Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Gordo's Flip Flops, Ben's Flight Fine at Home?

Folks are still buzzing about Sen. Gordon Smith's cut and run on the Bush administration regarding Iraq last weekend. My favorite part of the whole episode so far, I think, was watching Presidential spokesman Tony Snow squiggle and squirm while reporters asked him about it. Ridenbaugh Press covered the gaggle on Monday, and links to the whole transcript. Here's the money shot:
Q Republican Senator Smith is challenging the strategy. What he basically said yesterday, as well, was, when you do the same thing over and over again without a clear strategy for victory, that is dereliction, that is deeply immoral. Such is the dispute. He’s saying what the President is doing is immoral.

MR. SNOW: Well, then we disagree.

Q Tony, first of all, the –

Q You’re just going to blow it off? A Republican senator is saying the President’s policy may be criminal and it’s immoral, and you’re just saying, we just disagree?

MR. SNOW: And what would you like me to say? Should I do duels at 10 paces?

Q Don’t you think you should answer for that? You’re saying — you’ve said from this podium over and over that the strategy is a victory, right? And you have a Republican senator is saying there is no clear strategy, that you don’t have a strategy.

MR. SNOW: Well, let’s let Senator Smith hear what the President has to say. We understand that this is a time where politics are emotional in the wake of an election. And you know what? Senator Smith is entitled to his opinion. But I’m not sure exactly what you would like –

Q Well, how about answering the central thrust about the strategy, not about, like, politics –

MR. SNOW: Okay, the strategy is pretty simple. If you take a look, for instance — if you take a look at the Baker-Hamilton commission report, what do they talk about? They talk about building greater capability on the part of the Iraqis so that you can have an Iraqi government that governs itself, sustains itself, defends itself, who’s ally in the war on terror is a democracy.

I don’t think it’s immoral to be a democracy. I don’t think it’s immoral to have a state that is able to stand up and defend itself against acts of terror. I don’t think it’s immoral to defend the Iraqi people against acts of terrorism aimed at Muslims.

Q The Senator is not saying that’s immoral. He’s saying that the U.S. — he’s saying, of course democracy is a great goal –

MR. SNOW: You know what, Ed? Ed, I’ll tell you what. You’re engaging in an argument and you’re trying to fill in the gaps in a –

Q It’s not an argument. It’s a Republican senator saying it, not me. It’s a Republican senator saying it, and he’s not –

MR. SNOW: Then tell me exactly what –

Q — of course he’s in favor of democracy.

MR. SNOW: Tell me –

Q Are you saying Republican Senator Smith is not in favor of democracy?

MR. SNOW: Well, I don’t know.
Thank God--at least the Republicans have no idea what Smith really meant, either. I think Steve Novick, writing yesterday at BlueO, comes pretty close however--he sees it as a fairly cynical attempt for redemption that claims to feature a change of heart, but as delivered came off more self-interested than heartfelt. For instance, Novick points out, wouldn't a reference to decisions that come from the heart best be accompanied by some kind of acknowledgement that this horrible tragedy of a war might have come partially on the strength of Smith's 3-plus years of support?

Bill Nothstine over at P3 expands on that notion today, filling in Novick's suggestion by noting The O's Steve Duin's contrast of Smith with John Edwards' true mea culpa last year. It's easy enough for Smith to look foward and say "no more," but Edwards was man enough to ALSO look back on his actions and express that he found them wanting. By pointing out the obvious sincerity of Edwards' backtrack--"he came clean on Veteran's Day 2005 because it was the right thing to do"--Bill shines a light on what was missing from Smith's flip...any real sense that Smith was doing what his conscience demanded, rather than what his advisors suggested and the writing on the wall for 2008 almost assuredly requires.

So maybe he's not exactly pulling out all the Sir Galahad stops, but he's manifestly changed his stance on THE issue of the day. Is anyone buying it? Hard to tell from inside the blogosphere bubble, but this morning's O gives a glimpse--two letters to the editor leading off the letters section, neither complimentary. I'll go ahead and transcribe them verbatim here. The first one is particularly poignant, coming as it does from the family of a soldier:
As a Gold Star family (our son, Sgt. David W. Johnson, Oregon National Guard, was killed in action on Sept. 25, 2004, near Baghdad), we find it more than just interesting that Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., has chosen now, a month after the Republican Party lost control of the Senate, to "loosen" his ties with the Bush administration.

We met with Smith in his Washington, D.C., office, on Sept. 23, 2005. During our brief "conversation" with the senator, we spoke of the many reasons we were against the war with Iraq even before the invasion.

We talked about the fact that the war was based on lies about weapons of mass destruction. We told Smith how we supported David during his time in Iraq and how we continue to support the rest of the troops still in Iraq and those now back home.

After we told Smith the details of our son's death in Iraq, he looked at us and said, "I hope that someday your pain will be lessened when you realize that President Bush was right about the reasons we went to war."

Now Smith is trying to reposition himself for the 2008 election by claiming he has finally seen the light about the true cost of the war against Iraq and the waste of American lives. Smith is seemingly trying to distance himself from the Bush administration, hoping that the voters in Oregon won't remember how often he voted with the administration.

The only voters being duped by Smith will be those who vote for him in 2008.



I commend Sen. Gordon Smith for following his conscience and finally changing his stance on the war in Iraq. Of course, it was a few days after a bipartisan committee determined that the war is an abject failure, and a few weeks after the Republicans had their butts handed to them in the mid-term election.

I can only imagine what would have happened if Smith and some of his Republican friends had shown a little leadership 18 months ago and voiced their concerns then instead of blindly following the administration. How many American lives could have been saved?

Sadly, it's too late for those fine Americans, but not for Smith's political career. It's shameful.
MATTHEW STONE, Northwest Portland
Two letters don't adequately speak for the entire state, but typically newspapers will attempt to showcase submissions that reflect the tone and quantity of response on any given issue. Especially considering The O's general habit of ink-fellating Smith's purported centrism, it's curious that both printed letters are negative.

On the other hand, Ben Westlund's change of political scenery seems to be going well. Democrats are thrilled, of course--but says the Merc's Scott Moore, back home in Bend everyone appears to be OK with it, too:
SM: Since you’ve been in Bend today, how have people in the community responded to your switch? Or have they yet?

BW: It’s one of the great things you get doing the nuts and bolts of living, pharmacy, dry cleaners, auto shop—you’re getting face to face with constituents. By and large, overwhelmingly, support has been positive. No question about that.

SM: Have you heard from people who are unhappy? I imagine they’re the same people who’ve been unhappy with you for years.

BW: Not specifically. I know that Stacey Dykus (Westlund staffer) has been following the emails, and they’ve been running about 9-1 positive to negative.

SM: If you were to compare it to when you were championing SB1000, was it the same sort of response?

BW: No. 1000 was a much more divisive, controversial issue. I think you hit a nail on the head there. This is almost more normal to a lot of people than championing gay rights. They might not like it. Some of my Republican constituents may not like it, but that’s at least more understandable. That fits within the two-party system. Are you stripes or are you spots? They understand that stuff. What they don’t understand is honoring the dignity of all human beings.
Ouchie, baybee!

Update 12/14 midnight--
Apologies for rushing this to press, and shamefully not following through on the links to Randy Stapilus' work at Ridenbaugh, and Scott Moore's quick and smart interview with Westlund at the Merc. I also probably should acknowledge that in addition to Nothstine pimping Steve Duin's take on Smith, Carla gave Duin the thumb's up yesterday. I knew that; Bill just had more to say, and thus more to pass on to you the loyal reader.

We're wasting time getting a Smith campaign together now. Let's get a move on.