Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

They Said It:

In another moment he would hear the tramp of boots outside. They could not let such an outburst go unpunished. They would know now, if they had not known before, that he was breaking the agreement he had made with them. He obeyed the Party, but he still hated the Party. In the old days he had hidden a heretical mind beneath an appearance of conformity. Now he had retreated a step further: in the mind he had surrendered, but he had hoped to keep the inner heart inviolate. He knew that he was in the wrong, but he preferred to be in the wrong. They would understand that — O’Brien would understand it. It was all confessed in that single foolish cry. 

He would have to start all over again. It might take years. He ran a hand over his face, trying to familiarize himself with the new shape. There were deep furrows in the cheeks, the cheekbones felt sharp, the nose flattened. Besides, since last seeing himself in the glass he had been given a complete new set of teeth. It was not easy to preserve inscrutability when you did not know what your face looked like. In any case, mere control of the features was not enough. For the first time he perceived that if you want to keep a secret you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that could be given a name. From now onwards he must not only think right; he must feel right, dream right. And all the while he must keep his hatred locked up inside him like a ball of matter which was part of himself and yet unconnected with the rest of him, a kind of cyst.

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949.

 

SECRETS, AGAIN.

We’re not sure if we’ve ever told this story in print before, but we used to tell it all the time in client meetings and the like.  So if you’ve heard it before, bear with us.  There’s a point to it.  We swear.

Back in the 1990s, when the President of the United States was a serial abuser of women, we were friends with some people who, by profession, trafficked in some of the seamier tales of said priapic president’s personal predilections.  Or to put it another way, we knew some investigative reporters who knew some things about Bill Clinton that most people didn’t know.

One of these reporters is a man named Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.  If the name sounds familiar, it is likely because he is the International Editor of the Daily Telegraph of London and a genuine big shot.  Back then, he was a young, up-and-coming reporter who served as the paper’s Washington bureau chief.  Ambrose was, is, and ever shall be well connected.  He had an encyclopedic knowledge of Washington and a penchant for sniffing out corruption and abuse of power.  He knew everything about everything and almost everything about Bill Clinton.

One day, Ambrose called and said he had new information about the death of Vince Foster.  Like others who were pursing the many scandals surrounding the Clintons, he had been frustrated that the mainstream press was not interested.  Did we know anyone in power who would be interested?

We arranged a meeting with a friend who arranged a meeting with the leader of the Republicans in Congress, the first GOP Speaker of the House in almost half-a-century.  As the leader of the suddenly resurgent out-of-power party, the newly installed Speaker was likely the second most powerful man in the country, and he had promised his constituents that he would hold the President accountable for any misdeeds.  And among those misdeeds, you may recall, was the brief affair that the President had with a young intern, not much older than his daughter.  In his book, The Secret Life of Bill Clinton, Ambrose explained what happened next:

Gingrich was the guest at one of the informal “Saturday Evening Club” dinners hosted by the editor of The American Spectator, Bob Tyrrell.  The conversation turned to Foster.

It is easy to forget now, but in July 1995 Gingrich was at the height of his powers.  The upper room at La Brasserie was packed.  Robert Novak was there; so were Arianna Huffington, David Brock, and Wesley Pruden from The Washington Times; John Fund from The Wall Street Journal had come down from New York; so had John O’Sullivan, the editor of National Review.  It was a gathering of the top guns in American conservative journalism.  So it created waves when the Speaker said, caustically, that you would have to be “brain dead” to believe the official story about the death of Vincent Foster . . .

After dinner, a small group of us withdrew to the “Kennedy Room,” where Ted Kennedy had allegedly been interrupted coupling on the table with a female companion.  “I’ve made up my mind. This evening has sealed it,” said Gingrich.  “I’m going to appoint an investigator in the House and we’re going to go after this.”

