics with policy. I know they share the same Latin root, and many observers view them as one and the same, but they differ.

“Playing politics at US Department of Justice (DOJ),” scream the headlines. Democratic party leaders and their highest officials intone over the grave implications of politics playing a role in Federal law enforcement. They know they’ve ginned up quite the teapot tempest. Their left-leaning and overwhelmingly Democrat media co-conspirators thrill with new controversies to replace the fading Anna Nicole Smith non-news, which itself displaced media “romancing the stones” of Plameology. (Ironic that most of the leading “scandals of the day” have high levels of artificiality somewhere in the story. Politics in Government. Non-secret “covert” CIA employee. Anna Nicole Smith, anything having to do with her, at all.)

The process of firing the Prosecutors was clumsy and unprofessional, and the official reaction to the media frenzy, even more inept if possible. That shouldn’t obscure the underlying fact that these specific Prosecutors did not accept or follow legitimate Federal law enforcement and prosecutorial priorities and policies. They may well have been “straight arrows,” excellent attorneys, and tenacious prosecutors, but in some measure or another, resisted or proved inadequate for the rightful assertion of Presidential power through Executive Branch processes and functions.

The President has every right to insist that his political appointees reflect his and his party’s priorities for law enforcement. If he wants Federal Prosecutors to prosecute drug dealers to the maximum extent of Federal Law, he orders them to do so. If the DOJ calls for an aggressive enforcement of Federal immigration law, I would want the Administration to insist that Federal law enforcement officials do just that.

As the Democrats are fond of saying, “elections have consequences.” In the case of the Prosecutor dismissals, the specific election involved is not the mid-terms in 2006, but rather the last Presidential election in 2004. Democrats may wish to focus on the former, but Federal Prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the winner of the latter.

Anyone who thinks this is anything other than political gamesmanship is either ignorant of the actual mechanics of modern Executive Government, or partisans intent on remaining “in the game” (and often both). The rest of America yawns, though at times, feel strangely compelled to watch the fun, as they have been with every new bizarre turn in the Anna Nicole drama. That doesn’t mean America thinks any of it is really important.

My first, unsettled reaction to all this, was outrage at the hypocrisy, anger over the slanted reporting, and fury about myopia in the face of contrary evidence and the lack of historical context. This reveals me as a poor sap stuck on facts and truth, rather than the “inner accuracy” of each play of the day. I can imagine a Liberal Arts professor standing over me, tossing his wiry gray ponytail behind his back, muttering wisdom such as “What is truth? What is reality? We can only know our own experiences. We can know, only as our experience is filtered through personal prejudices.”

Woah. No time for flashbacks.

I am certain that the architects of the current faux controversy, Senators Schumer and Specter, believe this is nothing more than the game of the week, with no greater significance of any other Congressional dog and pony show or posturing. But as long as these and other political players see some personal or party advantage to keep it going, they will.

But in all of it, I notice an important distinction amongst the competitors, or more precisely between the character of the parties and regions they represent.

If you look at the evolution of the political landscape – think red and think blue – I think it might be in part geographical, even anthropological. Democrats overwhelmingly rule in big, heavily populated Metropolitan areas. Even within overall liberal or Democrat controlled states, they concentrate their power in big cities, Republicans hold sway in the countryside, flyover states, rural communities, suburbs, the great big everywhere else.

I love New York City and Boston, and I’ve enjoyed other major Metropolitan areas, the hustle and bustle, the energy, the noise, and even the smells of the big city. I love just as much the quieter towns of our American Heritage, towns like Binghamton, Lititz, Gettysburg, Battle Creek, Marietta, Pittsfield, and Warrensburg.

I think about the cultural differences between these two types of places. I don’t think it any accident that one trends Bluer than Blue, the other trends Red. (Look, if you go so far as to check the places I’ve listed and find blue where red should be, good on you. However, this is anecdotal reflection, and as such, more important to be “accurate” than factual. Heh.)

Look at the kind of politicians that thrive in these two different kinds of places, and consider the cultures which produce them.

Here’s who comes to my mind. Alphonse D’Amato, Tip O’Neal, Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, Rudy Guliani, Richard Daley, Dan Rostenkowski. Okay, many of these guys are party bosses, and that may reflect another dynamic altogether, but my point remains: men and women who are successful in big city politics tend to be brash, loud, aggressive, combative, and live lives bigger than life, where “public” just about crowds out any semblance of “private.” They may get slammed by The NY Post or Boston Herald, but they get lots of free publicity, and their political base eats it up.

I remember when we spent a year in Atlanta. We grew very close to our Southern friends. It didn’t take too long, but we must have heard that incredulous, long drawn out Georgia “Neyuh Yohk” about a thousand times. It always meant, “You don’t act like you’re from New York City.” Friends called us their favorite Yankees, but even they took to introducing us as “not like any Yankee you ever met,” or “They’re from New York, the state, not the city.”

