Political MoJo

Official Reality

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 11:32 AM EST

Given the turn of events the past few days, I am reminded of what someone told me for a piece on Iran contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar I published earlier this year in the magazine:

...To many who saw the Iran-Contra scandal unfold, it all adds up to a familiar picture. Jonathan Winer worked for a Senate committee led by John Kerry that, in the mid-1980s, probed rumors of the secret arms deals and of the funneling of the profits to Nicaragua's right-wing Contra rebels. For years as the investigation continued, critics—led by then-congressman Dick Cheney—"called us conspiracy nuts," says Winer. The committee kept hearing tips about private individuals secretly carrying out the government's business, he recalls. "Officials tell you none of it is true, because there's no record that any of these things took place. It creates a situation where oversight is practically impossible because official reality is completely misleading, and unofficial reality—which is the truth—does not exist." In the end, the scandal was uncovered after control of Congress shifted to the Democrats and, simultaneously, more and more evidence was revealed in Iran-Contra-related lawsuits and media investigations.

"What has to happen is, you have to have the press and Congress and the courts all playing their constitutional role for the truth to come out," Winer says. "If any of those components don't function, you can wind up with serious problems."

Press working: Check. Congress playing a role? Now, presumably in the coming months, yes, check. What Winer told me that didn't make it into the piece is that the whole exercise was not about punishing people, as far as he was concerned, that wasn't what he wanted; what he cared about was getting the truth -- so that official reality is no longer so misleading.

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Lincoln Chafee: Leaving the GOP?

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 11:04 AM EST

Lincoln Chafee, the moderate Republican Senator from Rhode Island who was unseated by Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse in Tuesday's election, hinted at a news conference yesterday that he may exit the GOP. "I haven't made any decisions," he said. "I just haven't even thought about where my place is." But, according to the AP:

When pressed on whether his comments indicated he might leave the GOP, he replied: "That's fair."

Remaking Robert Gates

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 10:19 AM EST

The Bush administration's push for a Gates confirmation in the lame-duck Congress this year betrays a hint of unease over what might happen to the nominee for Secretary of Defense if he were to face a Democratic-controlled Congress.

While all of Washington is busily recasting this hard man of the Casey era into a cuddly, "pragmatic," experienced, and realistic diplomat, the past could still trip him up. Gates escaped indictment in Iran-Contra amidst indications he was lying to cover up his own role in the affair. The independent counsel who investigated the scandal, Lawrence Walsh, says in his own memoir he did not believe Gates' professed innocence. There is the suggestion of perjury in his testimony, which was replete with numerous lapses of memory and profuse apologies for not having more carefully considered the policy implications of this secret, unconstitutional war.

And while he escaped prosecution, the affair temporarily slowed the rise of Casey's protégé, slowed it enough to force withdrawal of his nomination to be head of the CIA in 1987. By 1991 the details of the scandal were all but forgotten, and Gates easily gained approval as Bush Senior's CIA director. However, during the confirmation hearings several CIA employees with lengthy tenures at the agency came forward to testify against Gates, describing at length how Casey's director of intelligence manipulated research so as to jibe with Reagan policy goals. "Gates knows how to develop his credentials and ingratiate himself," one colleague said of the nominee. He "ignored or scorned" views that didn't conform to his own preconceptions Melvin Goodman, a senior official with a lengthy tenure noted. Gates' role was "to corrupt the process and the ethics of intelligence."

Jennifer Lynn Glaudemans, a CIA employee testified, "I think he misrepresented what was in the record of finished intelligence…. Not only could we feel Mr. Gates's contempt, we could sense his party line….We were told, 'do not come to a conclusion, it may offend the 7th floor.'"

All this is doubtless buried in a history no one in Washington wants to dredge up. Anyway, Gates is enjoying a makeover, with such people as Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who served as head of the NSA and was deputy director of the CIA, comparing Gates to Clark Clifford, the well-regarded Washington lawyer who served as an intimate advisor to several presidents. A story in the Washington Post this morning pushes along the remake: "Bob Gates comes from the realist school of how to operate internationally," Dennis Ross, a Mideast envoy for Bush Senior, told the Post. "As such…it is pretty clear the neoconservative agenda on regime change and democracy promotion will take a back seat to stability and less pressure on regimes to open up their political systems."

This is the new refurbished Gates. Gone is the old Gates—the man who manipulated intelligence, plotted the overthrow of the Marxist-Leninist foothold country of Nicaragua, drew up plans for invading Libya, and twisted intelligence to show the Soviets were masterminds of international terrorism.

But one never knows in Washington what might happen amidst the shift in political alignments. If the new Democratic-controlled Congress were in session, someone might come forward at the Gates confirmation hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. In the new Congress that committee will be chaired not by John Warner, who had participated in Gates earlier confirmation to the CIA, but the Democrat, Carl Levin of Michigan. Could Bush depend on the liberal Levin, who has been in Congress since 1978 and is a vocal critic of the Iraq war, to get down for Gates? Maybe not. So best to get this over with quickly in the lame-duck session where the old dependable John Warner will see it through.

Gates, Rumsfeld, and Bush's "Truth Issues"

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 5:28 AM EST

Granted, in the annals of Bush lies, it's no standout -- but still, there's something weird about the way this one is just slipping by. Except for this fabulous Howard Kurtz/WashPost headline: "President's Evasion Raises Truth Issues." It does, doesn't it?

