Political Hay

Plaming Out: Joe Wilson Jumps the Shark

Finally the nation will see Joe and fair Valerie in all their vanity.

By 7.14.06

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In TV-land the moment is infamous.

One of the stars of the longtime hit TV series Happy Days, Arthur "The Fonz" Fonzerelli, played by Henry Winkler, is made to do something by the show's writers that was clearly designed to save the fading series from sinking ratings.

The something? The Fonz, on water skis, was forced to literally jump a shark. The episode not only failed to save the once popular series that also starred future director Ron Howard, "jumping the shark" became a Hollywood metaphor for the point at which a once believable premise became a caricature.

With the filing of a lawsuit against Vice President Cheney, White House political aide Karl Rove and ex-Vice Presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame have finally jumped the shark. With the revelation by columnist Robert Novak that it was neither Rove nor Libby, much less Cheney, who was his primary source for his column mentioning -- in passing no less -- that Wilson's now-famous assignment to Niger was arranged by his CIA-wife, Wilson's entire claim to fame takes a torpedo amidships. The New York Post now reports that Novak's main source was the anti-Iraq War Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a charge that Armitage has thus far not refuted. Why would someone who opposed the invasion of Iraq as did Wilson and his wife rat out Analyst Plame? There is no reason, which is why Armitage is presumably not included in the suit.

With the filing of this lawsuit Americans outside the Beltway will finally begin to understand something about both Wilson and Plame.

America has been here before. This is not the first time that career officials of the U.S. government have "jumped the shark" by letting legitimate policy differences drive them to Fonzie's water skis.

The name of Major General Edwin Walker has long since receded into history. Like both Wilson and Plame, Walker was a distinguished government servant, in Walker's case serving in the U.S. Army. A West Point graduate, he served with distinction in Italy during World War II. He was involved in combat in the Korean War, and when serving stateside during the 1950s he was the guy who made certain President Eisenhower's orders to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, were implemented. By 1959 he was commanding troops of the 24th Infantry Division in West Germany.

There, like Wilson's famous trip to Niger at what the Senate Intelligence Committee says was Plame's arrangement, General Walker began strapping on Fonzie's water skis.

The political polar opposite of Plame and Wilson, Edwin Walker was a committed right-winger. But like CIA analyst Plame and Ambassador Wilson, General Walker was still in the employ of the United States government as a non-political appointee. Alas, as with Plame and Wilson, Walker simply could not control himself. He had his opinions. He was an American. There was that pesky and oh-so inviting First Amendment luring him out to the water skis.

Walker waded in. Specifically he was accused of distributing fliers from the right-wing John Birch Society to his troops. Like Plame, he was quickly accused of abusing his official position as an Army General for politics. Un-deterred, Walker did an earlier version of Ambassador Wilson's stunt. Wilson, of course, wrote of his political opinions for the New York Times, his views on President Bush setting off the explosion that would finally end his wife's CIA career. Walker sat down for an interview with a newspaper called the Overseas Weekly. Like Wilson, who has gone after not only the President but the Vice President and others, Walker chose to attack former President Harry Truman, ex-Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and Senator Hillary Clinton's favorite White House communing partner, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. All three, said Walker, were "definitely pink." Pink. As in sort of a lighter shade of Communist Red.

Bam! Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had had enough. General Walker was ex-General Walker in a blink. By resigning instead of retiring he lost his pension. Undeterred, he was immediately back home in Dallas where he became a candidate in the 1962 Democratic primary for Governor of Texas. Walker came in sixth behind JFK's Secretary of the Navy, LBJ pal John Connally. He had made himself such a sensation that in April of 1963, sitting in his living room, he narrowly escaped death at the hands of an unknown would-be assassin who shot through Walker's window with a rifle. Seven months later the assassin, a committed Communist named Lee Harvey Oswald, struck again, this time killing President Kennedy and wounding Walker's one-time opponent, Texas Governor Connally.

Walker wasn't done, however, with the fame game, as dutifully noted at Wikipedia. Like Plame and Wilson, he was furious at the negative publicity that had ended his government career, ignoring completely that he himself had turned on the spotlight. Walker sued not McNamara or Truman or the estate of the late JFK. In 1967 he decided to sue the media, his case against the Associated Press bringing in a negative decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Edwin Walker had finally jumped the shark. He didn't even make the cover of Vanity Fair. By 1976 he was arrested for "public lewdness." He died in 1993, an obscure footnote to history. His central target -- Harry Truman -- down below 30% in the polls when he left the White House, was long since enshrined by historians as the president who refused to buckle to America's enemies.

After one long run of Happy Days, like General Walker, Analyst Plame and Ambassador Wilson have finally jumped the shark.

Joe and Val, meet The Fonz. Say goodbye to Hollywood.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.