As fate would have it, though, Gingrich had a secret, one which he feared could ruin him and strip of his new power.  He was having his own affair.  He had been involved for FIVE YEARS (at that point) with a young Congressional staffer.  And this staffer –  Callista Bisek, who later became Callista Gingrich, the third Mrs. Gingrich – was apparently not incredibly discreet about her relationship.  In a 2012 piece sourced to a former “colleague” of Callista Bisek Gingrich’s, Rolling Stone reported that while Newt indeed had a “secret,” it was very badly kept.  To wit:

“It was fairly common knowledge on the Hill,” a former colleague of Callista’s in Gunderson’s office tells Rolling Stone.  ”Certainly in Republican circles it was widely known about.”  “It was fairly common knowledge on the Hill,” a former colleague of Callista’s in Gunderson’s office tells Rolling Stone.  “Certainly in Republican circles it was widely known about.” . . .

Callista, whom the former colleague remembers as a ”small-town girl from Wisconsin” would discuss her relationship with Gingrich at the office.  “She was not veiled about it,” he says.  Without explicitly saying, “Yes I’m having an affair with Newt,” Callista would say things like,  “Obviously you’re aware of the relationship I have,” the ex-staffer recalls.

Callista’s boss, Rep. Gunderson was also keenly aware of that relationship . . .

“She openly carried on this affair with Newt,” the colleague says, shaking his head.  “I wouldn’t say they were flamboyant about it, but they weren’t veiled about it either.  I would see them having lunch in some of the Capitol cafeterias, or restaurants about town.”

So what happened?  Well, Newt took a dive.  And Bill and Hillary went on “smashing up things and creatures and retreating back into their money and their vast carelessness, letting other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Eventually, Newt lost his job as Speaker, confessed his affair to his wife, and then married Callista.  Meanwhile, the questions that led Newt to doubt the official story of Foster’s strange death were never answered.  He didn’t pursue them, and so neither did anyone else.  Even the infamous scourge of the Clintons, the Independent Counsel Ken Starr, failed to address any of them in his long-delayed and much-ballyhooed report.

As for Bill, he overcame both his affair and his perjury about the affair.  He had to give up his law license, of course, but he still left office as the most popular president in recent memory, so popular, in fact, that he very nearly was able to get his incredibly unpopular wife elected to the White House in her own right.  All of which is to say that secrets – and especially the risk of their exposure – matter.

Now, we mention all of this today because we, like many, were surprised last week when Congressman Jason Chaffetz announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018.  Moreover, he hinted that he also might not serve the remainder of his term, that is to say the remaining seven-eighths of the term to which he was elected just last November.  This is, to put it mildly, a big flipping deal.  Chaffetz may not be a household name, but he certainly intended to be one someday.  He is (or was, at least) one of the most ambitious politicians in Washington.  Fusion.net reported last week that the domain name Jason2028.com was recently registered by “Friends of Jason Chaffetz.”  He is also the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which means that he has had a very high profile of late and would continue to maintain one over the next several months and years.  But now he’s out, and no one is quite sure why.

Naturally, there has been a great deal of speculation about the Congressman’s motives.  No one knows for sure what is going on, but everyone has a theory.  Vanity Fair reported that most of what is being said – by Chaffetz and others – is just standard conjecture or assumption, while Chaffetz rather banally claims that he just wants to “spend more time with his family.”

On Friday, a lengthy profile in Utah’s Deseret News, which Chaffetz participated in, reported that the 50-year-old father of three was tired of being away from his family.  It also suggested that after spending much of the last year giddily preparing to use his perch as Oversight chairman to torment Hillary Clinton, Chaffetz found himself unprepared to face the thousands of angry constituents demanding that he apply that same energy to investigating Donald Trump.

