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POLITICS FEBRUARY 20, 2006

Notebook

BEYOND RED AND BLUE 

It’s no revelation that the liberal blogosphere features extreme partisanship and reflexive loathing of political adversaries. But the Jack Abramoff scandal seems to have driven some online activists over a cliff in their never-ending witch-hunt for secret villains. The latest target is John McCain. 

This week, the Arizona Republican lashed out at Democratic Senator Barack Obama. Obama had told McCain that he would join a bipartisan group working to come up with a lobbying reform plan, then decided instead to back a proposal crafted by Senate Democratic leaders. “I’m embarrassed to admit that after all these years in politics I failed to interpret your previous assurances as typical rhetorical gloss routinely used in politics to make self-interested partisan posturing appear more noble,” McCain wrote to Obama. 

The Republican’s letter may have been intemperate, but McCain’s desire for a bipartisan bill is hardly nefarious—indeed, it’s the best hope of getting serious reform passed. But this fact—and the history of how the Abramoff scandal gained national prominence—seems completely lost on the blogosphere. A regular writer at the flagship liberal blog Daily Kos, for instance, quickly declared that “the real purpose of McCain’s ’bipartisan’ task force ... is to whitewash a purely Republican scandal.” Is it really? That’s peculiar, given that McCain’s hearings into the Abramoff scandal were—as Obama himself put it—“instrumental in promoting public awareness” of Washington corruption. One can argue whether McCain pressed hard enough to expose the wrongdoing of congressional Republicans and figures like Grover Norquist. But it’s fair to say that no politician has done more to drive the Abramoff story than John McCain. Don’t try explaining that to the liberal bloggers. For them, good and evil are always reducible to D and R. 

ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE

Last month, Senator Russ Feingold accused Attorney General Alberto Gonzales of misleading the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing last year. Gonzales dismissed the senator’s question about whether the president could authorize warrantless surveillance of American citizens as a “hypothetical situation”—even though the president had already authorized such a program. Now it appears that Gonzales’s conflicted position may be even more fundamental. During his confirmation hearing, Gonzales stated that he would “no longer represent only the White House, I will represent the United States of America and its people.” Testifying about the eavesdropping program before the Committee this week, however, he cited attorney-client privilege as the reason for evading senators’ questions. “[T]he client here is the president of the United States,” he told the committee. Guess we can forget about his pledge to “represent” all Americans. 

INDIAN GIVER

It seems the Interior Department shares Jack Abramoff’s belief that Indians are the “stupidest idiots in the land for sure.” Either that, or Interior appears to share Abramoff’s unwillingness to let go of their moolah. The Associated Press reported on Saturday that, after being ordered to pay $7 million to a group of lawyers representing Indians in an ongoing royalty dispute with the Department, Interior officials “cut Indian programs to find most of the money.” More specifically, they cut $2 million from a fund that reimbursed tribal lawyers working in other areas, almost entirely draining the fund’s coffers. 

“This is totally unreal,” the Blackfeet Indian lead plaintiff observed. But Jim Cason, associate deputy secretary at Interior, argued that it makes perfect sense to cut programs compensating Indians to pay for compensations won by Indians. “This was not a Park Service or a Fish and Wildlife problem, it’s an Indian problem,” he explained. Great logic, Jim, and applicable to so many of the government’s predicaments! Perhaps we should cut funds from Social Security to fix the botched launch of the Medicare prescription-drug program, since it’s an old-person problem. 

LOSING THEIR RELIGION

“Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide.” So begins an old and familiar Protestant hymn. Well, the moment to decide was neither for a man nor a nation. It was for a church, the Church of England in particular. The decision of the Church’s General Synod was to divest from companies whose products are used by Israel in the occupied territories. What a strange and inapt moment the Church has chosen to bring down its opprobrium on the Jewish state. The Palestinians have just voted by a landslide of more than 60 percent to elect the model terrorist group Hamas to form their next government. Hamas has made no bones about its intentions and goals, which are—in sum—to eliminate Israel, and that it will use the kind of violence the world is accustomed to seeing from Muslim fanatics to accomplish those aims. (Pity the poor Christians who are destined to live under Hamas rule or, more probably, to continue the exodus that began when the Western powers anointed Yasir Arafat president of Palestine.) By contrast, Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Kadima, the centrist party that is bound to win the elections in March, are committed to unilateral withdrawal from substantial portions of the West Bank, just as Israel left all of Gaza to the Palestinian Arabs. The mayhem that ensued in Gaza is likely to be replicated in the West Bank, and that territory will surely become one huge launching pad for rockets and missiles endangering not only Israeli civilian life but all sorts of civil installations. Since the Israelis are not pacifists, an accurate accounting will be kept. Of course, there will also follow the kind of internecine conflict that seems endemic to Palestine. The Anglican decision follows similar resolves against Israel by mainstream Protestant denominations in the United States. The decline in the sway of these churches, many affiliated with the National Council of Churches, is not unrelated to these perverse inclinations that dominate at church headquarters. The results are that church affiliation declines and that the faithful simply leave the church or go to other churches, the kind of churches that often give many of our readers apoplexy. In the twenty-first century, many Christians recognize anti-Semitism when they see it. And it drives them away. No less than the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, has declared that he is “ashamed to be an Anglican.”

This article appeared in the February 20, 2006 issue of the magazine.

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posted in: politics, washington, united states, alberto gonzales, barack obama, jack abramoff, jim cason, john mccain, russ feingold, arizona, judiciary committee

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