Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Geez, I leave town for a week and everyone goes nuts! What's up with that?

The big news, of course, was that Alberto Gonzales finally resigned -- with little or no explanation, though various administration officials applied various spins to the decision.

Not that it really matters. I don't care if he wants to "pursue other options" or "spend more time with his family" or simply "make more money in the private sector." I don't care if he was forced out or jumped or fell. All I can say is, "at last." It was too long in coming.

His resignation won't bring an end to the myriad Congressional inquiries into his actions and those of his subordinates. But it might take some of the bite and energy out of them.

His temporary replacement will be Solicitor General Paul Clement. A permanent replacement will be hard to find, for several reasons: Bush's diminished influence, the mess Gonzales leaves behind, and the fact that "permanent" means a little more than a year at the end of a dying presidency. It would essentially be a caretaker role, not a platform for grand initiatives.

If Bush is smart, he'll find someone of impeccable integrity who can spend the year cleaning up the department and restoring its morale and reputation -- an endeavor that, if successful, might erase the memory of Gonzales in time for the 2008 elections. But it could take quite a sales job to persuade the right person to take on that task.

Meanwhile, reporters discovered that Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in an airport bathroom here in Minnesota, and pleaded guilty to soliciting sex from an undercover cop.

(Tangentially, it must be just loads of fun to be an undercover vice cop, sitting in toilet stalls and waiting for someone to proposition you. I wonder if they get a lot of reading done.)

Craig, pressured by Republican leaders, said he would resign -- but is now reconsidering that decision.

Craig denies being gay or soliciting sex, saying he pleaded guilty in hopes of making an embarassing situation go away. And the evidence against him is circumstantial -- essentially, a series of actions that are traditionally used by gay men seeking sex. No direct request, no words spoken.

Still, the sequence of events is odd to say the least -- looking into the neighboring stall, placing his bag against the front of his own stall, tapping his foot, touching the undercover officer's foot and "swiping his hand under the stall divider."

Any one of those actions could be explained away -- though the last is somewhat difficult. But all of it in sequence makes little sense except as a come-on. He might claim police entrapment -- but the officer in question has a good reputation.

On the other hand, the transcript of his discussion with the officer shows sharp disagreement about what occurred. So there's room for doubt. Nothing Craig said in the transcript conflicts with his public claims. It comes down to who you believe -- and what weight you place on the unreliability of eyewitnesses, even trained eyewitnesses like undercover officers. Craig could well be telling the truth, and he might well have prevailed had he been willing to endure a public trial.

Still, for the sake of argument, let's assume Craig is guilty. What should be our reaction?

My basic take is that, in a perfect world, this should be a nonstory. Who cares about his sexual orientation or private sexual habits, as long as they're not illegal? But the hypocrisy -- of Republicans in general, and the strongly anti-gay Craig in particular -- is what drives these sort of things. Republicans have made an issue of homosexuality, and poking their nose in people's bedrooms; this is the flip side of that coming home to roost.

Which is why a Republican strategist, Michelle Laxalt, said the following about the Craig case on Larry King:

"I happened to have come into the Republican Party during the more civil libertarian era of Barry Goldwater, Bill Buckley, Paul Laxalt, Ronald Reagan. And in their philosophy, the view about judging people regarding their personal lives was a live and let live philosophy. And somehow during the ensuing years, there has been a faction who call themselves the Moral Majority. We all remember the bumper stickers many years ago floating around Washington, which read 'The Moral Majority is neither.' And here we find ourselves virtually every single time getting whacked because of what is perceived to be a hypocrisy factor. The Republican Party needs to have some very serious introspection and return to the values that started us out, and that is individual liberty and a live and let live policy when it comes to people's private lives."

Amen. The Dems figured that out years ago, which is why nobody cares if a Dem is gay. There's no hypocrisy. In cases like this, Republicans are merely reaping what they have sown in their embrace of the religious right and "family values" issues.

Congress returns from their summer recess, and that means more hearings on Iraq. Today we got a look at a GAO report on the Iraqi benchmarks, which notes that the Iraqi government has met only three of the 18 goals it set for itself, and partially met four others. And the ones that were met were the small, easy ones. (click here for the full report (pdf))

Wednesday and Thursday we'll get Congressional reports on the Iraqi security forces and the administration's own assessment of progress on benchmarks. And next week we'll get the big surge update from Gen. Petraeus. Both sides are already jockeying for position, with the White House downplaying the importance of political benchmarks and Congressional Democrats downplaying the importance of military benchmarks. It appears that many minds are already made up, and won't be changed by anything as mundane as facts on the ground.

This is a bit depressing, though I must admit that it's funny to see the White House criticizing the GAO report as "lacking nuance" when back in 2004 President Bush famously said he "doesn't do nuance." Oh what a difference three years of plummeting popularity makes.

Me, I accept the argument that the political benchmarks are more important than the military ones. But both are important, because progress (or backsliding) in one sphere can foreshadow progress (or backsliding) in the other. And it won't be as simple as "have they been met yet?" Indeed, that is only one of two important questions to be answered about the benchmarks.

1. Have they been met yet? This question is important both as an assessment of where we stand and as a way to judge the credibility of the claimants on both sides of the war, which should have some bearing on whom we believe going forward.

2. Has there been progress? And if so, how much? If the strategy can be shown to be working -- if there is reasonable reason to believe that it will deliver the necessary results -- then it deserves more time. But if the political benchmarks remain out of reach despite battlefield successes, or the battlefield is not successful enough to sustain the political achievements, then it's time to pull the plug.

