Couch Potatoes

New York Magazine published a fascinating piece that meanders through various theories of Bush. John Heilemann does more, however, than create a vague air of psychobabble before allowing writers and scholars to server up a few scathing bon mots.

What is most disturbing about the article is its reflection of my own, and to quite a large extent, the electorate’s own stream of consciousness. How has a man who has been in the spotlight for so long – his entire life in some respects – remain so shrouded to us, especially a man purported to be so simple, even by admission? Some of the sixteen thoughts that follow are perhaps bit pithy, but others are nothing but excellent illustrations of how none among us knows who this is who is steering our country, or how the nation came to be at this sad juncture.


Worst President Ever

Poor Georgie is really getting it from all sides, now that his poll numbers continue to slump. The latest negative pronouncement doesn't come from the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy, but from Princeton's own Sean Wilentz. Is it premature for a historian to be weighing in on the current Commander in Chief? Dunno. But, please, please note that Grover Cleveland is nowhere to be found in this sad group of historical figures. Take that, Warren G. Harding!

Look for more posts on GC&F this summer. . .


Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from your friends at GC&F. Along with a Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Non-Denominational spirit, this season also ushers in exams for many of us. So, GC&F will continue its lazy, non-posting schedule through much of the shopping . . .err. . . Christian-inspired celebration. I do have an unprecedented 3 week vacation coming my way soon, though, and hope to jot down a few thoughts then. Until then, happy shopping!


Operation Virginia Freedom

Why does Virginia insist on holding the governor’s race on off-year elections? Not only does it make the election boil down to which candidate makes the public more aware that they even should vote, but it also makes everyone in VA feel like there’s no civic participation. Haven't we been bending over backwards to give other countries' citizens the right to vote? Then we look like idiots when nobody bothers to show up at home.

But why should there be high turnout on these odd elections? There’s a competitive governor’s race this year, but the other local elections almost all follow Virginia’s notorious history of being astoundingly anticompetitive. I voted for several candidates simply because they ran unopposed. We need to sync the governor’s race back up with the presidential race, if not at least with some sort of off-year national contest, like 2006. It's almost as if the state offices don't want to be noticed at the polls.

On the plus side, it turns out that I didn’t need to get up too early to vote. I arrived at the polls at about the same time that I did in 2004 (6:15-ish), and there were the same number of voting machines (6). But the wait was slightly shorter this year:

Time waiting in line to vote, 2004: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Time waiting in line to vote, 2005: 45 seconds

Don’t forget to vote. And please, don’t vote for Jerry Kilgore. He’s dumb.


Strategic Withdrawl

The pundits predicted this one. Miers withdrew her nomination this morning, with Bush stating that the principle of executive privilege was the problem. Well, that and the fact that there isn't much of a record of Harriet Miers ever doing anything relevant, outside of those privileged White House documents. I'm guessing that the next nominee will be thoroughly vetted, and really, really not cool with abortion.


What a Difference a Poll Makes

I’ve been fascinated and embarrassingly sidetracked by the media’s recent change in tone. I think the slide for the administration’s public image began when Kanye West’s unscripted exclamation during an NBC fundraiser that “George Bush doesn't care about black people! Next came the string of angry editorials and opinions from conservatives over Bush’s nomination of Miers, while most Democrats preferred to note, without any hint of embarrassment, that they had no opinion on her because they hadn’t thought to research her as a likely pick. Add in a sprinkling of reports over alleged Republican ethical questions, and you have a press that smells a story.

The truth is that the press always writes its stories in the context of polls, and as much as politicians try to dismiss them, they tend to collectively reflect the public’s mood. The dam gave way on Wednesday night, when NBC Nightly News (with Tom Brokaw’s imitator) led the newscast with a story covering the flagging Miers nomination, followed by Tim Russert summarizing a dismal poll for the administration. While all of the major indicators were down, the most striking feature was when Russert explained that “only 2 percent -- 2 percent! -- of African-Americans approve of George Bush's handling of the presidency -- the lowest we have ever seen in that particular measure.” Wow. Even given some serious misgivings about the accuracy of that particular number, it’s been well known the Bush has never enjoyed strong support with African Americans, but with all of the administration's poll numbers lower, the little problems are starting to add up, at least on TV.

