Monday, July 23, 2007

Personal Asides: The Master of Zig-Zag--Pete Domenici Who’s Not Burdened with Issues, Merely Political Instinct…The “Wall Street Journal Flap—Imagine a New Owner Who Wants to Shape the Paper! Outrageous!...All This and 79, Too.


Zig-Zag Pete.

Thus far in examining those Senate Republicans who want to cut and run from Iraq, setting their own timetable rather than wait for results of the “Surge” in mid-September, we have examined (a) Chuck Hagel and John Warner…the first named a hot-dog who wants to STIG (Stand Tall in Georgetown) and the second who, at age 80, having utilized two ex-wives to get where he is, doesn’t want to let it blow away until they carry him out; and then (b) Dick Lugar the GS-18 who, were he to embrace an ideological position (as did Reagan on the USSR) would invite a cerebral hemorrhage.

These three are understandable Senate denizens who apply not just ambition but some intellectual resources to determining their positions. Hagel researched his anti-Iraq views first with the understanding that he wanted to STIG and second how he could make the case meaningful. Warner took his polls and then worked his staff (one of whom I know well, who had worked for me) to give him annotated positions with which he could justify his stand to save his political skin in 2008 albeit with a thoroughly manufactured concern for well-being of the troops larded over with a phony rich-guy Virginia accent.

Lugar does his own research and is so consumed with pros and cons, qualifications and counterbalancing phrases…which made him an excellent briefer for Ike Eisenhower…it is natural to expect he could not embrace an ideological view. Lugar constitutionally (his constitution not the country’s) couldn’t announce his intention to go to the Men’s without qualification: “On one hand, when I get there I may find what I felt was an urge to seek relief was merely an accumulation of gas—but is it not prudent to make the move in the eventuality that what I now perceive would become immediate.”

Now we come to one who isn’t bothered by anything like that. He is Pete Dominici, 75, with a face veined like a rural road-map but fitted with a toupee that never ages, always showing a well-varnished veneer, a grocer’s son from Albuquerque, N. M. who has a sharply limited intellectual vista. He is interested in meat and potatoes—solely: i.e. what he can obtain via the pork barrel for New Mexico. A former Commerce aide of mine worked for him and was close to him. She says issues are never brought up—just mechanics: what do I have to do to get this pork through? Foreign policy boils down to: what do I need in the way of press? What do I have to say on Iraq to get the newspapers out there supporting me?” Nothing has to do with issues or ideology, she says. His record shows it. To keep on doing this, Dominici believes that to win again in 2008, he has to court the “independent vote” in New Mexico. Which means he has to veer away from Bush and Iraq. Not a question of details: that’s for Lugar, Hagel and Warner. Just veer away and forget the issues.

Veer away just as Dominici did before with zig-zag, a phrase common with his staff but which means no philosophical or intellectual purpose: just intuitive. He loves Appropriations but his prime post in the past was on the Budget committee, where he not only controlled the spending for New Mexico but could cut back on rival programs so as to accentuate New Mexico’s chances. Without ideology occupying a second’s thought, he supported Reagan’s first tem tax cuts but then—quick as by overnight decision—veered and supported a tax hike. Somebody got to him: he sniffed the wind and decided, by the feel of his gut, it was time to retrench from supply-side.

He chafed in Reagan’s first term when he zigged right to support the Social Security COLA freeze but should have zagged, he thinks, when Republicans were exposed and lost the Senate in `86. He listened to Dave Stockman, the turncoat (Judas, he was called, as a former supply-sider turned apostate) and favored tax hikes immediately after. A small tax hike worked but soon he was back adding to the deficit with his lavish appropriations and deal-cutting. He somehow “couldn’t get no respeck” from his colleagues, as Rodney Dangerfield said. Somehow they figured him to be a rudder spinning to and fro with no direction. Now how in the world could they reach that conclusion?

He re-concentrated, trying to see if he could get the zigs and zags right. He helped shape the budget resolutions in `99 and `00 but at the same time as an appropriator violated the budget caps: that meant both zig and zag. In 2001 he helped pass the George W. Bush $1.6 trillion tax cut where he was less upset with deficits than he was earlier.

“It’s an easy answer,” says my friend the staffer. “He goes by the seat of his pants. Now he’s worried about reelection so he’s against the Surge. After reelection he’ll check the pulse again and possibly will be all-out to win the war.” What happens in Iraq if we pull out precipitously? “It never comes up,” she says. Zig and zag has helped Dominici in his home state but not to get the respect from the Senate or his colleagues he thinks he deserves. He ran against Bob Dole for majority leader and lost; ran for Policy chairman and lost to Don Nickles. He tried again for Policy chairman and lost to Larry Craig.

“My worry,” says my friend the staffer, “is that he has zigged where he should have stayed put. If we lose this war, the voters will be after his scalp and it’ll be too late to zag back again.”

What’s This: An Owner Who Wants to Run Things?

There is no doubt that the “Wall Street Journal,” one of the greatest national newspapers in the world, has been divided between the editorial page which in addition to fine writing distinguishes itself with mature commentary…and certain sections of the news department which resemble 90% of all journalists are: liberals. But what amazes me is that the news staff of the “Journal” is supposed to understand business economics. That they don’t has been obvious by the running battle they are waging against the purchase of the “Journal” by Rupert Murdoch.

None other than Ben Bradlee, the liberal ex-editor of the “Washington Post” made the crack that if the family wants to sell the paper, for God’s sake sell it and don’t sully the market by trying to write a proviso that the owner should have nothing to say about the editorial direction of the newspaper.


Today is my birthday…born July 23, 1928 which makes me 79. I can only remember the good things about the mid-1930s: the trouble our across-the-street neighbor had starting his black Model T Ford (by that year every second car on the road was a Model T (a touring car cost $690), Roadster ($590), Torpedo ($590), Town Car ($900)—which is what our neighbor had…Delivery (a commercial vehicle) $700. It had a hand crank and our neighbor a ferocious temper. One day the procedure was like this: he would jerk the hand crank vigorously which would start the engine and he would race over to take the wheel…whereupon the engine would die. Out again, he’d give the crank a harder jerk (you could break an arm in the process if the crank backed up which occasionally it did) and he’d run to the front door, hop in—and the engine would die. Third time same result. Fourth time, in a rage, he ran to the front of the car, addressed it as if it were human with this shout (as I watched on): “You bastard! Now I’m going to put out your eyes!” and he kicked the two headlights out.

Good friend and frequent contributor Frank Nofsinger sent a card which bears the unmistakable likeness of another contributor and frequent heckler: Lawrence (who often writes to me and all of you twice a day, sometimes even without capital letters).