Time to pull out my crystal ball.

Assuming the predictions are correct, what we'll get is a report that shows modest battlefield advances but political paralysis. So the debate will move on to two subordinate questions: what are the prospects for political progress, and are the battlefield gains both real and sustainable?

For that, we must await the reports.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good riddance to Gonzo, although enough damage has been done (par for the course with Bush appointees). Here's an idea for Bush. Why not hire someone not steeped in ideology, someone with an objective mindset and no agenda. Wow, what an idea. And he could do it now that his presidency is waning and he doesn't have to drive a political agenda.

On the subject of Craig, oh how the Republicans just keep providing us such entertainment. Hypocrisy is so amusing when it's so blatant.

- Caracarn

9/05/2007 8:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Gonzales.....not to worry. I'm sure the do-nothing Dems are looking for their next bogeyman victim to demonize as we write. Let's see....it was Tom Delay, Don Rumsfeld, Harriet Miers, John Aschcroft, John Roberts, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney.....the list is very long.

On Craig....if it was as you say a perfect world, it wouldn't have been a story. Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it, why the liberal media beats something like this to death. I found it rather hypocritical the other day when a CNN anchorwoman blamed it on the Republicans....taking no blame for her part and the part of her media outlet for helping to make absolutely sure there was no way Craig could serve. But that's the liberal way, so no surprise there.

BTW, welcome back. Long time, no see.


9/06/2007 12:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing I forgot. Is it better to NOT promote family values? Is it better to just simply set the standards low? Anything goes?

I see nothing wrong personally with promoting family values and striving to get back to the family values that our country has thrived on since it's beginning. Dems are afraid to promote or strive for any such thing....because they think in not doing so, it gives them a free pass to behave in anyway they please and NOT be called a hypocrite for it.

That's a sad way to live, IMHO, with no standards or no lofty goals to strive for. Whether all members of your party are able to meet them or not is another thing.


9/06/2007 12:13 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

One thing I forgot. Is it better to NOT promote family values? Is it better to just simply set the standards low? Anything goes?

No, the problem lies in the definition of "family values." First is the rather obnoxious vanity that your particular set of positions reflects "family values" -- implying that your opponent's doesn't. Second is when "family values" means involving the state in people's private lives. Points for hypocrisy when the party that does so also claims to be the party of "small government."

I don't care, for instance, if people think homosexuality is wrong. It's an opinion, just like my opinion that Englebert Humperdinck is a talentless hack.

I do care when those same people decide that their belief gives them the right to use the levers of power to discriminate against gays -- in the name of "family values."

I don't care if people only want their kid taught abstinence. I do care when those same people decide that that belief gives them the right to force *everyone* to only be taught abstinence -- in the name of "family values."

I don't care if people think Harry Potter promotes withcraft and don't want to read his books. I do care when those same people attempt to get Harry Potter books removed from school and public libraries -- in the name of "family values."

And so on.

9/06/2007 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, it sounds like what you really want to do is to re-define "family" and what that means.

You're not even on the same page as the leaders in your political party on that one.

Example: the Defense of Marriage Act: The bill was passed by Congress by a vote of 85-14 in the Senate and a vote of 342-67 in the House of Representatives, and was signed by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996.

Now----with that large of a vote FOR the "Defense of Marriage" which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, it certainly isn't just a belief of Republicans. Many, many Democrats were in those numbers as well!

Did you express your displeasure with your political party?


9/06/2007 5:32 PM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

So, it sounds like what you really want to do is to re-define "family" and what that means.

The problem is not me trying to "redefine" family; it's "family values" people defining family very narrowly in a way that fits their prejudices.

We might agree that the "ideal" family is a mom and a dad in a stable, legally binding marriage, all other things being equal.

But even in that artificial scenario, does that mean unmarried parents aren't a family? Does that mean single parents aren't a family? Does that mean gay couples with kids aren't a family?

Never mind that all things are never equal, and there are plenty of single parents, or gay parents, or unmarried parents who provide a better "family" than many married opposite-gender couples.

Me, I support successful parenting, whatever the gender, color or marital status of the parents.

You're not even on the same page as the leaders in your political party on that one.

Oh darn. Guess that means I can't think those thoughts.

Seriously, what sort of a comment is that?

Never mind that while I'm more sympathetic to the Democrats than any other party, I'm not one. As I've noted repeatedly, last election I voted for two statehouse Democrats, a Democratic Senator, A Republican Representative and an independent governor. Arguably that last vote helped keep Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in power. So talking about "my party" and how I'm supposed to march in lockstep with it simply makes no sense.

I thought DOMA was a bad idea, BTW.

9/06/2007 11:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But you said....as a society we decide. And that's the point; we HAVE decided. In this country, we have long supported the definition of marriage being the traditional one and we have long supported "family values." BOTH parties talk about family values and how important it is. That's not to say that we don't spend a lot of time and money also supporting single-parent families; we do. But we shouldn't stop promoting the desirable, the ideal.....which as a society, we've already decided on.


9/07/2007 11:14 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

There's a tangible difference between promoting the ideal and penalizing the less-than-ideal. There are also appropriate venues for such promotion.

9/07/2007 5:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, there is a difference. But what Dems have been saying regarding this Craig thing is this: since Republicans tout family values they are hypocrites here because one member didn't live up to those values. Dems say....be like us Republicans; we don't promote family values, therefore when one of our members messes up, at least we cannot be called hypocrites. We never expected more of our members. That's setting the standards kind of low, IMHO.


9/08/2007 10:47 AM  

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