I think that the release of this recent NBC News/WSJ poll was the crest of coverage. It's been followed by a wave of negative stories in all mediums. Criticism of President Bush has been growing louder from many corners of the blogsophere, but now the general public is getting a bigger dose. Friday, stories in the papers and on television openly reported on the White House’s tight scripting of Bush’s teleconference with members of the U.S. military in Iraq. Try crying bias when the Associated Press mocks the event as a "conversation," noting that all participants were coached. As much as politicians claim that they don't attention to polls, they play a vital role in framing reporters' perception of the day's political events, as we discover every election year. Dan Froomkin also pointed to second reason why mainstream coverage became more critical - evidence of the administration's lack of candor that could be shown on television. Take it away, Dan:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan repeatedly insisted that the troops participating in a videoconference from Iraq with President Bush yesterday morning hadn't been coached. But the satellite feed of painstaking rehearsals led by a senior Pentagon official said otherwise. And as a result, television journalists for once had a field day exposing the sleight of hand to which they are more often accessories.

The event, along with the strugglin Miers nomination, lead to an astoundingly contentious press briefing at the White House, with Scott McClellan snapping at John Roberts (of CBS), and the press in general. Between a clear indication of dissatisfaction from the American public, and a new attitude of scrutiny from American media, look for the news to get more and more entertaining, though not at all more encouraging.


The Lazy Man's Post

I apologize for falling asleep at the (virtual) wheel. Law school has taken a bite out of my posting regimen. So let me just point loyal readers to two interesting tidbits that I found today.

First, Jacob Weisberg has a biting, insightful view on the state of politics today, in which he notes that this democracy's need for discussion and reform has been completely overtaken by a circle of celebrity and vanity.

Speaking of politics and vanity, there was also an interesting appearance by President Bush on NBC's Today Show. Much to my surprise, Matt Lauer asked the president, who was amusingly equipped with a toolbelt for workin' on a new home in New Orleans, real questions. The president got a little annoyed at this development. Where's Katie Couric when you need her?


Let the (Bush) Circle Be Unbroken?

Rather than review the intricacies of subject matter jurisdiction, I’ve been thinking about Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers. As noted in today’s Washington Post, this is a president famous for cultivating, and then tapping, his personal network for purposes of governance. It’s pretty much undisputed that Bush is the reigning poster child for either loyalty (if you like Bush) or nepotism (if you don’t). For the purposes of semi-neutrality, let’s just refer to it as networking.

But what of networking? Is it compatible with the ideals of representative government? Does anybody else feel like the entire country is now run by Texans? In Bush’s defense, I came up with several advantages to the networking for cabinet level posts. Any subsequent thought, however, revealed that these networking advantages did not expand to a Supreme Court nominee, and were instead wrong, bad, and possibly smelly.

Search Costs

Networking does afford savings in search costs. If you already know somebody who is qualified, and have worked with them personally, then why go through the process of an arduous, expensive search? In this case, though, nobody seems to think that Miers has the qualifications of an impressive nominee (save Bush himself). In addition, there already was an expensive search process (headed by Miers herself) anyhow. Bush had years to come up with his short list, and and his adminitration surely spent amazing amount of time coming up with names. So Bush gets no savings here.


Working personally with somebody builds trust. The problem is, though, the fact that Bush trusts his nominee does not mean that Americans, whom the justice ostensibly serves, trust him/her. Unlike other nominees, such as those to cabinet level posts, Bush needs to prove that a justice can be trusted to adjudicate disputes fundamental to our freedoms and rights. Cabinet posts, even most Senators agree, require less of a pedigree not only because they aren’t appointed for life, but also because their primary function under Bush has been reduced to appearing on the Sunday talk shows. Here, Miers having the president's trust is the bare minimum of a standard. Ideally, she should have the trust of the legal community, if not our representatives and/or people. Here, Bush's trust doesn't convey anything meaningful as far whether Miers will be an effective and/or fair justice.

