Last Build Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2007 00:29:18 -0600Copyright: Copyright 2007
Mon, 24 Sep 2007 00:29:18 -0600But there are occasionally crossover figures; on the one side establishment men (and women?) who don't just recite radical phrases to cover their backsides, but actually become leaders in left-wing circles; on the other, genuine leftists who succumb to the corrupting temptations of establishment power. Now comes the latest example of the establishment faction archetype suddenly thrust into prominence and popularity as a radical hero: Congressman John Murtha. This old warhorse has represented the 12th District of Pennsylvania since he won a special election in 1974 by 122 votes. In the Abscam scandal of 1981, he was an unindicted co-conspirator; the House appeared ready to censure him, but the vote in the ethics committee apparently split 6-6 on party lines. The committee's special counsel immediately resigned in disgust, and the Congressman who lobbied on Murtha's behalf was later quoted as saying that Murtha had lied to him about his role in the scandal, in which FBI agents posing as Arab sheikhs offered congressmen $50,000 bribes in return for favors. For the next twenty-plus years, Murtha's Congressional career was highlighted by efforts to stymie ethics legislation and build a pork-barrel empire. He achieved some measure of success in the latter goal in the most recent Congress, when his total earmarks topped $150 million mark, leading all representatives. By then, Murtha had done his famous about-face on Iraq, thus becoming the darling of the radical faction, among the benefits of which is that the national media, in reporting on his new-found celebrity, invariably referred to him as an ex-Marine instead of an unindicted Abscam co-conspirator. But not everyone in the media has been willing to sweep Murtha's past under the rug. At Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, reporters have been looking at Murtha's earmarks in detail. Earmarks come in two varieties; let's call them toxic and smelly. Both are bad, but the toxic are really bad. Smelly earmarks work like this: a Representative from Maine puts an earmark into the Defense Appropriation Bill requiring that a certain project and/or a certain amount of money be spent at Bath Iron Works, the big shipbuilding company located on the mouth of the Kennebec River. They build outstanding ships at Bath, every bit as good as the ones built in Norfolk or Pascagoula. But the Representative from Maine wants the economic benefits in his or her district, not in Virginia or Mississippi. And of course the Representatives from those states put in their earmarks, too. What's bad about the earmarks is that they distort the market and short circuit the bidding process, so all the projects wind up costing more than they would otherwise. Toxic earmarks are a whole order of magnitude worse: they require money appropriated for a general spending category must be spent with a vendor run by cronies of the earmarking Representative. These vendors may or may not be legitimate but they would never pass muster in a fair competition for the contract. They get the job only because of the earmark. Thus Murtha earmarked money for an outfit called the Pennsylvania Association for Individuals with Disabilities (PAID) - at least $650,000 since 2003 according to and article by Roll Call reporter Paul Singer. PAID's founder and president is a former Murtha staffer, Carmen Scialabba, and claims to "represent 60 million persons with disabilities." You'd think an organization of that size would be well known, but Singer called several major disability organizations in Pennsylvania, and none of them had ever heard of PAID. The whole thing came to light when former Senator Max Cleland, who had just been named to the PAID board of directors, abruptly resigned. Apparently what happened was that Cleland, relying on Murtha's description of the group, had agreed to a request to lend his name, but when he found out what was really going on, made a quick exit. Cleland may also have noticed that all the other directors were Murtha cronies, with the exception of Congres[...]
Thu, 04 Jan 2007 10:30:41 -0600
To be sure, what we now call exit polls in 1976 showed clearly that the pardon was one of the principal reasons why voters chose Carter over Ford. But it is an enormous leap from that to saying that the pardon cost him the election, principally because it makes the untenable assumption that everything else would have been the same if he had not issued the pardon.
Or look at the point from the other side of the statement. If the pardon was wise and good, and saved the nation all that agony, why would anyone suppose that none of it would have happened prior to Election Day, 1976?
Indeed, it would have gone forward. The wheels of justice do not grind that slowly, and the hotheads in the overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, abetted by their bloodthirsty allies in the press, would have made sure it was as nasty as it could be.
In that poisoned atmosphere, Ford wouldn't have had a chance in 1976.
Nor would he have had a chance to make good on the memorable claim from his inaugural address: that with him as president, our long national nightmare was over.
The pardon was good for the country. It also gave Ford a chance, and saved the Republican Party.
Let's not forget just how low the Republican Party had sunk in the wake of Watergate. A poll commissioned by the woman Ford named Chairman of the RNC in 1974, Mary Louise Smith, revealed that only 19% of Americans identified themselves as Republicans at the time. In a two-party system, that's pretty close to being dead, and indeed there was much talk about dissolving the party, or at least changing its name.