Chaffetz himself gave several explanations for his premature exit to the Deseret News, and hinted at others reasons too.  He wants to make more money in the private sector, he suggested, and possibly pursue a media career.  His wife, Julie, was starting to feel the strain of his public life, he said, which now includes death threats.  (Chaffetz recently tweeted a Heavy.com article that praised Julie’s steadfast devotion to him.)  Others speculated that he was stepping down to pursue an even higher office — possibly Senator or Governor — and that now might be the best time for Chaffetz to take a break from politics before the Republican Congress gets dragged down by Trump.  “My guess is he wants to start rebuilding a base for (governor) in 2020,” a Utah political heavyweight told the Deseret News.  “No member of Congress has been elected Utah governor in recent years — maybe ever — though many have tried.  His P.R. instincts probably tell him that he can’t be seen as coming straight from Congress, therefore some distancing before things get serious.”

All of this, we think, sounds perfectly normal and reasonable.  Chaffetz’s Congressional career is, more likely than not, a victim of his political ambition.  Either his ambition got him into a mess or it is the reason he’s getting out.  Pretty standard stuff.  Probably.

Of course, there is another possible reason why the very ambitious chairman of a very powerful committee is walking away from it all.  Last week, immediately after Chaffetz announced his intention not to run for reelection, the conspiracy-mongers took to social media to spread their “inside” info.  The most prominent such monger was Louise Mensch, a former Tory member of the British Parliament who has spent the last couple of years insisting that she knows things that others don’t because she is “connected” to both American and British intelligence.  About Chaffetz, she claimed that “sources” told her that the Russians had compromising information on him and that both the Congressman and the FBI knew it.  Needless to say, she and others like her sparked a massive conspiracy-fest on social media, in which the ostensibly squeaky-clean Mormon-convert Chaffetz was accused of all sorts of heinous and/or traitorous activity.

Let us be clear about this:  We do not believe Louise Mensch.  We don’t have any inside information, but we tend to think that she is out of her mind, as she often is.  We tend, more or less, to agree with the left-leaning Snopes.com, which noted that there is “no proof that the Russians have compromising information on Chaffetz, as the claim is entirely based on hearsay without any supporting evidence offered.”  We don’t think Chaffetz was a Russian agent.  We don’t think he had a Russian honey-pot girlfriend.  We don’t think he took money from Russian agents hoping to influence him.  We don’t think anything of the sort.

All of that said, we think it worthwhile to consider the possibility that somebody, somewhere pressured him to resign from office.  Again, we don’t think there are any real skeletons in Chaffetz’s closet.  But then, real skeletons are kind of irrelevant.  What if someone has some dirt on his kids?  Or on his wife?  And by “dirt,” of course, we mean anything all at all.  What if they have pics of one of his kids drinking a beer?  He is Mormon, after all.  What if they have some information about something unethical that was done at the multi-level marketing company the Congressman worked at for 10 years?  What if they just have something embarrassing, that he wouldn’t want everyone in the world to know?

Why would we suspect such a thing?  And more to the point, why would we suspect that anyone could try to blackmail Chaffetz with something stupid, petty, irrelevant, but nonetheless embarrassing?  Why? Because it’s happened before.

Not quite two years ago, Chaffetz and his committee were ardently investigating a series of screw-ups and illegalities at the Secret Service – think hookers in Colombia.  Chaffetz was highly critical of the federal agency.  And the federal agency didn’t like that.  So it got even.  London’s Guardian put it this way:

Scores of US secret service employees improperly accessed the decade-old, unsuccessful job application of a congressman who was investigating scandals inside the agency, a new government report said on Wednesday.  An assistant director suggested leaking embarrassing information to retaliate against Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, chairman of the House oversight committee.

The actions by the employees could represent criminal violations under the US Privacy Act, said the report by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, John Roth.  “It doesn’t take a lawyer explaining the nuances of the Privacy Act to know that the conduct that occurred here – by dozens of agents in every part of the agency – was wrong,” the report said.

The homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, personally apologized to Chaffetz again Wednesday, the congressman told the Associated Press in an interview on Capitol Hill.  Johnson did not disclose whether any employees had been punished.  “It’s intimidating,” Chaffetz said.  “It’s what it was supposed to be.” . . .

