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.
looked him right in the eye and asked, "Are things
in Washington as bad as they appear?"
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".
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.
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.
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
that's why I looked AuCoin right in the eye and
asked, "Are things in Washington as bad as they
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."
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
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
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.
underestimated Clarke quite badly.
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.
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.
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
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
of course, smiled and told the Senate to go ahead
and release his secret testimony.
there's a few smoking guns in there.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
hope Richard Clarke has an armed guard, too. Just
Posted: March 31, 2004