Saturday, September 30, 2006

This can't be the way they planned to start the fall campaign

My morning news and blog reading was been dominated by the twin sensations of the new Bob Woodward book and the story of Florida Congressman Mark Foley resigning over his more than avid interest in communicating with young male pages via the Internet. Of the two, the Woodward is the meatier, the Foley the juicer.

Politically, this has to dismay the G.O.P. Combined, the two stories drive a stake in the heart of the fall strategy, which depends on banging the war-on-terror drums while getting the Pharisees all worked up over family values. (Haven't we done this before?). The Woodward excerpts published so far make Cheney look like a micromanaging buffoon and Bush an obstinate block of wood. And of course its hard to appear holier-than-thou when everyone is pointing out that your point man on cracking down on sexual predators is himself a sexual predator.

I'm betting that the juicier story consumes more media oxygen. (AMERICAblog seems the most obsessive in prying up the rocks and seeing what vermin squirm out.) First, it has the smell of a story where not all the shoes have dropped. Any man as avid in pursuit of young boys as Foley seems to have been must have caught at least one. (I'm recalling Nicholas Von Hoffman's biography of Roy Cohn which documented the aging right-winger's many conquests.) After dipping into a bit of the IM transcripts, I'd be astonished if at least one steam room grope doesn't come to light. And of course, pack journalism has taken over.

It also seems to be playing into the Democrats "culture of corruption" narrative and the classic Washington "its not the crime, it's the cover-up" narrative. Already the newspapers are publishing stories with Republicans pointing fingers at each other. It's clear that Foley's tastes were an open secret on the Hill. Specific charges got buried. The Republicans have a choice of being perceived as dishonest or incompetent. (Haven't we been here before?)

I'll conjecture that the Republicans will try to pass this off as just your usual Washington sex scandal, a la Bill and Monica. I don't think the psycho-sexual dynamics play that way. Leave aside that Foley is the stalker (and Monica was the one pursuing Bill). Leave aside (for the moment) the child predator part. The Clinton/Monica story played into a larger narrative that the American public was already familiar with. Bill, we all knew, was a man of large appetite. His pleasure in life was one of the characteristics that won him the presidency. An afternoon romp with Monica was tacky and tawdry and undignified and all that other stuff that the polite Washington crowd claims to be distressed about, but it didn't contradict the man's basic persona.

When the Starr report was being published and impeachment was in full swing, I developed the crazy English teacher explanation for why Clinton's popularity numbers kept rising. The crazy English teacher has read T.S. Elliot's The Wasteland (notes included) and knows that it is the king's job to be potent. When the king isn't potent, the crops dry up and the kids go hungry. Yeah, I know this is premodern mumbo jumbo but that doesn't mean that it doesn't capture some sense of how our kings are supposed to act. The more the Republicans railed against Clinton, the more they reminded the public that he had a working schlong. We don't elect eunuchs president.

The Foley thing doesn't play that way. To the public in general, he has no persona; to the extent that he has a persona, it is diametrically at odds with his real self. I suppose there's a way to spin a relationship between a 16 year old boy and 52 year old man into some sort of Greek mentor thing, but the items that have surfaced so far don't have much educational uplift. He's chatting about DC weather, not Being and Nothingness. In short, he looks like pure predator, Internet version. The GOP/Religious Right complex has spent so much energy vilifying homosexuals as just the sort of person Foley is turning out to be, it's hard to see how they can spin their way out of this. For the most delicious take on Foley, check out Jesus' General ("Foley's gift to guys like us").

The Woodward book doesn't have the same tabloid appeal as the Foley story. John Dickerson at Slate points out that Woodward has behind him a huge publicity machine that guarantees the story will be in the public arena for a long time. True, but the daily headlines out of Iraq will give keep this book relevant. By the way, what's up with that "curfew" in Baghdad, the first time that pedestrian traffic has been shut down. Somebody was planning to drive a car bomb into the barriers around the Green Zone? Yeah. As Woodward says, things are worse than they seem.

I love the way Woodward talks about the gems uncovered when you "replow" old ground. Hah! This book is all the stuff he left out of books 1 & 2--until it was politically convenient. It is hard to imagine a more cynical operation than The Washington Post. The editorial page to this day continues to be dominated by the Meg Greenfield School of Journalistic Nihilism, perfectly enunciated in the late (and too much lamented) Post editorial page editor's novel Washington. The only reason Charles Krauthammer and George Will are published in the Post is because they were part of Greenfield's little right-wing cabel--celebrated in the pages of the Post itself in an obituary column by Krauthammer. [Without the hypothetical conditional ("If wishes were horses, beggars would fly") the collected works of Charles Krauthammer would shrink to a few pages extolling his own virtues. See: the column for his deceased brother which CK turned into an occasion for remarking how great a person he had become because of said decease brother. Pet peeve: I digress. ]

Bottom line: the GOP had planned to bolt out of the starting gate trumpeting their strength in the war on terror. Instead, they have to devote their energy to scraping off the macaca of a sexual predator and a hopelessly misconceived and mishandled war. Every time Bush reminds the American public that he intends to stay in Iraq until he proves that Viet Nam could have been won, he bolsters the fortunes of the Democrats. There are too many names at the Viet Nam Memorial; how even more dead American boys and girls, men and women, will lead to success, Bush can't quite say.

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