Employees accessed Chaffetz’s 2003 application for a secret service job starting 18 minutes after the start of a congressional hearing in March about the latest scandal involving drunken behavior by senior agents.  Some forwarded the information to others.  At least 45 employees viewed the file.

One week later, assistant director Ed Lowery suggested leaking embarrassing information about Chaffetz in retaliation for aggressive investigations by the House oversight and government reform committee into a series of agency missteps and scandals, the report said.  Days later, on 2 April, the information about Chaffetz unsuccessfully applying for a job at the secret service was published by the Daily Beast.

“Some information that he might find embarrassing needs to get out.  Just to be fair,” Lowery wrote on 31 March in an email to fellow assistant director Faron Paramore.

We should note here that Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson publicly stated that those responsible for this act of intimidation – ON THE PART OF THE FEDERAL EXECUTIVE BRANCH AGAINST A MEMBER OF THE FEDERAL LEGISLATIVE BRANCH – would be punished.  We have no idea what punishment was meted out, but we do know that as of yesterday, the LinkedIn account of Ed Lowery read:

On January 6, 2017, after an extremely fulfilling 25-year career, I retired from the US Secret Service.  It is my greatest honor to have served alongside the most talented and dedicated group of law enforcement professionals found anywhere in the world working to successfully accomplish the Agency’s most difficult and important mission – the daily protection of our nation’s core ideals and foundations.

Touching.

Regular readers will note that we have written a couple of times over the last several months about “a world with no secrets” (here and here) and about the repercussions of everybody knowing everybody else’s business.  Last August, we concluded that the “end of secrets” would promote even greater shamelessness among our ruling class, keeping good and decent people from entering or staying in the field formerly known as “public service.”  Only those who are unembarrassed at even the crassest and grossest violations of human decency will run for high office.  Only those unembarrassable  – think Hillary Clinton and her husband – will dare take the challenge.

In short, everyone has secrets.  And no one wants all of them exposed.  No one, that is, except those who really don’t give a damn either way, since the normal rules of civilized behavior don’t apply to them. As Hanna Arendt noted, “‘a good conscience’ is enjoyed as a rule only by really bad people, criminals and such, while only ‘good people’ are capable of having a bad conscience.”

Obviously, we don’t know what may or may not be motivating Jason Chaffetz to leave Congress.  We’d like to believe that the mainstream speculation is correct and that he is leaving on his own terms to pursue his own interests.  But we’re not sure if that is indeed the case.  And we never will be.

What can be sure of, though, is that all of this will hurt the republic, both in the near and long-terms.  Twenty years ago, Newt Gingrich told voters that he and his Republican revolutionaries would change the country and hold the Clintons accountable.  The catch, of course, was that he was cheating on his wife and didn’t want her to find out.  And so, irrespective of what he said he would do, he played it safe.

When it all finally got to be too much for him, and he left the office of Speaker of the House, he was replaced immediately by a man who never actually served a single day on the job, because it was revealed that he had had multiple extra-marital affairs over the years.  And then, in his stead, the Republicans elected as Speaker a man who is currently serving a prison sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota for paying hush money to someone who blackmailed him for having molested “at least four boys” as young as 14, when he was a wrestling coach in Illinois.  All of which is to say that Newt’s “secrets” may have been bad news, but they were nowhere near as bad as the news that followed.

Who will follow Jason Chaffetz as the Chairman of the House Oversight Committee?  The most likely candidate is Ohio Republican Jim Jordan.  That’s not a guarantee, though, and the members of committee will have to decide among themselves who wishes to challenge for the spot.  If we had to guess, we’d say the next chairman will be South Carolinian Mark Sanford, third in seniority among Republicans on the committee.  He’d be prefect.  After all, Sanford is best known as the former governor of South Carolina who told his friends and family that he was going “hiking on the Appalachian Trail” and then disappeared for almost a week, communicating with no one – not friends, not family, not even staff members.  He later turned up and admitted to having an affair with an Argentinian woman – his “soul mate” – and to other affairs over the twenty-year course of his marriage.  And then he ran again for the House.  And won.  Like we said, in a post-secrets world, he’s perfect.

