Just Above Sunset
May 14, 2006 - Tautology and Royalty













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Monarchies are amusing. There's the British example. Elizabeth I dies and succeeded by her slightly-removed relative, James VI of Scotland, who becomes James I of England. He was an odd duck - very fond of young men rather exclusively, commissioning a new translation of the Bible (the "King James"), and writing his famous tract on the evils of smoking tobacco. He's succeeded by Charles I, who screws up royally, being arrogant, foolish, and rather stupid. He's beheaded in the early 1640's and the English try to do without a king - the interregnum as it were. Charles' son hangs around in France with Thomas Hobbes, who's working on "The Leviathan" (people are nasty and the world awful and we really need a strong government as life is "nasty, mean, brutish and short"), and having no king isn't working out so well (Cromwell was a real bother). So in 1660 we get Charles II, and the Hobbes book. Then comes James II, who decides he wants to marry a Catholic, as if what Henry VIII did in splitting with Rome was just a lark, and that doesn't go down well. The Brits look for some distant relative who might be a better fit for the nation, and not Catholic, settling on William and Mary of the house of Orange in what is now the Netherlands. So we get the Bloodless Revolution, bloodless because all the battles were fought in Ireland, not England - Ireland doesn't count. The forces of William and Mary win the day at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 or so in what's now Northern Ireland, and to this day the Irish are pissed, and on Saint Patrick's Day wear green while those who want to piss them off traditionally wear orange, of course. Then we get Queen Anne, dumb as a post and childless, followed by another search for someone who will do, and not be Catholic, so why not import some Germans? The House of Hanover is full of cousins, and we get the series of Georges, the first not even able to speak English and the last mad as a hatter, and he manages to lose the American colonies too. In the middle of the Hanoverian Georges the old James-Charles line makes trouble - the last of them, Bonnie Prince Charlie, lands in Scotland from France, gets an army of guys in kilts to march south and change things, and they're all wiped out at the Battle of Culloden in 1745, as pikes and clubs just don't work that well against the new field artillery.

This is not a model for stable government. But things settled down with Victoria and the Edwards. And the current monarchy is properly unimportant, as the House of Parliament and the Prime Minister of the moment handle things. There's a reason for that line in the old Beatles song - "Her majesty is a pretty nice girl but she doesn't have a lot to say."

So why are we working on the monarchy thing?

Note this from Wednesday, May 10, from Reuters –

 

President George W. Bush said on Wednesday he thought his younger brother Jeb would make "a great president" but the two-term governor of Florida had given no hint about his intentions.

"I have no idea what he's going to do. I've asked him that question myself. I truly don't think he knows," Bush said in an interview with Florida reporters posted on the St. Petersburg Times Website.

The president said he had pushed his "independent minded" brother fairly hard about his plans after leaving the governor's office next January. He predicted Jeb could have a "very bright" political future.

"I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not," Bush said.

Asked if Jeb should run for president, Bush said, "I think Jeb would be a great president. But it's up to Jeb to make a decision to run."

 

Jeb Bush is fifty-three and has said over and over that that he will just not run for president in 2008, and he's saying nothing about it now. But his term as the governor down in Florida ends in January 2007, and his brother's term as president ends in January 2009 and he can't run again, so there's that in-between time where Jeb will be looking for something to do. The first Bush president likes the idea of a second son being president. The hard-drinking, good-time, thinking-is-such-a-drag twins could follow. The younger George Bush showed there's no problem there.

This is very odd.

Reuters notes there has never been a case of two brothers serving as president in this country. A father, then two sons in succession, and then the granddaughters?

Maybe we'll have better luck than the English had. There'd be no competing family line, and no Bonnie Price Charlie. The Clintons, husband a wife, are one generation. Chelsea, the daughter, doesn't seem political at all. This could work.

