Thursday, December 7, 2006

Gates, Group, Obama and Cheney

What a day it was.  I have been a little off my blogging game of late largely because I’m somewhat in limbo.  I’m in Chapel Hill but still not out of New York, settled and unsettled at the same time.  But who could experience yesterday without hitting the keys?

Robert Gates won nearly unanimous approval as the new Defense Secretary late in the afternoon with only two dissenting votes, both of them Republicans.  That may or may not be a message to the President.  In the case of Rick Santorum, until he was defeated some weeks ago a key member of the Senate leadership, perhaps it was a “thank you for all your help” farewell note.  Gate’s approval was assured from the moment he answered that fateful question from incoming Chairman Carl Levin.  No, we’re not winning in Iraq.  If I hadn’t heard it – I watched the entire hearing (except of course the classified session which even C-Span couldn’t invade) – I would never have believed it.  Gates practiced the unusual in Washington even for John McCain, straight talk.  That was new for all of us and perhaps for him as well.  I don’t remember such open candor during his days before and at the CIA.  But as everyone pointed out, he had nothing to lose.  He didn’t seek the job and truth be told Bush needs him at this point not the other way around.  As the Senators saw it, both during the soft ball questioning on Tuesday and yesterday in their “debate” and vote, so do we all.  It was a rare bi-partisan moment; take note.

When I turned on the news early in that same day around 6:30 AM, I saw that Group finally coming out from their undisclosed location and they too were candid.  It was quickly noted that nothing they said or suggested was actually new, much of it had been bandied about here and there during the three long and agonizing years since “shock and awe”.  But Jim Baker reminded us, it would be new for the President who, recent change in language notwithstanding, has remained steadfastly wedded to staying the deadly course.  Speaking of language isn’t it emblematic of this Administration to send out Dan Bartlett their communications director to engage the press in the aftermath of this important report rather that their national security advisor.  Perhaps they were trying to duck the really substantive questions that Steve Hadley might have had to field, but more likely it’s just the way they do things.  Spin it right and perhaps people will forget it.

The press of course had their own ideas of whom to talk to and while it would have been unimaginable just a short time ago, beyond the usual suspects, Barack Obama was at the top of the list.  It’s hard to get through a political talk show these days without hearing Obama’s name and we’re also beginning to see the usual treatment coming to the surface.  That means speaking skeptically about the Illinois Senator which is to be expected.  But it also reminds one that pundits in Washington often talk without doing their homework.  One such fellow (who I heretofore respected greatly) suggested the other day that yes Obama was getting a lot of attention but of course we don’t know where he stands on most issues.  Hello, “The Audacity of Hope” number one best seller.  He obviously missed that one.  It was much like a comment I heard across the table at Thanksgiving where another guest a seemingly bright and thoughtful young Episcopal Priest told me in conversation that she did not agree with Sam Harris, another best selling author (in this case writing on religion, her field of expertise) whom I happened to mention.  Turns out, she hasn’t read either of his books.  Much like that pundit, it was hard to take her comment seriously.  Any way, Obama’s book (which by coincidence I finally finished yesterday) is one that I would I commend to his and your attention.  While by no means the last word, Obama lets you know exactly where he stands on a broad range of domestic and international issues.  He also does it in beautiful lucid and elegant prose.  I don’t know how many Shakespeare’s he read recently, but clearly a page or two of literature has passed before his eyes over the years.  I can’t imagine President Obama pointing to a prime minister standing next to him at a press conference and referring to him as the right “guy” for the job.

Finally there is Mary Cheney.  She made news yesterday or at least her news surfaced in the press.  You could almost hear the hands ringing with glee as another tabloid special seemed ready for prime time.  It appears that Mary is pregnant and that this spring she and her partner Heather Poe are going to be parents.  Now you know that Dick Cheney is not one of my favorite people.  Arguably the most powerful Vice President in our history, I feel he is also among the most destructive political figures of my lifetime.  If we are in a mess in Iraq, Dick Cheney is largely, though clearly not solely, to blame.  The man is secretive, disdainful of anyone who disagrees with him, a dissembler of the truth and a principal practitioner of ugly national and international divisiveness.  That said, in this instance he did something noble.  His office issued a simple statement “the vice president and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild”.  Perhaps he is wrong on many things, but when it comes to real family values, tires hitting the road, it would appear that he gets it.  That doesn’t make me like his public persona or actions any better, but on a human level, I tip my hat.  “Eagar anticipation”, “grandparents” words of ownership, love and responsibility.  That’s where things really are or should be.  Perhaps, as Barak Obama suggests, there is hope.