Gates, the Nixon niche, and more
Catching up on summer stories
Gates, the Nixon niche, and more
Dick Polman, Inquirer National Political Columnist
Regarding a few events that transpired in my absence:
The arrest of black Harvard academician Henry Louis Gates Jr. blew up into a national story, thanks largely to President Obama's ill-considered decision to wax loquacious on the matter. Not that you asked, but here's my take: Gates was wrong to mouth off to the cop. Not morally wrong, just tactically wrong. Given his admirable lifelong sensitivity to racial injustice, Gates arguably held the moral high ground when faced with the embarrassment of producing an ID in his own home. But, as Colin Powell rightly noted on CNN yesterday, it's generally not wise to heap verbal abuse on a cop. A cop has a gun and a badge - and, quite often, a very flexible notion of what constitutes "disorderly conduct." As Gates quickly learned, you can get arrested on that charge if you're pushing 60, walking with a cane, and yelling at a cop on your own property, without ever presenting a physical threat. That's indeed what can happen when you diss a cop and challenge his authority. Gates would have been better off cooperating in the moment...and reserving the right to sue later.
Watch how grassroots liberals react in the days ahead to the health care reform process on Capitol Hill. Democratic negotiators, in their quest for some kind of bipartisan measure, seem increasingly willing to jettison some of the provisions that liberals deem crucial to the cause of reform - namely, any government-run "public option" health plan, and any language that would require employers to provide health care. If a watered-down reform package ultimately passes and Obama signs it, will liberal voters register their ire by staying home on congressional election day 2010? It's worth recalling that liberal base apathy helped sink Bill Clinton and the Democrats in the '94 congressional elections, following the Clinton health care debacle.
But in fairness to Obama, he's stuck on defense at the moment, trying to assuage the public's most irrational fears about health care reform. During a town hall meeting yesterday, somebody actually asked him whether government bureaucrats would go to door requiring people to fill out forms on how they wanted to die. Obama had to spend valuable time hosing down that ridiculous notion: "You know, I guarantee you, first of all, we just don't have enough government workers to send to talk to everybody, to find out how they want to die...I just want to be clear: Nobody is going to be knocking on your door; nobody is going to be telling you you've got to fill one out. And certainly nobody is going to be forcing you to make a set of decisions on end-of-life care based on some bureaucratic law in Washington."
How bold can Obama afford to be on health reform, when there are citizens who actually think this way?
Sarah Palin is clearly planning her future and bidding for the GOP's Dick Nixon niche. In her farewell to the governor's job that she adbicated this past weekend, she customized her pitch to the party's conservative populist base, stoking its longstanding cultural resentments. She went after "the media" and "Hollywood" and other "elites," contending at one point that these purportedly monolithic forces are "hell bent maybe on tearing down our nation." (I love the maybe.) There was a line about how the tear-down conspirators like to employ "delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlets" to assault the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, which is all a bit rich, considering the fact that Palin would be nowhere if not for her cachet as a celebrity starlet. She understands, however, that an inarticulate, policy-lite politician can potentially go far merely by stoking visceral emotions, reigniting the old culture war, and laying claim to the Nixon-Agnew template circa 1968.
On that score, she's already hard-wired to conservative Republicans, and rivals for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination will succeed only if they can sever her connection to the base.
The Los Angeles Times ran an interesting weekend interview with Ted Olson, the conservative legal eagle best known for successfully arguing the Bush campaign's case in front of the U.S. Supreme Curt, in the matter of Bush v. Gore. After Bush took office, Olson was rewarded with the job of U.S. Solicitor General. His current passion, however, is very different. He's teaming up with his Bush v. Gore antagonist, Democratic lawyer David Boies, to map a federal court strategy that will culminate in the legalization of gay marriage.
...But wait. Didn't Bush cement his '04 re-election by riding the wave of anti-gay marriage referenda in swing states? And how can Olson reconcile his new crusade with the reality that the GOP's social and religious conservatives remain adamantly opposed to gay marriage?
His answer: "This is about human rights and human decency and constitutional law...I hope some people will open their eyes to the decency of getting to the point where we allow gay and lesbian individuals to be married and have a happy life...It is a conservative value to respect the relationship that people seek to have with one another, a stable, committed relationship that provides a backbone for our community, for our economy. I think conservatives should value that."
Either Ted Olson has the correct read on true conservatism, or he has joined forces with the delicate, tiny Hollywood starlets who (in Palin's read on conservatism) are hell-bent on tearing down our nation. "Maybe."
The latest New Jersey political scandal - which has resulted in 44 arrests (including three mayors, five rabbis, and two assemblymen), with disproportionate impact on Democratic big shots (including a top Democratic strategist who conveniently turned up dead yesterday) - is juicy enough to further complicate Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine's uphill re-election bid in 2009. He could be judged guilty by association, as candidate of the seamy status quo.
But forget politics for a moment, and consider this:
If only David Chase hadn't condemned Tony Soprano to eternal vigilance in that Jersey restaurant, he could have tapped this juicy scandal (the bribes, the diner meetings, the money-laundering rabbis) and mapped an entirely new season.
...But wait, never mind. The show had corrupt Hasidic Jews in season two, and assemblyman Ronald Zellman had a sweet stake with Tony in the Museum of Science and Trucking.
So I guess Life imitates Art - as Corzine may discover to his detriment in November.