But maybe not, as Bill Montgomery explains here, referencing the French Revolution, not the British business –

 

Unfortunately for Jeb - and the younger members of the family waiting in line behind him - it appears the "Bush magic" (a political quality somewhat akin to Walter Mondale's famous "Norwegian charisma") has finally worn off. The mob is back in the streets again, looking to set Mademoiselle Guillotine up with a blind date. If this were an earlier era, I'd advise the Bushes to pack up the family paintings and go look for a friendly autocratic regime (the Saudis would do nicely) to stay with for a while. A long while. As it is, they'll probably just have to endure being the butt of every standup comedian's worst jokes for the next couple of decades.

... Some dynasties repeat their mistakes; others keep inventing new ones. The Bushes have demonstrated a real knack for doing both, which is why Jeb isn't ever likely to have the chance to prove he's the break in the pattern. He may be the smart Bush, but he's definitely not the lucky one.

I guess it just proves the old saying: that it's better to be lucky than smart. Especially when your idiot brother happens to be king - I mean, president.

 

So we won't have a de facto heredity monarchy, as the current Bush screwed up too bad, and here we do vote?

But the American public is in love with the British monarchy, as you see on Larry King's CNN show every month or so, where his rating jump with talk of young Harry or William, or the late Princess Di, or even of horse-faced Camilla and the goofy Prince Phillip. People on this side of the pond eat up that stuff, no doubt to the great puzzlement of those in the UK.

So the groundwork has been laid, as they say. The whole concept is just so appealing, if you disregard the unpleasantness of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. But then, no one cares much about history these days, except the Irish.

And even if we don't get a succession of absolute monarchs, we can get the halo effect - claims of plenary presidential power and simple moves that stop perky commons who get uppity about their rights, as in this

 

The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

The inquiry headed by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.

"We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program," OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey's office shared the letter with The Associated Press.

... "Without these clearances, we cannot investigate this matter and therefore have closed our investigation," wrote Jarrett.

 

Royal privilege. You cannot see some things. They're not for you.

And the courtiers work on maintaining the power of the monarch, not on policy or fixing anything. The whole idea is to smooth his way, not anything else.

Harold Meyerson in the Washington Post had an interesting column on that the same day the president was lauding his brother and suggesting his brother would be next –

 

The emerging Republican game plan for 2006 is, at bottom, a tautology: If the Democrats retake Congress it will mean, well, that the Democrats retake Congress. (Cue lightning bolt and ominous clap of thunder.) Karl Rove and his minions have plumb run out of issues to campaign on. They can't run on the war. They can't run on the economy, where the positive numbers on growth are offset by the largely stagnant numbers on median incomes and the public's growing dread of outsourcing. Immigration may play in various congressional districts, but it's too dicey an issue to nationalize. Even social conservatives may be growing weary of outlawing gay marriage every other November. Nobody's buying the ownership society. Competence? Ethics? You kidding?

The Republicans' problem is not simply their inability to run their government and wage their war of choice, it is also their bankruptcy of ideas. On taxes, the Republican legislative leaders' top priorities are to make permanent the tax cut on investment income and to repeal the estate tax - economics, as ever, for our wealthiest 1 percent. (This at a time when the entire theory of trickle-down has been negated by the propensity of U.S. corporations to use their shareholders' investments to expand abroad rather than at home.) On energy, the notions of tougher fuel economy standards and mandating a shift to renewable energy sources are so alien to the Republicans' DNA that they come forth with such proposals as Bill Frist's $100 rebate, the most short-lived legislative initiative in recent memory.

 

But the have to retain power. The whole system would otherwise collapse. The king would be in danger. The Roundhead would behead him - just think of poor Charles I and all that (but impeachment just isn't beheading) –

 

And so, to stave off the specter of Democratic rule, Rove has decided that the only way to rally the Republican base is to invoke the specter of Democratic rule. Democrat John Conyers, who would become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has spoken of investigating the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. Henry Waxman and Ted Kennedy will get subpoena power if the Democrats win both houses. Unspecified horrors lurk behind every corner if the Democrats take control and hold hearings about the administration's relations with the oil and pharmaceutical industries. A sea of partisan vendetta, Republicans prophesy, stretches to the horizon if the Democrats are allowed to win.

 

Maybe it is like England around 1640 or so.