To fall in love with New York (the city) you need to appreciate the New Yorker who makes it what it is, or you wouldn’t love the place, you’d avoid it. (Which our Georgia friends intend to do.)

Thinking of politicians who fit the personas of the Midwest and West, the rural, the upstate, and the quiet town square, proves much more difficult. I can scratch out a few, but they’re as different and diverse as the Big City politicos are of a pattern. Maybe it’s just a limitation of my experience, or reflective of my prejudices, but if I start naming Gerald Ford, Sam Rayburn, George Romney, Bob Dole, you’re talking about near-perfect antitheses to the political Metrosexual stereotypes who proliferate today.

Sure, the comparison gets shaky when you start considering the outliers, interlopers, or pretenders, like faux Texans, or New Yorker Carpetbaggers, or Fulbright scholars who exploit false hick-town personas, or families of wealth and prestige who can buy their offspring Congressional districts or Senate seats. These may be the exceptions which prove the rule. (They can be larger than life, to be sure, just like any caricature.)

But geography and political culture only explains just so much of the difference. Political legacy and tradition plays an even bigger role.

Democrats since forever, but especially since the reign of Clinton, play the game of politics much more skillfully than Republicans. Much has been made of election shenanigans that helped ensure the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Less remarked on was the extent of political payback in 1961, as Democrats transitioned to Presidential power after 8 years on the outs.

More visible was the transition between Administrations as Clinton took over after 12 years of a Republican Executive Branch. I recall that a lot of Republican and Conservative outrage as the Clintons found ever more creative and accretive ways of expanding political control and influence within the tentacles of Government

The Nixon and Ford Administrations get a much tougher rap, as Republicans always will, in contrast to the legendary 3 years of Camelot, a mythology that thrives in the distinct absence of historical context, accuracy, or other political realities. Likewise the hapless Administrations of Bush 41 and 43, compared to the slick professionalism of the born-to-politic Clintonites.

I think the Democrats practice to make imperfect. They are the party of the charming scoundrel, the bountiful beggar, and the happy rogue. The skip their way through indiscretions, and if Senator Schumer is any example, have no capacity for irony or self-awareness. How else can he immerse himself in the same conflicts of interest that he faults across the aisle, leading Senate investigations while retaining Party leadership roles?

Republicans seemingly invite intense scrutiny in all matters ethical and moral, while Democrats have to break really serious laws before they are called to account. Called to account, but never made to pay the bill. Democrats can always be forgiven and politically reborn, even after felony convictions. But not so Republicans.

Republicans bring their troubles upon themselves. I’m nominally a Republican, though more Conservative (even Libertarian), but I have admit it almost seems as if Republicans are driven by an inner need to admit or expose sins of commission that Democrats keep omitted. Not that Republicans can really keep anything undercover in Washington; political secrets are no easier to keep under wraps than run of the mill grave threat to national security state secrets.

A longtime Democrat at the top of his game in a big Blue State organization will know every legal and illegal way to buy, sell, and wield political influence for maximum personal gain. If caught in illegal acts, he or she will find a way to blame others, explain ulterior motives (honorably on their part, treacherous and evil for their enemies), or construct some convoluted justification for why he can’t really be held accountable.

The Red State Republican will know all the same methods of wielding influence for profit. In contrast to the Blue Stater, the Republican will try to avoid obviously illegal acts, unless he thinks they will go unnoticed. He will actively work to pass legislation that may allow him to cut corners like the Democrat, but legally. He too, will enrich himself through public service, but will more likely move towards consultancy and lobbying firms to do so. If caught, the Republican will more likely take responsibility, suffer the consequences, resign or otherwise make public restitution or apology. If caught up in the middle of an exercise of political chicanery, he or she is more likely to blow the whistle on the entire enterprise. Overall, the Republican will demonstrate far less guile. I think it’s because they know they’re no good at it, compared to Democrats.

Note that I don’t find one particularly more or less worthy of respect or admiration than the other; I just note the predominant differences.

Of course, there’s one factor that both parties share to a great degree. Corruption, naked self-interest, nepotism, and party benefaction are endemic to both parties, however much the partisans tug back and forth on the mantles of righteousness of financial purity.

Neither vices nor virtues are the exclusive domain of either party. All can and do fall victim to hypocrisy, as Newt Gingrich, Senator Feingold, and several televangelists can attest.

And do you know something? As long as whoever is in charge, truly and effectively acts to protect the United States, preserve our Republic, honor our heritage, support (in practical ways, beyond rhetoric) our military, and support our true friends and allies (democracies all, else they are no true friend), I don’t care what party they represent.

It’s just that, only one party at the moment, even remotely meets the requirements described above.

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