No one topic for today, readers. Instead, as is my occasional custom, here is a hodge-podge of observations:
Item One: Again and again during and since the Libby trial, we read that the trial exposed the nasty underbelly of the Bush administration. This is — to put it less bluntly than it actually ought to be put — flat-out nuts. There was nothing, zero, zilch, nada, wrong with what Libby (or Cheney) did. Where, oh where, is it written that public officials should refrain from telling journalists that an inaccurate story in the public square is, indeed, inaccurate? Where, oh where, is it taught that it is unseemly to mildly question the motives of somebody who is repeatedly telling lies in public? And why is it a bad thing for a vice president to direct his top aide to defend administration policy, or for that same vice president to scribble a note expressing concern that his aide and friend is being made a fall guy for somebody else. (As it happened, Libby was made into a fall guy not for the rest of the White House, but for the Armitage/Powell State Department. Both Armitage and Powell should be shunned from all polite company for letting Libby and the whole administration twist in the wind for so long when they could have cleared up the mystery of the “leak” more than three years ago.)
Now, if Libby did indeed commit perjury (I still do NOT believe that he did), that would be something bad. But absolutely nothing that he said or that Cheney said, or that Armitage said or Fleisher or anyone else from the administration said or did in this instance, amounted to anything approaching real political hardball. In the scheme of things, especially by the standards of modern politics in D.C. as played by the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the effort to correct Joe Wilson’s lies was an exceedingly mild form of “push-back.” Frankly, the Wilsons deserved tougher treatment from the administration than they received.
Item Two: Speaking of the Bush administration, its worst problems are not of venality or ideology but of competence. It has not done a good job defending its judicial nominees. It did an infamously bad job of responding to Hurricane Katrina. It botched the reconstruction of Iraq (although it did not botch it permanently, because its “surge” has a real chance to work). It botched the issue of armor for the troops, and it botched the medical care for troops and veterans when they returned stateside. It badly mishandled the dismissal of a bunch of U.S. attorneys. (Disclaimer: In Arkansas, I personally know that both the replaced Bud Cummins and new appointee Tim Griffin are good men; indeed, Griffin is eminently qualified and a terrific public servant who does not deserve to have his credentials questioned just because the Justice Department was ham-handed in its methodology and communications.) The Bushies also were utterly complicit in a miserable set of Republican campaign tactics last year, and especially wrongheaded to send the president to campaign with senators such as Jim Talent, George Allen and Conrad Burns in the final days of the campaign.
The flip side of this is that the administration actually has performed fairly well in 2007. With Karl Zinsmeister heading domestic policy, Tony Snow in the press office, and Rob Portman heading OMB (among others), the White House has a team in place that well serves it and the American people. Several of its policy initiatives this year are solid and thoughtful, and might be politically salable under better circumstances.
Oh — and this president’s foreign policy aims are profoundly moral, and his philosophical instincts (and often his considered judgments) are sound.
Item Three: Yes, the presidential race has heated up much too early. Yes, so far the Republican field has no candidate that is ideal for conservatives. But no, this isn’t a terrible field for conservatives either. Two of the three front-runners, Giuliani and Romney, have much to recommend them despite the obvious flaws that conservatives see in them. Lesser-known candidates such as James Gilmore and Duncan Hunter are good men and good public servants. And even John McCain has many fine virtues, although classiness and an even temper and a good understanding of domestic issues are definitely not among them. Which is why George Will is correct in his conclusion that conservatives could have done worse than the candidates available to us now.
Item Four: Switching to sports: Yes, Syracuse and Drexel got cheated by the NCAA basketball tournament committee. Never mind, though: The tourney that starts tomorrow might be one for the ages. March Madness is awesome.
Item Five: Here’s a suggestion to the worthy gentlemen who run The Masters golf tournament: Issue a special invitation to last year’s Ryder Cup Captain Tom Lehman. By any fair analysis, he earned his way in.
Here’s why: By its own rules, the Masters invites the top 40 finishers on the previous year’s PGA Tour money list. Tom Lehman was poised to be in that number. He was fully qualified and scheduled to play in one of the World Golf Championships in Europe last fall, and already was in Europe anyway, but he skipped the tournament in order to return stateside to attend the funeral of the legendary Byron Nelson. Nelson’s prowess as a golfer not only knew few equals this side of Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, but his well-earned reputation as a gentleman was very much in the tradition of Jones himself, the founder of The Masters. Indeed, Nelson was a beloved figure at Augusta National, serving for years as one of the three honorary starters for each competition.
Lehman, as the Ryder Cup captain, did the right thing to honor Nelson by skipping the big-money tournament to attend Nelson’s funeral. But the decision was costly. All 60 players in that tourney in Europe earned paychecks. If Lehman had finished just tied for 56th out of 60 — a feat he certainly would have accomplished: He was playing fairly well at the time — he would have finished not 42nd on the Tour money list, but 40th. In short, it was only because he honored Nelson that he missed qualifying for The Masters. As the most recent Ryder Cup captain, as a universally acclaimed gentleman himself, and as a golfer still among the world’s elite, Tom Lehman well deserves a place in the exclusive field at Augusta.
There — how’s that for a wide range of topics?