Ezra Klein comments on what Meyerson is getting with this

 

... their case for retaining Congress isn't an agenda, but a tautology - if the Democrats win Congress, then the Democrats win Congress. It's an unsettling thought, to be sure, though when pollsters ask, "Overall, which party, the Democrats or the Republicans, do you trust to do a better job in coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?," Democrats come out on top by a 14 percent margin. One might also wonder why the GOP is so obviously terrified by the prospect of investigations. Bush hasn't done anything wrong, has he?

 

The whole king thing - the king derives his power from God, not man, so he cannot do wrong or be wrong - must be maintained. And this would-be king quite often says he is doing God's work, humbly - so get in, buckle up, shut up and ride. God said so. That's just the way it is.

Rick Klein in the Boston Globe the same day had an analysis of what the courtiers are going to do to stay in power and protect the king. The idea? That would be to narrow the agenda of what should be done and what the public should think about –

 

Republican leaders in Congress have all but abandoned efforts to pass major policy initiatives this year, and are instead focusing their energies on a series of conservative favorites that they hope will rally loyal voters in November's congressional elections.

The House and Senate agendas are packed with bills that, even supporters concede, have no chance of passing but that social and fiscal conservatives clamor for, like constitutional amendments banning flag-burning and gay marriage. By bringing them up, Republicans hope to inspire a constituency that has fractured in its support for President Bush and the party. They also hope to cast Democrats as obstructionists by drawing their plentiful "no" votes.

 

Ah, do nothing, propose the absurd, even legislation that you know is bullshit, and point to the other side saying "no." Great plan. Or it's a great plan if not too many see it's all smoke and mirrors, stuff no one would or could ever really get done. Why would you want to?

Constitutional amendments to ban flag-burning and make sure Lars and Spanky don't marry?

What if people just shrug, and go back to worrying about the war, and healthcare, and immigration, and the economy with the nation in debt up to our eyeballs to foreign nations who don't much care for us, and gasoline prices, and what happens with the next hurricanes or some big earthquake?

It seems that's not the point. Here the point of having power is to keep power, not do anything in particular with it. It's the tautology of a monarchy. Governing, well or badly, is just a secondary byproduct the common people think matters. It seems it doesn't. Throw a bone or two to the core and they'll turn out come November, and then things are safe again. And toss some nice words across the fence to the opposition, when possible, to fake them out and keep them quiet. Maybe they'll skip voting in November. Heck, most countries have elections on the weekend, and we have ours on a Tuesday, always, and people have work and family and life is so hectic these days, so maybe they'll just skip voting. It's a plan.

But then those nice words can be a problem with the core. Note this, a prominent red-meat conservative proposes the president be impeached - because the president is sort of saying maybe the illegal workers in the United States would, with some exceptions, make fine citizens, and maybe they could stay. The conservative in this case doesn't give a damn about flag burning and the hypothetical marriage of Lars and Spanky. It's the brown folks. They're everywhere, using public services, the schools and the emergency rooms, all of which they don't really pay for, all the while driving down wages (and costs).

Uneasy sits the king. People seem to expect some sort of governance, and they're not happy. And they have issues with smoke and mirrors, no matter which side of the mirror they're on.

What can you do? Having power is cool, but then people expect you to do something with it. Who'd have guessed?

But then, having power can be just plain satisfying as Sidney Blumenthal points out here, explaining how Bush and the White House get to destroy one of their enemies, in the case the CIA –

 

... In the absence of any reliable evidence, CIA analysts had refused to put their stamp of approval on the administration's reasons for the Iraq war. Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, personally came to Langley to intimidate analysts on several occasions. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his then deputy secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, constructed their own intelligence bureau, called the Office of Special Plans, to sidestep the CIA and shunt disinformation corroborating the administration's arguments directly to the White House. "The administration used intelligence not to inform decision-making, but to justify a decision already made," Paul Pillar, then the chief Middle East analyst for the CIA, writes in the March-April issue of Foreign Affairs. "The process did not involve intelligence work designed to find dangers not yet discovered or to inform decisions not yet made. Instead, it involved research to find evidence in support of a specific line of argument - that Saddam was cooperating with al Qaeda - which in turn was being used to justify a specific policy decision."

