Thursday, February 08, 2007

Another non-scandal

First there was the Starkist stock deal. Then there was "Obama in a madrassa."

Now the latest non-scandal dreamed up by Republicans is "Pelosi One."

At issue is what kind of aircraft the House speaker — second in line to the presidency — should use to get around the country. For years, speakers flew commercial like everybody else in Congress. But after the Sept. 11 attacks, it was deemed that anyone two heartbeats away from the presidency warranted a military jet.

Until now, the only speaker affected was Republican J. Dennis Hastert, who commuted to his Illinois district in small executive-style military jets.

But those aircraft require ideal weather conditions to make the cross-country trip without stopping to refuel.

The main aircraft that can make the trip nonstop is a modified Boeing 757 that is much larger than the plane Hastert flew in. Hence the attempts to paint Pelosi as "demanding" a plane fit for a king.

Putting aside the fact that Vice President Cheney gets around in a similar plane, let's agree that a 757 is a bit much for one person to have, even if that person is third in line for the presidency. Surely there are smaller planes that can fly cross-country without having to refuel.

Still, there's no "there" there. The negotiations didn't involve Pelosi or her office; they were conducted entirely by the House sergeant-at-arms. Pelosi merely said that she would like to be able to make the trip without refueling, and if there was no plane available with that capability she preferred to fly commercial instead.

Now, one can certainly speculate that she was free to say all that, knowing that only one plane was big enough for the job and that her security people wouldn't let her fly commercial. But there's simply no evidence to suggest that that's what happened.

Other Republican attempts to make hay out of this were simply stupid. They claim Pelosi wants the bigger plane so she can fly family and supporters around. This ignores the fact that Pelosi recently led the House in passing new ethics rule that forbid most such practices, and that in addition the military planes come with rather strict restrictions of their own, including severe limits on family travel -- which must then be reimbursed.

Pelosi did herself no favors by publicly speculating that the White House or the Pentagon were behind the brouhaha.

Pelosi said news reports suggesting that she seeks a lavish jet suggest a "misrepresentation that could only be coming from the administration. One would wonder why the practice deemed to be necessary from a security standpoint would be mischaracterized in the press. I know that it's not coming from the president, because he impressed upon me the amount of security I need to have."

Turns out she was right about the president. Today the White House dismissed the whole thing.

"This is a silly story and I think it's been unfair to the speaker," White House spokesman Tony Snow said.... (he) said the negotiations over Pelosi's transport have been conducted solely by the House sergeant-at-arms and the Pentagon, with no direct involvement by the speaker or her office -- or the White House.

When the White House comes to the defense of the Democratic Speaker of the House, you can be pretty sure there's nothing there.

As I noted in the "Obama madrassa" post, a disheartening pattern is starting to become clear. Unfounded rumors and alleged scandals emerge from conservative sources -- with the Washington Times and its online magazine, Insight, playing a prominent role. Those rumors and scandals are then picked up and flogged as fact by right-wing blogs, commentators, columnists and sometimes -- as in this case -- elected officials, notably Roy Blunt and Patrick McHenry.

And for what? Pathetic attempts to (falsely) smear ranking Democrats. Pelosi, in particular, seems to attract more than her share of wrath.

It's something I remember from the Clinton days, when the Richard Mellon Scaife-funded "Arkansas project" manufactured dirt on the Clintons. It mostly disappeared after Bush won the White House. With Democrats out of the majority everywhere, NewsMax and WorldNetDaily were marginalized and conservatives seemed content to simply toss names and insults at Democrats. It was Democrats who engaged in conspiracy theories and trumped-up spin -- though I don't remember it being to this degree of simply making stuff up.

Now that the Democrats are back in power, parts of the Republican world are reverting to very bad habits. I only hope that such crude smear tactics serve more to discredit those who use them -- on both sides of the aisle -- then to hurt their targets. We deserve better discourse than this.

Blunt, a member of the Republican leadership, should be especially ashamed of himself.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pelosi needs to "toughen up" and stop whining. This is all part of being the Majority Leader. You get examined with a fine tooth comb. So did Hastert, Gingrich and all the others. Does she expect because she's a woman she'll get treated with kid gloves??? Welcome to being Majority Leader!!


2/08/2007 10:25 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

Agreed that Pelosi needs to avoid random speculation; it just makes her look small. But I hope you're not trying to justify the smear job.

2/08/2007 10:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes---the Republican and liberal press "smear job."

Where did I just read something like that??????


2/11/2007 5:19 PM  

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