Thursday, March 22, 2007

Iraq and the Death Spiral of the Oregon GOP

[I apologize to anyone who saw an earlier draft of this. I published without a proper edit and left several sentence fragments and truly awful material on display. Out of my own shame I have excised the more egregious parts. Blogging isn't T.S. Eliot, but you deserve something the writer at least went over...]

I watched almost all of the House debate Tuesday on HJM 9, the Iraq withdrawal bill, while home sick. On many days you can watch the Oregon legislature and not even notice that there are Republicans involved; unless you know the faces, when you watch them in committee and listen to them on the floor talking about mundane bills, you wouldn't be able to tell if they were Republican, Democrat, or Avel Gordly. But on any of the touchstone issues that divide this country, it's like someone flips a switch and all the preprogrammed wingnuts start lurching into action.

Sure enough, people like Gene Whisnant and Kim Thatcher and Scott Bruun on this occasion had their moments, and we'll get to those. But before I get going on the lampoonable members of the Oregon Republicans, I point to their esteemed colleagues Brian Boquist, Vicki Berger and John Lim, all of whom refused the talking points handed out in the caucus meeting and voted Nay Yea. Lim's testimony went several different places and I wasn't sure until the end how he was voting, but while he stood very firm in his support of the President (we'll let that go), he admitted, "but not on this war." Berger did not speak to my knowledge, but Boquist--a co-carrier of the bill--was devastating in his critique of the hapless "myths" against the bill, as he called them.

After Shields made his opening statement on the bill and Boquist crushed the GOP myths on discussing the war*, Whisnant, the rumped delegate from Sunriver, wheezed into action, and began asking a series of baffling questions that reminded me of John Cleese trying to throw off Graham Chapman in a job interview by tinkling a bell and singing, "Goooooood niiiiiight, a ding a ding ding ding!!!" He started by asking when exactly in 2008 the withdrawal was supposed to begin. (It begins in FISCAL 2008, meaning this coming October 1st). He asked what the reference was to the part that said the military people don't want the escalation, and Shields deferred to Boquist, who explained the reliance on the ISG Report.

Whisnant moved on to the part about legality, and asked what the source was for that. Then he asked about the advisory capacity that was authorized to remain in Iraq after a withdrawal began--and asked about the contradiction. Shields and Boquist puzzled for a moment, and discovered that Whiz was asking why they were withdrawing, and THEN putting in "military advisors." Boquist explained that the Reserves and the National Guard would not be doing any advising, and thus would be coming home. Whisnant persisted that there was a contradiction afoot, until Shields literally refused to yield to more questions. Whizzer read them out anyway. And that was just the question segment.

When he finally got to the bill, Whisnant rambled through the speaking time of six members in opposition, taking care to throw up just about every weak talking point Fox had surely handed him. (It was very kind of Whiz to do that, playing into Boquist's mythbusting speech perfectly.) The entire thing was incoherently strung together, and was punctuated by a poorly read "tribute" to the fallen Oregonians, framed entirely in his strongly if incoherently worded support of the Iraq war. He'd gotten through about a third of them when the Speaker stopped him: the House Parliamentarian had questioned whether Whisnant's testimony to the bill was not germane if it was just a list of names. Whisnant complained that it was his whole POINT to read them, and nobody seemed to want to further disregard the people being named by putting up a fuss.

About 1/2 the way through, Whisnant read the name David Johnson, at which point a woman (later identified as activist Leah Bolger) shouted "How DARE you use the name of someone you've never met to justify your political agenda!" before Merkeley gaveled her to silence. Ever notice how much bigger Jeff's gavel is than Pelosi's? Or is the desk just bigger? Whiz finished his list, rumbled something vaguely conclusatory, and sat down amidst his giant sheaf of sweaty pages.

One of the more interesting things he said was that it was wrong to question the Commander in Chief when it comes to war. That's not interesting by itself, of course; it's just another one of the talking points. But it seems that Whisnant has changed his mind about that subject in the last few years, given his comments to American Legion magazine in 1999:
I STRONGLY CONCUR with your recent call to withdraw immediately from the Balkans. I served as the Defense and Air Attache to Yugoslavia from June 1990 until October 1992. I know the truth about what is happening in Yugoslavia. What my country is doing is a crime against humanity and a crime against international law and the U.N. charter. Congress has failed to provide the leadership to stop or even question our commander in chief and the State Department. From first-hand observation, portraying the Serbs as evil and everyone else as good is dishonest. This is a media-generated tragedy and to finish it may take the blood of our service men and women. Again, thank you for speaking out and asking for the true facts. Gene Whisnant, Sunriver, Ore [emph mine]
Whoops! If you're out there Gene, I'd love to hear from you on your change of heart.

Scott Bruun was just as programmed as Whisnant, but had the weapon of being understandable and clever in his critique on his side, an arrow Whizzer apparently didn't bring in his quivver. Bruun rousted a surely overturned Tom Paine from his grave and reminded the body about "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots," and rattled off the party line with confident authority.

Uh, wazzat about sunshine patriots? Mitch Greenlick made his way slowly to the podium, and began even more slowly with a personal recitation about his days in the mid-60s. And then it became a story about the day President Johnson announced the Gulf of Tonkin attack, and Greenlick was all hot to go nuclear on the Vietnamese. A friend suggested that maybe it was all made up to start the war, and Greenlick was incredulous. But he soon came to see that his friend was right, and that the war, if it ever had served one, served a purpose no longer.

Greenlick reflected on his own culpability for the men lost in Vietnam, because he believed his government and helped even just a little to push his country to war. And he'd be damned (which he didn't actually say) if he was going to sit quietly as his government lied to him again. Finally, he tore into Bruun by noting that given Greenlick's status as s a co-sponsor of the bill, apparently Bruun felt he was a sunshine patriot, a summer soldier, and that he was aiding and abetting the enemy, which of course we know by the name treason. Pointing that out, that to take Bruun seriously one had to believe he was calling bill supporters traitors, was a smart move. Where Boquist tore down the pretended rational excuses for the war, Greenlick exploited the weakness of the puffed-up emotional blackmail in the GOP's attitude. Treason? I mean, really. That's like, DeLay-worthy smearing nonsense.

Speaking of puffy, Kim Thatcher dissolved into tears while talking about how very, very sad she was about this bill. She pointed out American heroes and traced her military lineage, which is of course very honorable (assuming they were, too). And then...she trotted out the same bromides as all the other strung puppets.

I mean, as a Republican, how bizarre is it to reject as liberally dangerous nonsense the report issued by James Freakin Baker? {pdf} As Boquist spoke, in that moment the gathered Republicans considered their options: get out (Westlund), get beat (Dalto), get wise (Boquist), or...continue to test the limits of cognitive dissonance absorbed in one lifetime. How long can they take it before they crack?

Remember it next year: 25 of your state House legislators voted for unceasing war in Iraq.

*I really, really wanted to get my hands on Boquist's floor remarks, because they reflect a high degree of credibility and experience, and as I said they represented a strong critique of the lockstep way in which most of his colleagues are viewing the conflict and particularly the effort to end the war. As of yesterday afternoon, Boquist's staff was going to email me a copy, which I was told "was still sitting right on his PC."

By today they suddenly refused to email it, citing a protocol they could not describe and offering only regular mail as a form of delivery. I made it clear I was ready to publish and was only waiting on his remarks to excerpt--to no avail. I have no idea why they rejected my attempt to get them in a timely fashion. Did they think we'd trash him? On the contrary, obviously. It's too bad; I guess you'll have to listen to the audio of the session {.ram file} to hear what he had to say.