But despite urgent pressures to report to the contrary, the CIA never reported that Saddam presented an imminent national security threat to the United States, that he was near to developing nuclear weapons, or that he had any ties to al-Qaida. Moreover, analysts predicted a protracted insurgency after an invasion of Iraq.

... the White House was in a fury. The CIA's professionalism was perceived as political warfare, and the agency apparently was seen as the center of a conspiracy to overthrow the administration. Inside the offices of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense, the CIA was referred to as a treasonous enemy.

 

The answer was Porter Goss, now gone –

 

Goss combined the old-school tie with cynical zealotry. A graduate of Hotchkiss and Yale (class of 1960) and married to a Pittsburgh heiress, he had served as a CIA operative, left the agency for residence on Sanibel Island, Fla., a resort for the wealthy, bought the local paper, sold it for a fortune, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1988. There he struck up an alliance with Newt Gingrich and his band of radicals. And after they captured the House in 1994, Goss used his CIA credential to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

In that position, he proved his bona fides to the Bush administration time and again. "Those weapons are there," he declared after David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, reported that there were no WMD. He blocked investigations into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib and into prewar disinformation churned by the neoconservatives' favorite Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi. "I would say that the oversight has worked well in matters relating to Mr. Chalabi," Goss said. He also derided the notion of investigating the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson: "Somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I'll have an investigation." Goss was on board with the cavalier way in which Plame was outed, a breach that revealed ingrained contempt for the agency as well as the supremacy of political objectives over national security.

On April 21, 2005, his mission dictated by Bush's political imperatives, Goss became CIA director. Immediately, he sent a memo to all employees, ordering them to "support the administration and its policies in our work." He underscored the supremacy of the party line: "As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."
He installed four political aides to run the agency from his offices on the seventh floor at Langley. Within weeks, an exodus of professionals began and then turned into a flood. In the Directorate of Operations, he lost the director, two deputies, and more than a dozen department and division directors and station chiefs out in the field. In the Directorate of Intelligence, dozens took early retirement. Four former operations chiefs, horrified by the carnage, sought to meet with Goss, but he refused.

... Acting on the president's charge, Goss in effect purged the CIA. He was even conducting lie detector interrogations of officers to root out the sources of stories leaked to the press - to the Washington Post, for example, in its Pulitzer Prize-winning exposť of CIA "black site" prisons where detainees are jailed without any due process, Red Cross inspection or Geneva Conventions protection. Last month, a CIA agent, Mary McCarthy, was fired for her contact with a reporter. Like others subjected to questioning, she was asked her political affiliation.

 

But Goss is gone now. Exit, pursued by hookers. The new guy, an Air Force general, will finish the job in a different way. The placed will become militarized –

 

The militarization of intelligence under Bush is likely to guarantee military solutions above other options. Uniformed officers trained to identity military threats and trends will take over economic and political intelligence for which they are untrained and often incapable, and their priorities will skew analysis. But the bias toward the military option will be one that the military in the end will dislike. It will find itself increasingly bearing the brunt of foreign policy and stretched beyond endurance. The vicious cycle leads to a downward spiral. And Hayden's story will be like a dull shadow of Powell's - a tale of a "good soldier" who salutes, gets promoted, is used and abused, and is finally discarded.

No president has ever before ruined an agency at the heart of national security out of pique and vengeance.

 

Gee, doing absurdly counterproductive things out of pique and vengeance is a characteristic of kings who believe no one has any business questioning them. It got Charles I in trouble - he kept reappointing a buddy, a young incompetent friend, as a general in the wars with the Spanish. Parliament, thinking competence mattered in war, would cut off war funds, he'd dump the guy, get the war funds, and reappoint the guy. The next time the parliament cut off funds he simply dissolved parliament, and eventually Chuckles was in real trouble. Oliver Cromwell. The king was beheaded in 1642.

Here, now, we vote. It's much more civilized. Jeb Bush take heed.































 
 
 
 
Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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