No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history's sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn't choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I'd put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III , the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.
What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom . Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown , were publicly empathizing with Stack's credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.
Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack's crime . “It's sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it's an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it's going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King's caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter , a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995 , maybe a few of the congressman's peers would have cried foul.
The Senate's top Republican told Fox News' Chris Wallace that he wasn't sure if he could stop the Senate from passing health care reform if budget reconciliation was used. Reconciliation circumvents the filibuster and would allow Senate Democrats to pass reform without any support from Republicans.
McConnell is uncertain if enough Democrats oppose the plan to defeat the bill. "There'll be a lot of Democrats who will vote against it," said McConnell. "Whether there will be 11 Democrats who will vote against it is not clear.
Keep America Beautiful
by pablo February 21, 2010
Preferably under the cover of darkness.
Disorder in the Court
by pablo February 20, 2010
Get out of Jail Card.
The chief author of the Bush administration's "torture memo" told Justice Department investigators that the president's war-making authority was so broad that he had the constitutional power to order a village to be "massacred," according to a report by released Friday night by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The report, more than four years in the making, is filled with new details into how a small group of lawyers at the Justice Department, the CIA, and the White House crafted the legal arguments that gave the green light to some of the most controversial tactics in the Bush administration's war on terror. They also describe how Bush administration officials were so worried about the prospect that CIA officers might be criminally prosecuted for torture that one senior official - Attorney General John Ashcroft - even suggested that President Bush issue "advance pardons" for those engaging in waterboarding, a proposal that he was quickly told was not possible.
At the core of the legal arguments were the views of Yoo, strongly backed by David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney's legal counsel, that the president's wartime powers were essentially unlimited and included the authority to override laws passed by Congress, such as a statute banning the use of torture. Pressed on his views in an interview with OPR investigators, Yoo was asked:
"What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred? ... Is that a power that the president could legally -"
"Yeah," Yoo replied, according to a partial transcript included in the report. "Although, let me say this: So, certainly, that would fall within the commander-in-chief's power over tactical decisions."
"To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?" the OPR investigator asked again.
President Obama wanted to change Washington. It changed ... for the worse. And it's now holding his agenda hostage. The question is: How much is he willing to change himself in order to save it?
On Feb. 9, 2009, at the first prime-time press conference of his presidency, Obama said: “I am the eternal optimist. I think that over time people respond to — to civility and rational argument.”
Since then, the right has tried to block him at nearly every turn, and the far right has formed a movement fueled by irrational anger.
Over the same period, his job approval ratings have dropped to new lows for him, and according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Thursday , the gap between those who trust him and the Democrats to handle major issues versus those who trust Republicans to do so has narrowed to nearly nothing.
And perhaps most worrisome, according to a January report from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Obama's image among the all-important independents as a “strong leader” and a president “able to get things done” took the biggest slides of all his character traits measured.
Yet, there he was again this week, a year to the day after the prime-time press conference, saying almost exactly the same thing : “I am just an eternal optimist. ... And all I can do is just to keep on making the argument about what's right for the country and assume that over time, people, regardless of party, regardless of their particular political positions, are going to gravitate towards the truth.” So stubbornly sweet. So simply naïve.
If Obama is still clinging to this quaint concept after the year he's had, it's easy to understand why he's in trouble.
Still, it's not too late for him to change. In fact, this is his moment. He's already showing some signs of change, but his changes have to be even more dramatic.
My advice: Worry less about making arguments and more about making connections. Simplify the message: “Getting America back to work.” Shake up the staffing of the West Wing to signal a fresh start. And keep showing those newly resurrected flashes of fight as a reminder that your patrician tenets are not at odds with bare-knuckled partisan politics.
At a dinner in New York City two weeks before his election, Obama joked that he was not the messiah but Superman. “Contrary to the rumors you've heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton. ...”
Well, our mild-mannered president is in desperate need of a telephone booth. He needs to summon his inner Superman who knows how to pair optimism with force when responding to a crisis, a Man of Steel who's more than a silver tongue with a tin ear.