Quid Pro Quo

With many cabinet level posts, choosing team players makes perfect sense. Members of the cabinet are intended to work under Bush, advocating his agenda and adding their own views (in theory). Choosing a nominee who will loyally serve your agenda is efficient for the administration, cutting down on infighting, leaks, and uncertainty. In return for a plum post and access to power, officials in the Bush administration have been happy to comply with these demands. Of course, all of this comes at the cost of Bush’s famous insulation “bubble,” but at least there is an efficiency argument. But with a Supreme Court nominee, quid pro quo is unseemly – it expressly undermines the fundamental premise of the separation of powers. All Americans should find any implication of quid pro quo, and any attempt by the president to unduly influence or tarnish the court in order to get his way should be roundly rejected. The Supreme Court has acted as one of the few checks on executive power in the last few years. Yet despite the executive branch’s almost unfettered power, Americans don’t seem to be any safer, happier, or more prosperous.

So much for the networking efficiency theory. This is one area of government where not only do network effects lack punch, they can be downright offensive. The judicial branch has always been intended to be the least democratic branch of government, and I have never subscribed to the theory that judges should always reflect the attitudes of the public. By the same token, though, judges should not simply reflect the personal views of Bush and his inner circle. I'm sure that she's a very nice person, and has been a great personal attorney to Bush, but Miers is a dud of a nominee.


Miers with an “i." Whee. . .

Among the many developments today was that Bush named Harriet Miers as his second nominee to the Supreme Court. It's too bad, though, that while his nominee has provoked controversy, the nomination process will be a snooze.

I don’t see how there was a way around controversy on this one. Every politician in America has been itching for a fight, so it was just a matter of why he/she should be outraged. This time, it’s Bush’s faithful base that seems to be upset with the pick. They may very well have good cause. Miers’s primary qualification seems to be that she’s a Bush loyalist. While historians and scholars have rightly pointed out that plenty of other qualified Supreme Court Justices were confirmed without an previous experience on the bench, it still seems clear that, especially when compared to John Roberts, Miers is not heavyweight. Whether or not people are angry, Miers will sail through, and the hearings will be boring.

Bluntly, I can’t find anybody, other than President Bush himself, who has declared that Miers is the most qualified candidate for the job. Perhaps technical qualifications shouldn’t be our only measurement – surely the feasibility of confirmation plays a role, too. John Roberts got high marks on both fronts. Miers’s record seems slim enough (and probably well vetted, too), that there won’t be much fodder for liberal attacks. But people of all persuasions have a right to be disappointed. Bush proved to his “moral values” voters that principles of personal loyalty trump campaign promises and/or religious principles (liberals should be thankful for that). Liberals are disappointed that they got all worked up for a cultural fight just to find that they’re back to trying to play rope-a-dope with an unknown nominee.

Overall, this nomination just doesn’t feel historic. Yep, she’s a woman. But Miers’s professional career, while successful, has almost always involved representing private clients. What are her views? How has her legal thought developed? Who will she represent when on the bench? Americans at large? Traditional values? President Bush’s views? Nobody knows, but I’m guessing that it’s number three. Miers will be confirmed, and intellectuals will have to go back to the morbid business of waiting for another legal mind to kick the bucket, hoping that the next nominee will have some bite.


Ladner, Part II

There are a couple of additional developments on the Ladner front. Most interestingly, there’s a Washington Post article today that reveals a specific instance in 2004 where Ladner was once again asking for more money. This memo directly contradicts his assertion that he has never asked for more compensation. According to the article, as recently as last Friday, Ladner informed the Washington Post editors that “he had never asked for additional compensation and that he was always ‘surprised’ at how much he was paid.” Wow, that’s a textbook Kozlowski defense (I wonder if Ladner realizes that it didn’t work). The best part is that in light of the memo asking for $5 million in additional compensation, Ladner still maintains that he has never asked for more money. Again, according to today’s Post: “[Ladner] said he was not asking for extra compensation in the memo but was responding to a request from the chairman of the board of trustees, then George J. Collins, for ideas about his compensation.” Uh huh.