Six days before the election, Bush told three wire-service reporters in an interview that Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney were doing "fantastic" jobs.

"You see them staying with you until the end?" asked Terence Hunt of the Associated Press.

"I do," Bush replied.

"So you're expecting Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, to stay on the rest of your time here?" asked Steve Holland of Reuters.

"Yes, I am," the president said.

Arkansas is for Stoners

| Fri Nov. 10, 2006 12:02 AM EST

It wasn't only Democrats who made gains in Republican strongholds on election day: the diabolical drug known as marijuana also scored some unexpected victories. Regular readers are undoubtedly wondering about those five city-level initiatives to make pot the lowest priority for local police. Well, they all passed, even the ones in Montana and Arkansas. Sadder news for stoners in Nevada and Colorado, though, where statewide measures to decriminalize weed fell as short as a Haight Street dime bag.

RI Ex-Prisoners Freed to Vote

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 11:38 PM EST

By the narrowest of margins, Rhode Islanders approved an amendment to the state constitution giving back the right to vote to prisoners who have completed their sentences. Rhode Island doesn't have a massive share of the over two million convicts held in American lockups, but it's still a potentially significant move that will hopefully set an example for the many other states that strip the franchise from former felons. Such laws may well have tipped the 2000 election in Bush's favor, as MJ.com reported the day after the polls closed that year.

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18,000 Votes (and One Congresswoman) Lost

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 11:14 PM EST

Count on Florida to devise the electronic equivalent of a butterfly ballot. In Sarasota,

Democrat Christine Jennings lost to Republican Vern Buchanan by 368 votes, making it the second closest congressional race in the country. More than 18,000 voters who showed up at the polls voted in other races but not the Buchanan-Jennings race…. If the missing votes had broken for Jennings by the same percentage as the counted votes in Sarasota County, the Democrat would have won the race by about 600 votes instead of losing by 368.

Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent played dumb at a press conference Wednesday, hinting that voters at the polls chose not to vote:

"I do not know what to attribute it completely to. It's not a mechanical issue; it would be voters overlooking the race. We did not have any equipment failure…. I'm not a mind reader."

But Dent knew about the problem before the election. She told poll workers to warn voters that the congressional race was easy to miss on the touch-screens. Someone better remind this Kathy what happened to another one not too far away.

While Buchanan, the Republican, says he has the voters' mandate, both parties are mustering lawyers and money.

Just goes to show how little technology can compensate for human error, much less corruption.

—April Rabkin

The Last Words

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 9:20 PM EST

It's all too easy right now to make fun of Republicans, but I can't help but point out a blog post (the only blog post) from the National Republican Congressional Committee website Tuesday. Written in uncharacteristic bold face at 3:37 PM, as the routing was just getting underway, it says in its totality: "Happy Election Day!" Happy election day to you too! Anyway, as of today, that's still the last post. Couldn't they have taken a cue from the DCCC and instead written "Get Your Vote On"? Who knows, could have helped. The Republican National Committee and Senate Committee blogs have been equally silent since the election. The last post on the NRSC reads: "The NRSC is feeling very positive about recent election night developments." It goes on to trumpet returns in Virginia, Missouri and Tennessee before concluding: "I am sure we will have more good news to share as the evening progresses, so stay tuned!"

Will Moderate Republicans Defect?

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 7:53 PM EST

Over at Rolling Stone, Tim speculates:

I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one Republican defection in the Senate in the coming months. If you're Northeastern Republican this election ought to be writing on the wall. Especially in Pennsylvania, where four House seats dominoed to the Democrats, and Rick Santorum — the idological standard bearer for the Republican party — was rudely given his walking papers.
At the same time the Democratic party is clearly becoming a bigger ideological tent. If the devoutly pro-life Bob Casey is a Democrat why isn't the pro-choice Arlen Specter?
If Jim Webb is a Democrat. Why isn't Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins of Maine?
The Republican party is redefining itself as a regional party, and the region isn't the Northeast. Specter nearly lost his seat in 2004. If he'd been running as a Republican this year, he'd be preparing for a lobbying career right about now.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid, meanwhile has zero wiggle room and a fickle Bush smoocher in Joe Lieberman on whom the whole game depends.
Reid's a very pragmatic guy. He's got powerful committee chairmanships to offer. Again, it's just a feeling I've got. The Democrats' majority is going to grow between now and 2008.


In the Heartland, a Vote for Separation of Church and State

| Thu Nov. 9, 2006 7:26 PM EST

From the Associated Press:

BOISE, Idaho — City voters have rejected a proposal to return a Ten Commandments monument to a public park in a referendum on religious displays on public property.

With 99% of precincts counted, the vote was 37,568 to 33,747, about 53% to 47% against moving the monument back to city property.

Boise's debate began in March 2004 after Mayor Dave Bieter and the City Council agreed to move a 40-year-old granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments from Julia Davis Park to an Episcopal church across the street from the Statehouse.

Was the vote a bellwether for Midwestern social values? Maybe, maybe not. For what's it's worth, the AP notes that Boise had removed the statue to avoid a lawsuit brought by Rev. Fred Phelps of Kansas, who sought to erect an anti-gay monument in the same park. So maybe people were expressing sympathy for gays. Either way, Boise is busting out.