Tuesday, August 14, 2007

All The President's Men

Republican Politics, American Style
Published on August 9th in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

In last week’s column I attributed much of President Bush’s personal motivations for refusing to acknowledge his administration’s many mistakes to what I believe is the disease of “untreated” alcoholism. The rest of it is linked to the political philosophy of Karl Rove such that political leaders should never show any sign of weakness lest their opponents seize upon this and go on the offensive.
But it isn’t Rove’s fault that his political philosophy meshes well with the mental state of an untreated or active alcoholic. In fact I must confess a grudging admiration for Karl Rove’s skills as a political election (or re-election) strategist and his ability to define the issues for the target audience he is seeking the support of. Karl is a very savvy political operator, not some evil genius manipulating government officials behind the scenes as some would have you believe.
Democrats who are after Rove’s scalp for misdeeds and wrong doing in the Bush administration are doing so in the misguided belief that he bears responsibility for them. He doesn’t! Rove was and is simply doing the job he is paid to do. He defines the issues for his boss in ways that he feels will gain the support of that portion of the electorate or Congress he believes should be targeted with the Bush administration’s message. He does his job behind the scenes and over time he has proven himself to be quite good at doing this.
In a similar vein, the President’s Press Secretary, Tony Snow is the public political spokesperson Bush pays to spin the message to the press and US citizens in ways that make his boss look good and Bush’s opponents look bad. Sometimes I get irked at what Tony Snow says when he is defending the President’s actions or those of his subordinates like Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But that is only because I occasionally forget that Snow’s job is “snow” jobs!
While I truly believe President Bush is a sick man who is suffering from the disease of untreated (or possibly active) alcoholism, that is still no excuse for his behaviour and many of the outrageous decisions and claims that he has made since he took office. He is just as responsible for his actions and those of the men and women he chose to for positions of authority in the US federal government, as my father was for his abusive treatment of members of my family both while he was drinking and while he was “dry”. But the difference between the actions of these flawed individuals is that President Bush’s decisions have often resulted in the loss of lives and vast amounts of pain and suffering for Americans and foreign citizens.
I was concerned from the outset with Bush’s choice of Dick Cheney as his Vice Presidential running mate in 2000, because I did not see Cheney as someone who could help Bush win votes outside the Republican Party’s electoral base in the southern and western United States. I wished he had chosen John McCain because McCain appealed to Independent voters throughout the country because of his conservative but non-partisan record as a Senator who was also wary of the power and influence of business special interests and their lobbyists. I thought McCain or a respected Senator from the Midwest like Senator Richard Lugar, or from the Northeast like Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, would have appealed to more voters and resulted in the Republican Party’s ticket carrying more states.
I thought Cheney had a very narrow appeal to only the most conservative or pro-business Republican voters and wouldn’t help the Republican ticket win a plurality in the 2000 election and as it turned out, I was correct. Bush lost the US national popular vote by more than a million votes and only won election because of the 3rd party candidacy of environmental activist Ralph Nader. Nader drew enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore, to thus allow Bush to win a majority of US Electoral College vote by narrowly winning a majority of votes in swing states like Florida. Bush also benefited by having a Republican Secretary of State in Florida who certified the disputed vote counts in heavily Democratic voting precincts in that state.
I was appalled however, when Bush then announced that he was also going to give Vice President Cheney unprecedented powers as a Vice President, by putting him in charge of America’s military and civilian defence, intelligence and security agencies. The subsequent appointments of Cheney favourites Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz et al were both a testament to the power of the new VP and a prelude to the armed military interventions the new Republican Presidential administration would soon be undertaking. I sensed immediately that the realist foreign policy influence of Colin Powell as Secretary of State would be no match for this powerful gang of neo-conservative ideologues and unfortunately, as it now turns out, I was right again.
Dick Cheney was and still is the most powerful and dangerous Vic President the United States has ever known. I shudder to think what additional harm he may yet cause our nation or others around the world during the time he still has left in office. Fortunately for all of us, most of his neo-conservative allies have been driven out of government and their replacements like Defence Secretary Gates appear to have enough influence to prevent any further damage. But Cheney is still a force to be reckoned with and would like nothing better than to see the US take military action against Iran and destroy its nuclear weapons program before he and Bush leave office.
Cheney has taken his well known penchant for secrecy, unaccountability and vindictiveness to new heights during his time in office. Voters in the US and the rest of the world should heed the lessons we’re learning from him and carefully assess future political candidates’ choices for running mates accordingly. Be afraid of politicians like Cheney. Be very afraid.

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