There was also a student rally on the main campus, where about 500 students showed up to gently advise the Board of Trustees as to exactly what they should do with Ladner. In additional, the Student Bar Association at American also passed a “no-confidence” vote in Ladner on Tuesday night by a margin of 17-0. The SBA President, David Jaffe, also released this statement:

Yesterday I and other University student leaders met for nearly three hours with 15 members of American University’s Board of Trustees. I openly questioned various facets of their investigation, as well as expressed the Student Bar Association’s deep concern over the future of Dr. Ladner’s affiliation with this institution. The Board was incredibly generous with their time. To their credit, all of the Trustees present were candid and forthright about the status of the investigation, their positions on the matter, and even how the University arrived at this unfortunate position as they each accepted full responsibility for failing to fulfill their fiduciary responsibility of oversight. In presenting the Washington College of Law’s resolution, I insisted that the Student Bar Association expressed its unanimous vote of “no confidence” not based on the legal ramifications of Dr. Ladner’s actions, but instead on the manner in which his actions undermine the core values and mission of an educational institution that prides itself on public service.

If these aren’t enough nails in the coffin, I don’t know what would qualify. Hopefully, the Board realizes just how untenable the situation is for students.


Ladner the Jerk

I was relieved to read on the front page of the Washington Post this morning that the faculty at five of the six colleges of American University passed votes of no confidence in suspended president Benjamin Ladner. For the record, the other college, the School of Public Affairs, did not have a quorum and was not able to vote. My quasi-secret faculty source tells me that the Washington College of Law vote was unanimous.

If you haven’t heard about this yet, let me point you to the rich and ironic stories that have emerged lately about President Ladner. Ladner has been President of AU since 1997, and since then his salary has risen from a “modest” $260,000 to about $800,000 last year in take-home pay. This unexplained rise to become the nation’s second highest paid university president is even more mystifying in light of his lavish, unaccountable spending habits. While Ladner was leading a private institution that charges the maximum tuition the market will bear (while offering a paltry number of scholarships and grants), and yet urges its students to make sacrifices by entering public service, President Lader felt no such need to sacrifice. A recent report details more than $500,000 in sketchy spending for such items as trips to Paris for his personal chef, and more than $1,000 in limousine trips for Ladner’s wife. As columnist Marc Fisher notes, that's pretty much the definition of irony. Why take low-paying public interest positions upon graduation when you have the feeling that the onerous debt of your education went towards financing the dinner parties of the least deserving?

Just in case he wasn’t acting smarmy enough, Ladner also took the initiative to renegotiate a secret contract with some of the members of the AU Board of Trustees that gave him a higher salary and additional perks. Forget about transparency, not even members of AU’s own Board of Trustees knew the extent of Ladner’s lavishness. Now, as Ladner has the nerve to defend his spending (not, of course, directly in front of the students whom he supposedly serves, who spend their days living in cramped dorms eating Raumen Noodles), Ladner has the nerve to whine that "I'm sorry [the faculty vote calling me a jackass] was done without having access to complete information.”

My only comfort is that according to my semi-secret faculty source, WCL was incorporated into AU in the 1930’s, and maintains a great amount of independence from the main campus, both academically and financially. Still, these assurances don’t give me much comfort when I wonder if my massive tuition bill was going to something worthy like the domestic violence clinic, or to Ben Ladner’s private top-shelf bar. This scandal affects everybody who is working towards or already has an AU degree. WCL is a good school, but the last thing it needs is an albatross like Ladner to pull it back down from an elite institution to just another tuition mill of mediocrity. The Board of Trustees would be wise to listen to the faculty on this one. If the student body here had any kind of voice in the matter, I’m sure that it would agree.


America, the World’s Nicest Chimichanga

Much of the fan mail that Grover gets these days reveals the public’s real lack of understanding of American politics. While the two most popular types of emails that Grover gets through his telegrammaphonic message center are along the lines of “didn’t you die in 1908?” and “would you please stop calling me and then hanging up?” there are also inquiries into why this blog is so ridiculous. Angry emails pour in almost daily, berating poor Grover for his absurd takes on serious subjects like the occupation of Iraq, the viability of the Bush Doctrine, and the recent disaster in the Gulf Coast. Sure, a lot of this angry email is probably coming from our rival site, “Rutherford B. Hayes and Coworkers,” but some of it seems genuine. It's either that, or the blog-reading public has once again confused Grover Cleveland with Roger Ebert. It happens.

