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William Rivers Pitt: The Same Old George

The Same Old George

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Thursday 16 November 2006

Beat on the brat,
Beat on the brat,
Beat on the brat with a baseball bat,
Oh yeah ...

- The Ramones

All the talk of bi-partisanship after the midterm elections was really nice, wasn't it? Granted, the only reason conversation got steered in that direction was because the Republican Party absorbed a staggering defeat the Tuesday after last, because George W. Bush had the shattered pieces of his credibility - nay, of his entire tenure to date - handed to him in a small brown paper sack by the American people. But hey, it was good while it lasted.

It didn't last.

The first rumblings of the wow-nothing-has-changed-at-all-in-the-White-House phenomenon started last week, when Bush's people intimated that the lame-duck GOP Congress would be tasked to ram through some highly dubious legislation before they get shoved into the minority seats come January. First off, Bush wanted John Bolton, now serving a temp job as UN ambassador, to be permanently confirmed.

If any time was available, Bush also wanted Congress to pass blanket approval for his highly controversial and almost certainly illegal warrantless wiretapping program. To wit, he was hoping his pals in Congress would paper over this particular set of broken FISA laws before the new chairmen come in with subpoena power.

Thankfully, it does not appear that either of these will fly before the new Congress begins its session. Key Republicans have come out against Bolton, which does not preclude the possibility of Bush cementing him into his position by fiat, and very few Republicans appear interested in touching the wiretapping bill with a ten foot legislative pole.

It isn't the content of these moves - dangerous and obnoxious as the content may be - so much as it is the form. Bush gave that quasi-deranged press conference in the aftermath of the elections last week, and between making bad jokes to the press while throwing Karl Rove under the bus, he made all the right noises about working with the new majority in Congress. Meetings with Pelosi and Reid yielded similar-sounding platitudes. Yet the Bolton thing, and the wiretapping thing, combine to paint a picture we have become all too familiar with.

Call it My Way or the Highway Gothic, with lines and shades as predictable as gravity. Failure to get Bolton or the wiretapping legislation installed as top Congressional priorities did not seem to thwart Bush, for he unfurled on Thursday a whole new battery of the same old stuff.

"Bush Renominates Judicial Picks," read the Thursday headline in the Washington Post. "President Bush renominated six previously blocked candidates for federal appeals court yesterday," went the story, "triggering the first real battle with ascendant Democrats since the midterm elections and signaling what could be the start of a fierce two-year struggle over the shape of the federal judiciary. The move heartened conservatives who worried that Bush would scale back his ambition to move courts to the right and outraged liberals, who called it a violation of the spirit of bipartisanship promised since Democrats captured Congress. Both sides saw it as a possible harbinger for the remainder of Bush's presidency, particularly if a Supreme Court vacancy opens."

The six nominees are all considered either unabashedly unqualified or far too right-wing. This crew - Michael B. Wallace for the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit; William J. Haynes II and Terrence W. Boyle Jr. for the 4th Circuit; William G. Myers III and Norman Randy Smith for the 9th Circuit; and Peter D. Keisler for the DC Circuit - were such bad choices that even Bush's rubber-stamp Senate majority refused to give them a vote.

Four other nominees have been deployed by Bush as well: James E. Rogan to the U.S. District Court in California; Benjamin H. Settle to the district court in Washington state; and Margaret A. Ryan and Scott W. Stucky to the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The name Rogan may be familiar, as he once served in Congress as one of the House managers for the impeachment prosecution of Bill Clinton. Yeah, this will be a fun group to deal with.

The Post notes that "the Senate almost certainly will not act on them in the lame-duck session that adjourns next month. If Bush wants to keep pushing for these nominations, he will have to resubmit them in January, when the Senate reconvenes with a 51-vote Democratic majority." In other words, the beatings will cease once morale improves.

On top of this, Bush has also renominated two colossal failures into positions of responsibility they don't deserve; in one case, the fellow nominated was so inept, he is at least partially responsible for getting a bunch of people hurt. Richard Stickler was nominated by Bush to be head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, after his previous nomination was blocked by the Senate. Bush did an end run around the process and used a recess appointment to place Stickler into MSHA. As a coal industry executive from 1989 to 1996, Stickler presided over injury rates that were double the national average. The families of the miners lost in Sago will find his nomination far from comforting.

The other nominee, Paul DeCamp for administrator of the US Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division, also failed to win Senate confirmation the first time around, and also got a recess appointment from Bush. DeCamp has previously served as an attorney for Wal-Mart, and has some interesting ideas about overtime. Basically, he doesn't think workers should get paid for overtime, period. He is also no great fan of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and is on record urging the weakening of these worker protections.

As with the judicial nominees, it does not appear likely these two will be approved by the lame-duck GOP Congress, and like the judicial nominees, it seems all but certain that they will be rejected by the new Democratic majority. This is, in the end, hardly the point. It is one thing to say all the right words about working with Congress to get things done for the American people. It is another thing again to actually do it.

Amazing, no? George W. Bush gets smacked in the head with an electoral baseball bat, and he still refuses to get the message. This will prove to be an interesting two years indeed.


William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence. His newest book, House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation, will be available this winter from PoliPointPress.

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