Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Playing the game

Gene Lyons
Posted on Wednesday, January 26, 2005

" I think I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed
prejudices. Indeed, I know it. I can stand any society. All that I care
to know is that a man is a human being—that is enough for me; he can’t
be any worse. "—Mark Twain

Never mind the Republicans’ objections to" affirmative action" and
"quotas." When it comes to the politics of personal identity, nobody
plays the game better than the Bush administration. Which is not to say
that Democrats fuming over the nominations of Alberto Gonzales as
attorney general and Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state haven’t had
it coming for years. After all, Bill Clinton promised to appoint a
cabinet that "looked like America," a laudable goal with sometimes
unfortunate consequences. Was Janet Reno the strongest attorney general
he could find or merely the most plausible woman available after two
earlier nominees withdrew? Now George W. Bush has seen him and raised
him, as they say in poker.

Based upon their performances in public office, two worse choices than
Gonzales and Rice can hardly be imagined. Both appear to place ambition
and personal loyalty above all competing values, beginning with truth.
They’re less public servants than courtiers to the House of Bush.

Meanwhile, with the notable exceptions of Sens. Barbara Boxer and John
Kerry, Democrats appear too fearful to express strong opposition lest
somebody like Rush Limbaugh call them hypocrites or racists.

The trap’s inherent in identity politics. Me, I was raised on the
Irish-Catholic version. My father had an oft-repeated slogan I took as
the essence of Americanism. "You’re no better than anybody else," he’d
growl, "and nobody’s better than you."

Otherwise, it’s rubbish to say everybody of a given ethnic persuasion
should agree politically. But it’s dangerous nonsense to say we can’t
criticize people because of who they are.

Bush tells people how much he admires Gonzales’ rags-to-riches life
story. A native Texan and the son of Mexican immigrants, Gonzales
served in the Air Force before graduating from Rice University and Harvard Law
School. When Bush met him, he was a partner at the Houston
establishment law firm of Vinson & Elkins.

Well, good for him. So he’s smart and ambitious. Based upon his legal
work, however, he’s also an authoritarian yesman. As Texas Gov. Bush’s
legal counsel, he wrote decision memos in death penalty cases. After
studying them, the Atlantic Monthly reported that "Gonzales repeatedly
failed to apprise the governor of crucial issues in the cases at hand:
ineffective counsel, conflict of interest, mitigating evidence, even
actual evidence of innocence"; hence, Bush approved executions based
on" only the most cursory briefings on the issues in dispute. "

As White House counsel, Gonzales approved memos arguing that laws
against torture do" not apply to the President’s detention and
interrogation of enemy combatants. "He called the Geneva Convention
protecting POWs" obsolete" and "quaint." He wrote that anything short
of "death, organ failure or serious impairment of body functions" wasn’t
torture. All because Bush and his country-club warriors wanted to act

The result has been a sickening wave of atrocities at Abu Ghraib and
elsewhere that has discredited U.S. claims to stand for human rights
and the rule of law, strengthened the Iraqi insurrection and benefited
terrorist propaganda worldwide. Not to mention endangering Americans
who fall into enemy hands. "It is astonishing that [Gonzales] has been
nominated," writes conservative pundit Andrew Sullivan, "and even more
astonishing that he will almost certainly be confirmed."

Then there’s Dr. Rice, as she likes being called, a dead giveaway.
During the propaganda buildup to the Iraqi war, nobody was more
dogmatic about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear arsenal. "We don’t want
the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud," she warned.

After Bush was criticized for including previously discredited claims
about Saddam’s nonexistent nuclear weapons in a speech, a White House
spokesman alibied that neither he nor Rice had read the entire 90-page
National Intelligence Estimate about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
A Stanford sophomore, where Rice was provost, would be failed for that.
Rice was barely criticized.

Then there was her bizarre appearance before the 9/11 Commission. Rice
obstinately insisted that the infamous Aug. 6, 2001, CIA briefing she
and Bush ignored was purely "historical in nature" and "did not warn of
attacks inside the United States." In fact, the document cited
"suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for
hijackings or other types of attacks," and stipulated New York and
Washington as likely targets. Yet when the Senate’s Boxer recently
sought to ask her about these and similar misrepresentations, Rice
treated it as a smear against her personal character. Nobody overtly
played the race card, because nobody had to. That’s the problem with
the politics of identity: It makes the private public and the public
private to the detriment of both.

• Free-lance columnist Gene Lyons is a Little Rock author and recipient
of the National Magazine Award.


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