But this blog isn’t any different than politics in general – it’s just a little more upfront about the fact that all politics are pretty absurd. People who spend too much time discussing policy and politics need to step back every once in a while and realize how dumb most of it is. As far as I can tell, it’s a collection of buzzwords propping up two opposing arguments, neither of which is tenured to any principle other than opposing its rival. So I say embrace the idiocy, and cast your memory back to some of the recent dumb and absurd moments of the American presidency.

“I am not a crook” – Richard Nixon, Nov. 17, 1973 (Yes you are, you jackass.)

“We can find meaning and reward by serving some purpose higher than ourselves—a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light.” –George Bush, January 29, 1991

"[W]hen I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale." –Bill Clinton, March 30, 1992

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman – Ms. Lewinsky” –Bill Clinton, January 26, 1998

"This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table." -George W. Bush, February 22, 2005

"Well, we've made the decision to defeat the terrorists abroad so we don't have to face them here at home. And when you engage the terrorists abroad, it causes activity and action." –George W, Bush., April 28, 2005

So just remember that you can respond with equal force to any political campaign by launching into a soliloquy of the virtues of early nineteenth century utilitarianism and its lasting effects on American federalism, or by opening a can of Goya beans and throwing the contents at passing motorists while demanding an up-or-down vote. Either way, your response will be just as valid as that of our ruling class. So you may as well do it Grover's way.


The Other Front Page

The amazing (but repetitive) footage that ran all day on cable news stations hypnotized me last week. But once I stepped back a minute from the pictures, I realized that the cable guys were all flash, and no substance. So if you’re like me (“Hey what’s on CNN? Ohhhh . . . Fuzzy . . .”), you may have missed some important stories that are playing out behind the images. Katrina is a disaster in so many ways. In the background, though, other stories - the kind that would be front page material at any other time - are floating out there too. Check ‘em out – no pontification needed:

1) FEMA is asking reporters not to show images of the dead
2) Utah Firefighters brought to Louisiana are frustrated that they’re used as props
3) Scott McClellan gets grilled

1) Paul Volcker reports on corruption in the U.N.’s Oil For Food Program
2) Iraq's President says that Saddam has confessed to war crimes
3) Saddam's lawyer denies the confession exists
4) A Car bomb kills 16 is Basra
5) U.S. forces liberate an American hostage held for 10 months
6) Zarqawi's forces seize a small town and declare an Islamic republic
7) Guantanamo detainees may have some legal rights

Supreme Court
1) Rehnquist is laid to rest
2) Roberts papers are still in dispute
3) There's another nominee out there somewhere

Katie and Katrina, in a Nutshell

The fact that, due to an unfortunate cable situation, I have been forced to follow Katie Couric's coverage of Katrina's aftermath makes this all the more poignant: http://www.illwillpress.com/kat.html.


Right Said Fred

I’m still playing catch-up with the politics of the last two weeks. Of the many neglected commentaries of the last two weeks, Fred Kaplan’s criticism of Bush’s VJ day speech stands out as especially cutting.

If this war's stakes are comparable to World War II's, the entire nation should be enlisted in its cause—not necessarily to fight in it, but at least to pay for it. And if President Bush is not willing to call for some sort of national sacrifice, he cannot expect anyone to believe the stakes are really high.

I’ve been riding the “sacrifice” hobby horse for months, but I’ve yet to see anyone frame the argument as well as Kaplan. For better or for worse, I doubt that Bush has thought much about the Global War on Terror/GWOT/Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism/GSAVE this week. Nonetheless, the criticism still holds. Our government can’t seem to perform its essential functions: national defense or promoting the general welfare. It’s enough to get any red-blooded Republican to stop howling for a repeal of the “death tax.” True conservatives have never wanted to starve the Federal Government of its essential powers. So you have to wonder what happened to our might Fed. Is it starved for funds? Are they being spent incorrectly? Or does incompetence abound in the new Federal world of executive nepotism? Take your pick.


Hail to the Chief's Chief?

I have to say that I was surprised by this morning’s announcement that Bush is nominating John Roberts to be the Chief Justice of the United States.