In the meantime, consider the message that has gone out to everyone in Washington who might try to hold the bureaucracy accountable:  we know everything; and maybe, just maybe, if you step out of line, it’ll be time that “some information that you might find embarrassing needs to get out.”  A world without secrets indeed.

 

WEIRD WASHINGTON.

Like most political observers, we have spent the last several months trying to gauge the “resistance” to Donald Trump.  Specifically, we’ve been trying to determine the likelihood that this resistance will turn into a mass movement, similar to the Tea Party, that portends another swing in the proverbial political pendulum in 2018.  In the days after Trump was inaugurated, we addressed the issue and concluded that things could change, but that the immediate face of the resistance was far too “out of touch” with regular Americans to constitute much of a mass movement.  The protesters, we wrote, “are ALL on the political fringe.  They do not represent ‘the people.’  They do not represent the silenced voice looking for a champion.  They represent themselves and no one else.”

In the weeks since, we have seen signs that suggest not only that we were right in our early assessment, but that the resistance is actually moving in the wrong direction, that it is moving away from representing a true people’s movement.

The first sign of this, we think, is the bizarre and affected turn taken by the Democratic Party leaders in their attempt to convince their base and others that they are the real voice of change in the country.  As you may know, a few weeks ago, Tom Perez won the hotly contested election for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee.  Perez served as Barack Obama’s Labor Secretary and represented the party establishment’s choice in the contest.  Fortunately for the Dems, he won, beating back the challenge of Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, one of two Muslim members of Congress and a longtime and unspeakably dishonest defender of the vile Louis Farrakhan.  The bad news is that immediately upon winning the race, Perez allied himself with the septuagenarian Socialist Bernie Sanders and set out with the old man on a mega-road-trip promoting the “new” Democratic Party.  The weird news for Democrats is that Perez seems to think that the key to turning the country against the Republicans is swearing.  Seriously.  As CNN noted yesterday:

Democrats in the post-2016 world have potty mouths.

Swearing has become such a part of Democratic stump speeches that profane clips have become routine in Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez’s speeches.  With children on stage behind him, Perez told an audience in Las Vegas this weekend that Trump “doesn’t give a sh*t about health care.”

Perez, President Barack Obama’s former labor secretary, made similar comments earlier this year.

“They call it a skinny budget, I call it a sh*tty budget,” Perez said in Portland, Maine.

Maybe it’s a calculated move to conjure up excitement.  Maybe it’s a direct response to the President Donald Trump, who repeatedly riled up campaign crowds with expletives incorporated into policy pronouncements.  Whatever the motivation, it appears to be a trend — and it’s not just Perez.

Throughout the Obama presidency, we repeatedly pointed out that Barack Obama’s most consistent personal characteristic is that is really and truly a weird guy.  Turns out, he’s not alone.  Many other Democrats – and Tom Perez in particular – are pretty darn weird too.  The thing about Perez and his swearing is that it’s so incredibly affected.  One’s immediate reaction to seeing it isn’t shock or horror at his profanity, but embarrassment – FOR him.  It is all so . . . well . . . disconcerting.  A lifetime party functionary getting out before the crowds and swearing like a five year-old demanding attention.

The second reason we doubt that the “resistance” has anything at all in common with average Americans is its choice of topics about which to protest.  The Tea Party, of course, was a revolution of sorts against taxes and spending.  After the Great Recession, average people were unhappy about two things: the fact that the ruling class was raising taxes when it should have been worried about economic growth; and that Washington was spending money, hand over fist, and using it to bail out Democratic partisan constituencies as well as the corporate leaders who had caused the economic crash in the first place.

