Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Still Waiting for Guffman . . .

The article in this morning's New York Times that everyone's e-mailing on (Rob, Kara, Paul, Zach, Erika, Keesha, Lincoln, Tamara, Lloyd, Billie, Corey, Alabama, Krista) is Steven R. Weisman's "Ex-Official Says Nominee Bullied Analyst on Arms."

In caustic and unusually personal testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Carl W. Ford Jr., who was assistant secretary for intelligence and research, said Mr. Bolton was a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" who "abuses his authority with little people," and an ill-suited nominee to become ambassador to the United Nations.

Guffman emerged yesterday, after the long wait, and judging by the Times, the play's still closing. Having pinned all their hopes on Carl W. Ford Jr., Democrats were surprised to find that Republicans just didn't give a damn.

Ford painted Bolton as a serial abuser of underlings: screaming and yelling, finger wagging, someone's whose management 'style' could best be described as "he reamed him a new one,"
" an 800-pound gorilla devouring a banana," a "serial abuser," and someone fond of ringing up a departing employee to snarl "I'm glad you're leaving" before hanging up.

Realizing that his receding hairline was all he shared with Kevin Costner, Senator Lincoln Chafee recast himself as Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind and joined Senator Richard Luger in chanting: fiddle-de-dee, I'll think about that tomorrow.

Senator Christopher Dodd came off like Cassandra fortelling the danger that will accompany confirming Bolton, but Chafee and Luger were unconcerned with "management style" (or what the Times and some senators generously termed Bolton's tendency to fall into "group think").
As ambassador to the United Nations, Luger and Chafee seemed to say, diplomacy really wasn't a prerequiste for the job.

The Dems pinned their hope on a mythical Guffman. Yesterday Guffman arrived in the form of Carl W. Ford Jr. and there was little impact on Republican senators from his testimony. When not offering damning testimony on Bolton, Ford was praising the Bully Boy and the administration. Not a real surprise when you consider his statements re: Venezuala in 2002. But this was the Dems mighty Guffman, the savior who would carry the show.

Next time, they'd be better off casting the role with someone less known as an administration lackey. Carl W. Ford Jr.'s charges appear to have been dismissed by Republicans as a "personality conflict." Possibly anyone the Dems brought in would have been? If so, next time they might try casting the role with someone who could do real damage as opposed to someone swearing fidelity to the administration while taking pains to point out Bolton's disqualifiers?

The role demanded someone whose comments would enrage the nation. Instead, we got a low level supporter of the Bully Boy detailing personal conflicts. The Republican senators were always going to dismiss whomever the Dems trotted out. Any Guffman's only hope would be to enrage a nation and cause public outcry. Ford was always ill cast for that role.

In the film Waiting for Guffman, Guffman never shows. Having cast Ford in the role, the Dems learned that a lack of star power is a liability. Hopefully, they also learned that cheerleaders for the Bully Boy weren't the way to foster outrage in the public.

Keesha: That's the best that they could do? Someone who blows kisses at the Bully Boy while painting Bolton as a bounder, a cad?

Apparently so. This time. Turning over the senate to Ford was a mistake. It had the effect of endorsing the views of the administration and making it seem that the only real difference was over approach, not outlook.

Senator Joe Biden attempted to go for a moment of folksy wisdom, " "This is a big deal, guys and ladies. I believe that this appointment is damaging to our national interests."

While I agree with Biden, he and the Dems never demonstrated why it was "damaging to our national interests." They accepted the Bully Boy's terms of the debate and wanted to quibble over management style.

Bolton's repugnant and offers none of the diplomacy needed for the post. But when you parade witnesses swearing loyalty to the Bully Boy, you're not making a case for outrage. This should have been a time to paint larger issues about diplomacy and our role in the world, to stand against the unilateral bullying posture of the administration. Having failed to establish such a stance, Dems were left chanting, "Bolton's the boss from hell." No doubt Bolton is, but that's not going to score any points with the public.

Far be it from me to suggest how to "frame" an event. However, the issue should never been about one person, it should have been about questioning the direction the country was moving in. They reduced it to one person and when their big witness, their Guffman, failed to deliver outrage, the Dems really shouldn't have been surprised.

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