Why not nominate Antonin Scalia to the post? Let’s look at this from a practical perspective for a moment. Nominating Scalia would set a lower bar (sorry, no pun intended) for Roberts to be confirmed. All of the news prior to Rehnquist's death indicated that the hearings were probably not going to be all that contentious. Also, Scalia’s credentials are bulletproof, so that even the most liberal of opponents wouldn’t have grounds for opposition (yeah, sorry, that duck hunting story doesn’t have legs). Plus, Scalia is a known quantity, and that quantity is conservative.

While it’s morbid to think about, you can be sure that the Bush administration had already thought through the possibilities for a new Chief Justice. So why choose Roberts? Do Bush and Cheney know something that Joe Public doesn’t (umm, let’s restrict our comments here to the Supreme Court, not WMD assertions)? While you’re pondering that, you may also well ponder when you’ll hear that other shoe drop – the next nomination. My guess is that it will be less than two weeks from yesterday, and that guess is based on absolutely no facts whatsoever. That's why this is a blog.


Grover Goes to Michigan

Did you know?

Former president Grover Cleveland came to Ann Arbor when he was considering a new bid for the country's highest office. He was met with such enthusiasm that he decided to try for a second term.

As any good Michaganian would say......

GO BLUE!!!.....and Grover!!!


What’s Up With GC&F?

Admit it. You’re addicted. You’ve visited the site a couple of times these past two weeks, but there hasn’t been a peep from your favorite presidential chubster. So what’s up with that? Is Grover gone for good?

Actually, I’ve started law school, and have been tied up with that whole transition, plus the general work that comes with the classes. Plus, I've been hosting visits over the past few days from the family, from da girlfriend, and from fellow blogger Chevron. But never you fear, I’ll make every effort to keep GC&F alive. I’m guessing that my posts for this coming year will be significantly reduced, with the exception of maybe December, when I’ve got some time off. Hopefully, I’ll convince some of the other bloggers out there to toss in a few random posts from time to time. Actually, I was going to post something random and silly tonight, but with the amazing string of bad news these past few days, I wasn’t quite up to it. I will try to make an effort to get some posts up in the near future, though.

So now you know – Grover might be hibernating for a little bit, but he’s here for good. See you around the blogosphere!


A Sacrificial Jam

With President Bush hunkered down in Crawford, Congress still on break, and the sudden onset of silence among the Plame-related leakers, journalists (and bloggers like me) are mostly left to navel-gaze this August. But just when we were beginning to get some really cool meditation vibes going, joins (begins?) the fray with a well-timed and well-executed P.R. campaign against Bush. That’s all well and good for her, and she may even have a legitimate point (although I don’t think that withdrawing from Iraq immediately is the solution to our current problems, or past injustices). Unfortunately for most, though, Sheehan’s protests arrive amid the backdrop of today’s failure to ratify an Iraqi constitution – the latest in a string of signs that Iraqis aren’t ready to make it on their own, and that our troops will be sticking around. After a short bit of thinking, though, I realized that there isn’t too much to contemplate on Iraq. Sure, we can (and should) dig into how we got to where we are today. But as far as how to deal with Iraq, almost every politician is in agreement: it’s a crappy situation, American troops need to stay in Iraq insignificant numbers to keep the country from becoming crappier, and Iraq shows no encouraging signs of becoming less crappy anytime soon.

So while Sheehan has a compelling story, really only one of her demands could legitimately be met. She could meet with President Bush, if he permitted, to vent her feelings (her wish to pull troops immediately out of Iraq won’t happen). So why doesn’t Bush meet with Sheehan? Placating her would take the wind out of her sails, and frankly make it a much less interesting story. I suppose that the Bush Administration is concerned that it might send a signal that it can be influenced by the protesting public (“if we give in now, then the voters have won!”). I’m more of the opinion, though, that Bush is just too plain lazy to change his recreational habits to be bothered meeting with a nobody like Sheehan. After all, Bush has no public appearances this week, and all reports indicate that he will be dedicating significant amounts of time to riding his bike and clearing brush. Is there time to meet with an angry war mother? Nope. "I think it's important for me to be thoughtful and sensitive to those who have got something to say," says President Bush. "But I think it's also important for me to go on with my life, to keep a balanced life."