If the Watergate scandal had persisted through 1975 and 1976, the dissolution of the party would almost certainly have happened, as die-hard defenders of Nixon battled reformers for the hearts and minds of those 19%-ers, and the Democrats rolled to a landslide victory.
One can speculate further on the details of what might have happened - whether Ronald Reagan would have defeated Ford in the convention that year, or left the party altogether to form a new organization, whether such an inviting proposition as the Democratic nomination would have been would have changed their dynamics as well, perhaps making someone other than Carter the nominee. But that's just speculation.
What we know is that Ford was able to campaign in an atmosphere of national healing, with things getting better week by week as the country celebrated the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence confident that once again the greatness begun by the founders in Philadelphia had survived, and returned to something approaching normalcy. The President started thirty points behind Carter; he lost by one -- a few thousand votes in Mississippi and Ohio.
Ford's decision to pardon Nixon was both right for the country and politically smart, too.
Perhaps one of the reasons eulogists and others prefer to think otherwise at this moment is that they feel it somehow demeans Ford to suppose he may have used political calculation in making his decision. But the fact that the decision was politically smart does not mean it was done for political reasons. Most good decisions are politically smart. If you think about it, they must be, or the country surely would have collapsed long ago.
It so happened that I was with Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan at Ford's home in Rancho Mirage in October of 1978 when they met for the first time since their nomination battle at the 1976 convention - the former and future Presidents, two old rivals burying the hatchet. Ford, largely by his pardon decision, had returned the Republican Party to respectability; Reagan would soon return it to power.
The event, which was built around Ford's registering to vote in California for the first time, remains a cherished personal memory for me. It never would have happened if Ford had not pardoned Nixon.
Wed, 01 Nov 2006 10:05:12 -0600Tipping the balance in the Senate is only one of the two reasons Steele's campaign is the most important in the country this year, but before we look at the other reason, let's discuss the importance of yesterday's endorsements. Prince George's County is a huge, majority-black area east of Washington, D.C. With a total population of just under 850,000, it's the second-largest jurisdiction in the state, with some 225,000 more people than the city of Baltimore. As you would expect given its ethnic makeup, it's a Democratic stronghold. In 2002, the ticket of Governor Bob Ehrlich and Steele won statewide by four percentage points (52-48), but lost in Prince George's by fifty-three percentage points (76-23). So why a high-powered leadership would group from Prince George's break ranks with their party and support Steele? (And they are high-powered. Their leader is a two-term former County Executive, Wayne Curry, arguably the most popular politician in the county. Five others are members of the County Council. Another, Major Riddick, was the top aide to former Governor Parris Glendening. Also on hand were one of the Democrats' top fundraisers, several prominent businessmen and other community leaders.) Part of it is that Steele is a Prince Georgian. The county leaders know him, like him and respect him. But that alone wouldn't be nearly enough to cause them to break ranks with their party in a critical election. What it's really all about is that blacks in Maryland have begun to realize that they've been being snookered by the white-dominated Democratic Party all these years. As Riddick put it, "They've been showing us a pie, but we never get a slice." Voting statistics aren't kept by race, of course; they call it a "secret ballot" after all. But if you work out the math, you can pretty easily demonstrate that something like half of all Maryland Democratic voters are black. Half! What have Maryland blacks gotten for their loyalty to the party? Virtually nothing. Oh, sure, they get representatives to legislative offices in districts where they have the overwhelming majority. Occasionally they get to be Mayor of Baltimore - although the current mayor is white, and running for Governor, something no black mayor could even seriously consider. Indeed, in the entire history of the state of Maryland, exactly one person of African-American heritage has been elected to any statewide office. His name is Michael Steele. If the state were a corporation, it'd be hauled up before the EEOC. And remember, in most years nomination by the Democrats is tantamount to election. Ehrlich is only the second Republican Governor of Maryland. If there's racism, including a past pattern of racism, it falls entirely on the Democratic doorstep. And the trend hasn't stopped; Steele's white opponent, Congressman Ben Cardin, is white, and virtually the entire Democratic establishment in the state backed him in his successful primary race against former Congressmen Kweisi Mfume. Blacks were told, in effect, not yet, and many of them are understandably asking, "How long, O Lord, how long?" Because Maryland has such a large black population, at 29.1% almost two and a half times the national average of 12.4%, the fact that blacks have been shut out of real leadership in the party is particularly egregious. But it's true throughout the country. That's the other reason Steele's election is so critical, to Republicans and black voters. In the entire history of the United States, only five African Americans have served in the Senate: three Republicans and two Democrats. And in these post-civil rights times, it is only fitting to ask why the party for whose candidates 90% of black voters regularly cast their ballots has not done better. Indeed, if you believe in affirmative action, as Democrats say they do, then there should be ten or eleven black Democratic Senators at any given time these days. Whereas in fact there has never been more than one. Michael Steele's ele[...]