Thursday, September 26, 2002

Putting Special Interests Above Security. We all know the story by now, right? Bush has been blasting the "Senate", which has been his codeword for "the Democrats" ever since Jim Jeffords jumped ship, for putting the interests of thei labor constituency above national security. The issue is whether or not the Office of Homeland Security legislation should include civil service protections that apply to all other federal employees. Democrats think that it should (after all, why shouldn't it?), and the White House has been arguing for months that it should not (to give him the flexibility he needs to... umm... to.... well, I don't rightly know).

There is no doubt that someone is putting special interests above security. But it isn't the Senate Democrats. It's the anti-labor, anti-union Republicans who want to create a new and unprecedented exception for the Office of Homeland Security. Why? I have a few theories. One, more federal employees means more union members, which means more money for Democrats. Two, the White House never wanted the OHS in the first place, and this is a clever way to kill it and blame the Democrats. Remember, the White House opposed creating a new government agency (because big government is evil) until there was widespread, bi-partisan support, at which point they promptly proposed (and took credit for proposing) a new government agency. Similarly, the White House also opposed every kind of investigation into September 11, before capitulating on a Congressional investigation into intelligence failures, and more recently, a broader, independent investigation. Presumably, telling the voters who screwed up is also evil.

The question we all have to ask is why civil service protections are, all of a sudden, and only in this one department, such a bad thing. The White House has been characteristically vague on this point. We hear talk about Bush being able to fire people he wants to fire, but we don't hear why civil service protections would prevent him from doing this (because they wouldn't). Besides, Bush hasn't shown any inclination to fire anyone for the monumental screw-up that was September 11. That is, he won't fire any of his political appointees, or the heads of the derelict intelligence agencies, but he will fire salaried, non-political staffers of this new department. What's that all about?

Basically, the White House position makes absolutely no sense at all. Unless you keep in mind the unrelenting push for more and more secrecy, and less and less accountability. Bush doesn't want any federal employment regulators looking over his shoulder. He wants a free hand to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants to, for any reason, and he doesn't want to have to suffer the indignity of having to explain his actions to the American people who (nearly) elected him. We can't tolerate that. Openness and accountability are an indispensable part of any democratic government. Bush's Nixonian penchant for secrecy and unchecked power (the former results in the latter) is throoughly anti-democratic, un-American, and unacceptable. Bush must lose this fight. Or, at least, he must be made to follow up on his threat to veto a bill that doesn't give him the secrecy and unchecked power he craves.

Here's hoping that his infantile attacks against the Democrats, and Daschle's long-overdue rebuke, help the Democrats pass their own version of the OHS legislation, with civil service protections intact.
Oh right, the speech... It's long past time I discussed the Gore speech. Well, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to my regular readers to hear that I loved it. He's the first Democrat that I've heard who has stood up and mapped out an alternative strategy for dealing with the problem of Saddam Hussein. And Gore's strategy is superior on so many grounds. It's better morally, first of all. Preemptive war is always shaky on moral grounds. It's better as a matter of international politics. It's better, in my view, as a matter of national security.

Here's what Bush is doing: he's equating his Iraq plan with defending America from Saddam. That's fundamentally dishonest, but to be fair, it's good politics. He says, "Saddam's dangerous, so we have to start a war." Whenever anyone objects to the second part of that statement, he attacks them for rejecting the first. Senate Democrats trying to defend themselves from this charge have had a hard time of it, with most of them accepting the second part to avoid looking soft on the first. This is exactly what Bush wanted, which is why he frames the argument in that way (and why the argument didn't get rolled out until after Labor Day, just in time for election season to heat up). Gore, however, has put forward the complicated view that, perhaps, there may be another way to confront Saddam other than a war.

You see, it is possible to both oppose Saddam and also oppose war in Iraq. It takes a very clever, complicated to pull it off. It's not easy. It requires you to consider at least two options, side by side, think about the consequences of each, and pick which one seems superior. Gore is a very smart man, and he is able to accomplish this herculean intellectual feat. Sadly, most of the media can't.