There you go. There’s his problem. Presidents aren't supposed to lead balanced lives – that’s why getting the job requires spending millions of dollars, an army of operatives, and months of campaigning (and Freemason membership).This is exactly why Bush doesn’t understand America’s predicament, and exactly why his efforts against terrorism are flagging. He just doesn’t understand sacrifice. When United States (and the world) was moved by September 11, every American was ready to sacrifice, to do his part to defeat Al-Qaeda. Instead, we were assaulted with bizarre entreaties to be “extra-vigilant” while trying to be normal, and of course to go shopping. When the invasion and occupation of Iraq took place, everyday America barely even changed, except for military families. Even the funding for Iraq was removed from scrutiny, through emergency appropriations instead of the regular budget. In short, the Bush administration wanted as few Americans to feel any sacrifice as possible. What a huge mistake. Now Americans don’t feel like they have any stake in Iraq, even though now our security is tied somewhat to Iraq’s future (though it may not have been in 2003).

I, for one, think that this astounding lack of shared sacrifice in America stems back to Bush’s own attitudes. Clearly, even as President, Mr. Bush does not feel that his responsibilities should infringe upon having considerable recreational opportunities. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. The man has never sacrificed for the common good before, defeating candidates like John Kerry (three purple hearts) and John McCain (over five years as a POW in Hanoi). Now I’m not advocating the position that we should try to elect only war heroes to high office. After all, most war heroes have really proven that they’re adept at killing fellow humans. But these heroes have also demonstrated an understanding of personal sacrifice, and an understanding of the need to work towards the common good, even at personal expense. Besides, these soldiers were asked to use force on behalf of their nation, which presumably is using said power for good. Now this brings us full circle, back to Iraq, and back to Sheehan’s son.

It would be awfully sad to imagine that a family member died, not for the common good, but for what you perceive as against the world’s interest. If this is Sheehan’s view, and it seems like it is, she has every right to be angry. Moreover, Ms. Sheehan probably has a thing or two to teach President Bush about sacrifice, and every American would benefit if the president was more dedicated to his county. Perhaps in the end, Mr. Bush will take some time away from biking with Lance to talk to Cindy Sheehan. She certainly won’t change US policy, but perhaps she could change one man’s outlook.


GC&F Goes Mainstream

While my posting has recently slowed somewhat, there was a fairly good stream of traffic last week at GC&F. I first attributed this good news to my inherent awesomeness, but further investigation showed that a Newsweek/MSNBC webpage has a referring link to Grover Cleveland! Sure, this is part of the endless self-references that plague both the blogosphere and every song written by James Taylor. After all, GC&F got the link from Newsweek by opining on recent Newsweek commentary. And sure, this is really just an automatic page, generated by Technorati. Nevertheless, it looks like we’re on the map.

In other shameless, self-promoting news, the next post on GC&F will be number 50, and this blog is about to turn 3 months old. Here’s to many more fat presidential musings!


Fit to Bike, Fit to Serve?

One of our president’s most salient characteristics, other than his strong moral principles, is his devotion to fitness. Throughout his presidency, journalists have profiled George Bush’s non-traditional schedule (for a president at least), noting that Bush often works close to an eight-hour day with a long lunch break (so that he could exercise). Recent accounts have president Bush meeting with John Roberts to ask him about his fitness regimen before nominating him for the highest court in the land, bristling that Roberts was not following a physician's advice to substitute cross-training for jogging to save Roberts’ knees. This spring, reporters profiled the president’s Ipod playlist so that the public would get a better idea of exactly to what Bush rocks out whilst tearing it up on his mountain bike. More famously (at least in my neck of the woods), it was revealed after a plane scare at the White House this May, that while the evacuation procedures were underway at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president was happily biking in the Patuxent Research Refuge in suburban Maryland (in a section not open to the public). The Secret Service detail protecting Bush did not stop the president to inform him of the situation at the White House, which took place around noon on a Wednesday. (As an aside, local columnist Marc Fisher pointed out the irony of Bush recreating in a refuge whose funding he was slashing). The WP also scored a picture of the president returning to his residence that afternoon to learn of the incident, while grasping a copy of the juicy novel I am Charlotte Simmons.