Note here that we specifically did NOT say that people were upset with Obama for doing these things.  Of course, they were upset with him, but they weren’t upset with him alone.  They were upset with George W. Bush, the godfather of TARP, as well.  They were upset with Congress.  They were upset with anyone and everyone who held power and who used that power to enrich themselves and their friends, as regular people struggled.

The members of the current “resistance,” by contrast, are upset not about taxes or spending or anything else having to do with policy.  They are upset strictly with the fact that they lost.  Consider, for example, the latest trend in protests against the Trump administration.  The Hill provides the details:

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend rallies on Saturday that are aimed at pressuring President Trump to release his tax returns.  The events, which will be held as the tax-filing deadline approaches, are one of a number of protests that have sprung up since Trump’s election, including the women’s march held the day after the inauguration.  The marches come eight years after Tea Party rallies on President Obama’s first Tax Day in office . . .

While the main march will take place in Washington, D.C., there are also events set for more than 150 other cities in the U.S. and abroad.  Events are planned in large cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, as well as in smaller cities in states that Trump won such as Billings, Mont., and Fayetteville, Ark.  Internationally, protests are planned in cities including London and Tokyo . . . .

Democrats have sought to make Trump’s tax returns a big political issues, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) will all speak at the D.C. rally.  Several other lawmakers will speak at rallies elsewhere.

They don’t care about their taxes or your taxes.  They only care about HIS taxes.  Didn’t we mention yet that these people are weird?

Of course, the reason that they care about his taxes is telling.  For months now, the Democrats have tried desperately to paint Trump as a tool of Russian intelligence, a traitor to his country who is compromised by his Russian connections and should, therefore, be removed from office.  Some in the Democrat-allied-media have actually written (and published!) fantasies about how the Russian “scandal” will not only bring down Trump, but will call into question the entire election, creating a constitutional crisis, and then – through the magic of the underwear gnomes – lead to Hillary Clinton taking her rightful place at the same desk where her husband used to engage his favorite intern.

Needless to say, the lack of evidence against Trump and the generally anti-Russian tenor of the Trump presidency have made many on the Left anxious, if not downright apoplectic.  As a result, they are looking to Trump’s tax returns, either to provide confirmation of a Russian connection or to show something else embarrassing that will lead to his removal from office.  The tax-return protests aren’t about preserving the dignity of the presidency.  They aren’t about the importance of historical precedent.  They aren’t about anything, except the Left’s desperate attempt to “get” President Trump.  The longer Trump is in office, we’re afraid, the more likely it becomes that “weird” will prove an inadequate description of the Left’s pathology.

Now, we should note that none of this should be taken as a prediction that the Republicans will buck recent trends and retain control of the House and Senate in 2018.  As the inimitable Michael Barone explained last week, the results from two Congressional special elections held over the past couple of weeks contain good and bad news for both parties.  And certainly, there is reason to believe that the bad news for Republicans will continue to grow over the next 19 months.

The catch here, though, is that the Republican “bad news” is almost all self-created.  In 2010 and again in 2014, the Democrats faced a wave of unhappiness not just with them, but with the ruling class more generally. They were swamped by a populist uprising in search of a leader.  If the Republicans lose next year, the reasons will be much different.  They will lose not because of a wave of any sort, but because of their own failures.  If the Congress and the Trump White House cannot deliver on the promises they made, voters will have no choice but to stay home or to vote for the other guys.  Those are the only options for disgruntled voters in a two-party system.

The Republicans and their president control their own fate.  They will lose to the weird-and-becoming-weirder Democrats only if they fail to do anything and attempt to run on their perpetuation of the status quo.

Postscript: This from Social Media:

BREAKING NEWS FROM WHITE HOUSE

Sean Spicer: “Trumps tax records are now available in a safe place for all to see.”

CNN Reporter: “Where is that?”

Sean Spicer: “They’re underneath Obama’s college records, his birth record, his passport application, his immigration status as a student, his funding source to pay for college, his college records, his selective service application, and Hillary’s e-mail log and 66,000 milling e-mails.  

 

Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.