Monday, March 26, 2007

Put Away The Tutus

James Wolcott writes in this post how the current meme running through Washington punditry is that Democrats must be very, very careful not to go TOO FAR with their oversight hearings. Wolcott calls this the "Tiptoe With The Tutus" movement:

Congressional Democrats ought to form their own ballet company--that's the counsel coming from the Washington sages this Sunday. When Democrats were in the minority, they were dismissed and mocked as ineffectual, irrelevant, and directionless. Now that Democrats chair committees and wield gavels, the Beltway punditry want them to rise on tiptoe and tread gingerly through the maze of mousetraps the pundits have scattered across the floor. From the ultimate concern troll to Egbert the Egghead to Noron today on Chris Matthews' show (that's Norah O'Donnell -- rbe), the message is that Democrats have to be "careful" not to "overreach" and "go too far." If I could trademark the phrase "The Democrats need to be careful...," I could retire in a few years to Cape May and build bat houses for needy bats. For six years we've had no Congressional oversight whatsoever over the rot and ruin of the Bush administration, and as soon as the first flexings of oversight are made, we get a plethora of Poloniuses dribbling advice (and as Saul Bellow reminded us, one of the nice things about Hamlet is that Polonius gets stabbed).

Wolcott notes that the elite punditry love to "wave those caution signs" whenever Democrats are concerned (or in power, for that matter) and make believe that all the oversight hearings they're holding are "nothing more than political hormones run riot and payback."

But as an anonymous Dem said in a Politico article a while back, every time they bark up a particular Bush administration tree with oversight hearings, they find a cat. The prosecutor purge scandal is widening under the scrutiny of both the press and Congressional oversight hearings. In the Plame hearings held by the House, we learned that one meme dispersed endlessly by wingers on the cable tee vee circuit - that Valerie Plame was NOT a covert agent - was finally laid to rest. We have learned in other hearings that Bush administration officials with clear ties to Exxon Mobil purposely edited government reports to minimize the seriousness of global warming. The Walter Reed scandal story, while broken by Dana Priest in the Washington Post, most likely would have died without a trace if the Republican Rubber Stamp Congress were still in power. Instead, high level military officials were held accountable for their roles in both the scandal and the cover-up (Mold? What Mold?)

So we can see that so far, Dems have not come close to overreaching in their oversight hearings. Rather, they are finding malfeasance, incompetence and/or criminal activity everywhere they look in the Bush government. And why not? After 6 years of little-to-no oversight by the Republican Rubber Stamp Congress, these folks in the Bush administration thought they could act illegally and/or unethically with impunity and the Republican Rubber Stampers would either ignore their activities or abet them.

So now we get to today's news in the Washington Post - Bush administration officials have been accused of politicizing the General Services Administration:

Witnesses have told congressional investigators that the chief of the General Services Administration and a deputy in Karl Rove's political affairs office at the White House joined in a videoconference earlier this year with top GSA political appointees, who discussed ways to help Republican candidates.

With GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan and up to 40 regional administrators on hand, J. Scott Jennings, the White House's deputy director of political affairs, gave a PowerPoint presentation on Jan. 26 of polling data about the 2006 elections.

When Jennings concluded his presentation to the GSA political appointees, Doan allegedly asked them how they could "help 'our candidates' in the next elections," according to a March 6 letter to Doan from Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Waxman said in the letter that one method suggested was using "targeted public events, such as the opening of federal facilities around the country."

On Wednesday, Doan is scheduled to appear before Waxman's committee to answer questions about the videoconference and other issues. The committee is investigating whether remarks made during the videoconference violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that restricts executive-branch employees from using their positions for political purposes. Those found in violation of the act do not face criminal penalties but can be removed from their jobs.

Waxman said in the letter that the remarks made during the videoconference have been confirmed by "multiple sources." Congressional investigators have taken statements from GSA employees and others in recent weeks.

The planned hearing is part of an expanding examination by Waxman's committee of Doan's tumultuous 10-month tenure as administrator of the GSA. The government's leading procurement agency annually handles about $56 billion worth of federal contracts.

The committee is also expected to question Doan about her attempt to give a no-bid job to a friend and professional associate last summer. In addition, the committee plans to look at Waxman's charge that Doan "intervened" in a troubled technology contract with Sun Microsystems that could cost taxpayers millions more than necessary.

In the Senate, Doan is facing a similar line of questioning in letters from Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Also examining Doan are the GSA's Office of Inspector General and the independent federal Office of Special Counsel, which investigates allegations of Hatch Act violations.

The Ultimate Concern Troll and Eggbert the Egghead would prefer that Dems (and even a Republican like Charles Grassley) put on their tutus and tread carefully into investigations like this one. But if we have learned anything in the past eight weeks since Dems took power back from the Republican Rubber Stampers, whenever there is smoke surrounding Bush administration officials, there is fire as well.

Dems need to put away the tutus, ignore the elite punditocracy, and keep up the aggressive but fair oversight hearings. The oversight hearings and investigations are doing what they are supposed to do - keep the executive branch and members of the government accountable.

Mark my words -- in just over a year, these same pundits will be criticising Democratic congresspersons for NOT having accomplished more of the necessary clean-up. The Dems face a Hurculean task (quite literally, as one of the Labors of Hurcules was to clean the Augean stables), and they'll have to get very busy to accomplish it.

If Dems, as a group, have a shortcoming, it is in believing that one can combat street thugs like Gingrich and deLay and Rove by adhering to Marquis of Queenbury rules. It's time to get brutal.

This doesn't sound like a gentlemanly thing to do, even to me, but I would suggest that if the Defense Appropriations bill gets bogged down in the Senate due to Republican obstructionism, or is vetoed, the House should amend its target withdrawal date to May '08, and send it back through with the message that a bill with a February date is headed for the printers. That rewards those who oppose as a matter of conscience any continued funding of Bush's war (good guys), and spits in the eye of those who champion a forever war (a**holes).

If Bush can tell Congress to go f*ck itself, it seems fair that a Democratic congress can tell him to do the same.
You're right that in a year these same pundits will be saying "Gee, how come Dems didn't blah, blah, blah..."

They do it now w/ the war. On the one hand, when Dems go slowly on the war, they criticize by saying "hey, didn't these guys get elected so that they could end the war?" Then when Dems actually put legislation on the table that will effectively end the war, the same pundits say "Gee, why do Democrats hate the troops?"

They're all phonies.
I'm not a negotiator by profession, nor even a poker player, but I've learned a little about both. Now is the time for the Dems to get tough. Bubble Boy is running a stone bluff here -- he has to have the money, and he has to get Congressional approval to get it. He only has three tools in his arsenal to goad Congress into handing it over -- bullying (which is what he's trying now), getting public opinion to side with him (unlikely in the extreme), and giving away the store on other issues in return. Should Dems in the House come back over the top (yes, I'm a great fan of Texas Hold-em on TV), the outcome may prove interesting, say, his offering to rescind the tax cuts to his friends and family. That's not nearly enough, but it's a start.

Well, I notice that Bloomberg is thinking about running in '08. If he runs, I bet I know of a few people who'd be happy to chase him, preferably with a shotgun.

Take care.
Yeah, Mayor Moneybags (who has a constituency of one) thinks if he spends $500 million on a campaign, he can get some traction. But he probably will wait until early next year to see if he's going to get in. he needs broad dissatisfaction w/ the major party candidates before he'll jump into the race. So if it's say Hillary vs. Mitt or something, you might see him. Even so, I think he goes nowhere. Tony Blankley of the Washington Times said on Hardball last night that $300 million wouldn't even buy him 4% of the vote.
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