Of course, Bush’s detractors use his famously light schedule as another excuse to skewer him, while the GOP faithful claim that it reflects Bush ability to effectively delegate and to set an example of fitness for a fattening America. As for me, I’m not sure that the president is the best person to lead the fitness charge. After all, as much as voters value a politician’s ability to connect with ordinary citizens, we would never truly want an everyman in the office (we’re not exactly in danger of that happening – Bush and Gore were both sons of politicians, and Bush, Gore, and Kerry were all silver spooners). I don’t think that Clinton’s heart problems were solely the result of his love of McDonald’s, nor do I think that Franklin Roosevelt died solely from Rheumatism. The truth is that the Presidency kills (let’s not forget the more obvious examples of Kennedy, Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) – that’s part of the sacrifice of public service. True dedication to the job and to the country would take an enormous amount of energy, and an enormous toll on any man. Just look at photos of any president by the time that he leaves office, and you’ll see that responsibility and stress that it imparts on Commander-in-Chief must surely shorten life. In other words, the president can do more for his country by dedicating himself to his job than by showing the world another example of a healthy lifestyle. There are already more effective fitness gurus-turned-politicians, and politicians-turned-fitness gurus. Besides, the Body Fat Lab website shows no correlation between the body mass index and the success of a president (fans of Grover Cleveland already knew this, to be sure).

I think that president Bush’s five-week stint at his Texas Ranch shows that he is not about to change his lifestyle and/or workout schedule, regardless of the state of America or the world (this habit was first skewered, fairly effectively, by Michael Moore. While his documentary was mostly shrill, the footage of Bush urging the world to fight “terrorist killers” whilst on the golf course was effective, because it used Bush’s own words). It seems to me that Bush has never demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice personally for the sake of his country. I’m sure that Bush supporters will disagree with me here, but while that attitude may be fine for some of us, it shouldn’t be common among our leaders, and can’t be prevalent among our citizens. If so, we’ll have a harder and harder time finding soldiers to populate our military, politicians to stand up for principles, and citizens willing to pitch in for the national interest. In short, I believe that Bush’s interest in fitness is a selfish one, the same kind of attitude the stifled the patriotic feelings Americans felt in 2001, when were informed that patriotism meant shopping in our malls, not volunteering for public service. Think about that while you work this summer, and while your president is clearing brush from his ranch.


Robert's Rules of Anger

I really don’t get this. After all of the (pointless) barbs that has tossed out on CNN’s Crossfire and all of the (needless) vitriolic abuse that he received in return, it looks like a relatively mild comment made by fellow Crossfire alum James Carville took Mr. Novak over the edge on CNN’s Inside Politics yesterday afternoon. The ever-helpful Media Matters website posted a video of the relevant section of the interview.

What’s strange about it is that both men are so calm during the exchange. Novak tosses out a comment “Just let me finish what I'm going to say, James, please. I know you hate to hear me,” which is sarcastic, but pretty mild in Novakian terms. So Carville responds with an equally calm, but clearly sarcastic tone: "He's gotta show these right-wingers that he's got backbone, you know. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show 'em you're tough." I’ll let you watch Novak’s reaction, but clearly Carville hit a nerve.

Huh? Was this just the proverbial last straw? By Crossfire standards, this exchange is downright bland. It probably qualifies as holiday banter on the old set. And surely Novak has received (and turned down) innumerable requests for interviews – and how could he expect otherwise? After all, the man makes a living by telling other people what he thinks, and by letting anchor people lob questions at him. I, for one, couldn’t believe that Novak was continually on pontificating on air, often to journalists, while receiving so few questions relating to the CIA leak case and his possible involvement. So you've got to wonder if Novak is feeling pressure from somewhere else, somewhere other than from journalists. Let's face it, Carville didn't really say anything particularly offensive. He certainly wasn't being nice, but that's not exactly how either of these commentators made his reputation (or money). Anyhow, with so little going on with the actual case (well, that’s been leaked to the media, at least), I’m sure that this clip will be making the rounds. Also, it appears the CNN has now (temporarily) suspended Novak. After all, he did swear on TV. Conservaties don't like that, right? I’m not sure that this rises to the level of a “Dean Scream,” so I wouldn’t expect this to be a career-ender. After all, it's not like Novak yelled out a laundry list of states followed by an angry yodel. I would, however, recommend setting your VCR/Tivo to record the next installment of the Daily Show.