Every argument Bush has for war can be used in supporting a superior, non-war option. You want to get rid of Saddam? War is the hard way to do it, and the costly way. There are others. But why get rid of him in the first place? If you think the White House really cares about the plight of the Iraqi people, then I'm sorry, you're simply not welcome here. Of course they don't. No, they want to get rid of him because his weapons program poses a serious threat to the United States. Now, I don't buy that, but let's just let them have that one. Ok, so, we've got to get rid of Saddam in order to prevent him from acquiring nuclear weapons. Right? Right.

Or....or, we could dismantle his weapons program (again). If he doesn't have nuclear weapons, then why should it concern us if he remains in power? He would be a paper tiger. Sure, his obnoxious photograph would still be plastered on huge posters all over Iraq, but he would be safely contained and have a very limited capacity to strike any of his enemies. Hmm, pretty much like he has been since the end of the Gulf War.

Call me unpatriotic, call me a traitor, but I do not want to see Americans killed in pursuit of a war we don't need, the objectives of which could be met by other, safer means. I'm glad Gore is on my side in this issue, and if I could change the focus from policy to politics, I think he has tapped into a large pool of anti-war support out there, and all but guaranteed himself the party's nomination, if he wants it.

The point is that there is more than one way of neutralizing the threat that Saddam poses. Some of those ways are better than others. Gore has found an option that he thinks is better than war, and I agree with him, and so does almost the entire rest of the world (with the possible exception of Tony Blair, who, for all his bravado, is still closer to the Colin Powell view than the Don Rumsfeld view). Bush, I daresay, has not considered any other option. How can I say that? you ask. Well, obviously, I can't know. But I say it because it has always been his policy to "get" Iraq. Since before Labor Day. Since before 9/11. Since before the 2000 election.

Monday, September 23, 2002

This Note's For You. One of my favorite political news resources on the web is The Note at ABCNews.com (follow the "Politics" link in the navi-bar). Imagine my delight when I discovered, not five minutes ago, that today's installment was unusally concerned with my home state of New Jersey. The topic under discussion is, naturally, the Senate race. Democratic Senator Bob Torricelli is facing a very difficult re-election campaign against no-name, self-funded Republican challenger Doug Forrester. In the normal run of things, this would be an easy win for the Torch. Forrester is way to the right of New Jersey voters, without a doubt. While New Jersey has been willing to vote for Republican governors, they rarely do for Senators (and the governors are usually way to the left of their national party). Plus, Bob Torricelli has a long and distinguished career in New Jersey politics, while Doug Forrester is, to say the least, not widely known.

But all of that reckons without David Chang, and the Torch's recent run-in with Senate ethics rules. Bush was in Trenton today, stumping for Forrester, while Daschle was in East Brunswick (a lovely town very near my undergraduate alma mater) with the Torch. To get a sense of what this election is all about, just check out these quotes. The Note describes New Jersey as "a state whose politics are more regularly devoid of ideas, and are more about winning, than anywhere else". Torricelli's campaign manager says "Bush, in reality, doesn't care if Doug Forrester gets elected or some other warm body... he just wants a Republican majority to vote for his plans to privatize Social Security and appoint anti-choice Justices to the Supreme Court." The second quote underscores the accuracy of the first, but it is also dead-on accurate itself.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I will be voting for Torricelli. I am far from fully conversant with the ins and outs of his ethics problems, but I know enough about Torricelli to know not to trust him. I think he's much closer to the right-wing caricature of Clinton than Clinton ever could be. But, in the Senate at the very least, that isn't what's important. I know how callous and cynical that sounds, and there's ample room for disagreement, but the practical functioning of the Senate demands this approach, in my view. A Democrat-controlled Senate will be an indispensable check on the power and policy aspirations of the White House. A Republican-controlled Senate will, at best, rubber-stamp the White House agenda, and could even push Bush rightward on certain issues. I cannot countenance that.

I take voting very seriously, and I don't like the idea of voting for a man I don't entirely believe in, but I will not sit idly by and risk giving the Republicans that much power. They've got the White House, and they've got the federal judiciary. I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit back and let them have the entire legislature as well. Torricelli's campaign manager is right, and despite the serious ethical concerns raised by the Torch, that is the single most important issue in this campaign.