Saturday, November 27, 2004

…as Harry used to say

“It’s amazing what you can get accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit.” That was Harry Truman, who accomplished a great deal of legislation within a hostile congress, with no mandate at all. Holding up the famous Chicago Tribune “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, Harry grinned that wide grin. But he knew damned well that a razor-thin victory required a certain amount of humility.

What we have today in similar un-mandated circumstances is hubris. Both words begin with “hu” and other than that are worlds, decades and presidencies apart.

Dennis Hastert, current Speaker of the House, carrying on in the reckless tradition of Newt Gingrich, disavowed credit sharing in favor of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Bathwater, in the current lexicon of the House, is all Democratic members. The baby in this case was the much-needed intelligence reform legislation on the floor of the House. Hastert threw baby and bathwater directly into the face of his president. The bill could easily have been passed with minimal (and willing) participation by House Democrats but Hastert declined to bring it to a vote until he could assure a Republican-only victory. Why? Hubris. Because he could, which is the same reason Newt Gingrich gave for impeaching Bill Clinton.

Meanwhile, badly needed legislation is held up and in turn holds up the necessary processes that follow. Congress will be late getting to a piece of work it could have had done with and, knowing the machinations of legislation delayed, the final bill may have additional teeth pulled by compromise. Thanks, Dennis. There’s been a leakage of hubris within the presidential coterie and some of it got on Dennis Hastert. I hate when that happens!

Every failure of character has its origins in some form of public humiliation. At least that’s my take on it. Bullied by fathers or picked on in the school yard, scorned by lovers or faced down in saloons, men become character-flawed. It’s the same for institutions and the increasingly vicious tone of politics (I believe) comes from the Republican institutional humiliations under Nixon and the embarrassment of Watergate. Throw in a generous dash of Vietnam.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was over too quickly for the long knives to assemble themselves and Republicans didn’t see a Democrat in the Oval Office for another twelve years. Like the bullied child, they had only memories but that was enough and the trashing of Bill Clinton was far more about Watergate than Travelgate, Whitewatergate or Monica. When George Bush was seated as president, most of us thought the feud between the Martins and Coys was finally at rest---the Republicans held the presidency and both houses of congress.

Not so, not to be. This administration in everything it touches lashes out against remembered humiliation. The Republican party of today knows no healing and now seems bent upon writhing against itself. 

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