"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I Used to Think That David Broder Was Kinda Smart 

...but I don't think that anymore. In this column from yesterday's Washington Post, he attempts to draw a clumsy parallel between the Great Communicator and the Empty Flight Suit:
Anyone who thinks it possible to predict the course of President Bush's second term needs to think again. History says you never know what may happen next.

The last two-term Republican president was Ronald Reagan, and I well remember my astonishment when the start of his second term was marked by massive and successful protests in Washington against the administration's tolerance of apartheid in South Africa.

Broder goes on to recount how, despite Reagan's "general indifference to racial issues in this country - let alone South Africa," the movement to free that nation from the ugly yoke of apartheid succeeded in spite of him. Note that this happy result came to pass without the slightest assistance from Bonzo's Brylcreemed babysitter.

I understand Broder's point to be that the events of history may have greater heft and momentum than can be turned even by a popular President's power. Point taken, as far as it goes. But Broder pushes that point much too far when he turns to current events:
Equally unexpected to anyone covering Washington today is the spectacle of Republican conservatives on Capitol Hill standing up to President Bush on the plan for overhauling the intelligence services.

What began as a rare disagreement inside the normally disciplined House Republican conference has grown into the first full-scale test of the credibility of the second-term administration.

On the Sunday talk shows, those supporting the Senate version of intelligence reform repeatedly invoked the names of President Bush and Vice President Cheney in an effort to cow the critics. One set of opponents claims that the plan would jeopardize the lives of troops in combat by denying their commanders direct control of battlefield intelligence. A second group says it is weak in its safeguards against would-be terrorists crossing the border into the United States.

Senators of both parties said it is unthinkable that the president and vice president could be so misguided as to put the lives of soldiers and the safety of the nation in jeopardy. But instead of withering, Chairmen Duncan Hunter of the House Armed Services Committee and James Sensenbrenner of the Judiciary Committee reiterated their objections, brushing aside the notion that whatever George Bush wants, George Bush should get.

Even if -- as some suggest -- Bush was initially lukewarm to the intelligence reorganization endorsed by the Sept. 11 commission, he has been put squarely in the middle of this fight. And the stakes have grown. On one hand, it has become a test of whether Bush will override the objections of the Pentagon or allow the White House to be thwarted by the uniformed and civilian bureaucracy of that other building.

On the other hand, it has become an early -- and unwanted -- test of basic legislative strategy. The plan the president has endorsed and the Senate almost unanimously favors can be passed in the House by combining most Democrats' votes with those of some Republicans. But House Speaker Dennis Hastert does not want to split his own caucus, even to give Bush a victory, so the pressure is on the president to find some way to accommodate Hunter and Sensenbrenner and their allies.

This is plainly bunk. If Chimpy gave two squirts about intelligence reform, it would happen. After all, as he was quick to remind the fawning White House press corps, he now has "political capital," and he's not afraid to use it.

In point of fact, I defy anyone to point to a single shred of evidence that the Naked Emperor has spent a single penny of his closely guarded treasure on passage of the intelligence reform bill. Broder wanly notes that "some suggest" the Boy King "was initially lukewarm to the intelligence reorganization endorsed by the Sept. 11 commission." Ya think? In this context, "initially lukewarm" appears to be code for "almost openly hostile." Hell, Bush opposed the very notion of the 9/11 Commission itself! He has never mounted the bully pulpit in pursuit of intelligence reform, and there is no reason to think that he has exerted any influence behind the scenes to that end. As far as whether Shrub might "override the objections of the Pentagon" - excuse me, but he has not been shy about soliciting cabinet secretaries' resignations these last couple of weeks; Rumsfeld, however, does not appear to be sweating. You do the math.

Reagan's approach to South Africa and Bush's approach to intelligence reform share just one point of congruity - in both cases, the President was uninterested in shaking up the status quo. Reagan was unable to turn the tide of history, however, and South Africa is free today. Bush, on the other hand, could easily make intelligence reform happen if he wanted to. It's just that he doesn't want to.

However much the Post pays Broder, it should demand a refund for this bit of hackwork.




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