October 26th, 2005

Brad @ Burning Man

Waiting Game

There's not much going on in my head right now. On a personal level, I'm waiting for my back-pay settlement, I'm waiting for City of Villains to come out, I'm waiting for Halloween. On a national level, the big news story won't break until Thursday, and until then both Republicans and Democrats are holding our breath and waiting to see who gets indicted by the Plame Affair grand jury.

We can stop waiting for the 2000th US casualty in Iraq. That was yesterday. I remember that when the war started, I was working across a cubical wall from a guy who got all of his news from Bill O'Reilly's and Rush Limbaugh's radio shows; if you didn't listen to those shows, and if you got any of your news from anywhere else, his favorite insult was, "You just don't know the facts." No, really. On the day the Iraq War began, he was jubilant, and predicted that it would all be over in a matter of days, with no more casualties than the Gulf War. I offered to bet him money that we'd lose more than 200 in the first year, and more than 500 before it was all over. He wouldn't take my bet because he thought it was macabre to be betting on US soldiers' deaths, and I guess there may be something to that. But in hindsight, I'm struck by how cautious my bet was. At this rate, we'll pass five thousand, not five hundred, before all is said and done.

Anyway, while we're waiting for the grand jury to unseal their indictments on Thursday, I want to engage in some idle speculation, some of it perhaps as macabre as betting on US soldiers' deaths.

Last weekend, US Secretary of State (and George Bush work-wife) Condoleeza Rice took British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on a very public 3-day tour of her home state of Alabama. At the time, people were scratching their heads and asking what the Secretary of State's job has to do with a memorial to murdered African American children in Birmingham, tossing the coin for a football game at her college alma mater, or touring a Hurricane Katrina refugee camp. In hindsight, I see that some of the reporters gave a detail that was missing from the early reports I saw: this is the test run for a pilot project of hers to help other countries' ambassadors and Foreign Secretaries get better acquainted with what the US is like outside of the only parts that most of them see, New York City and Washington DC. So OK, maybe there was a foreign-relations point to that trip. Maybe.

But I wasn't the only one who thought at the time that it looked more like an exploratory tour by a prospective 2008 Presidential candidate.

And then, in day before yesterday's news, the bombshell was that the plot to discredit former Ambassador Joe Wilson by associating him with his wife, CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson, may (and I want to stress that word "may," because we really don't know yet what was in the grand jury testimony) have gone all the way up to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Which raises the slender possibility that Dick Cheney may be indicted for anything from lying to a federal investigator to mishandling classified information, or maybe something really out of left field. It seems like a long shot to me. (But then, I'm naturally cautious in my predictions; see above.) If it is true, though, Cheney is probably finished. There's nothing in the Constitution or in the law that says that the Vice President of the United States can't continue to serve while under indictment and facing trial. However, there is a long precedent that no US President would even vaguely consider keeping a Vice President who'd been indicted. Yes, George W. Bush values loyalty and that goes both ways with him -- but that was true with Nixon, too, and this is how Nixon lost his first Vice President, Spiro Agnew, when Agnew was indicted for tax evasion in a case not entirely unlike the one facing former House Majority Leader Tom Delay.

The possible relevance of this to Condoleeza Rice's big publicity tour is obvious. It could well have been a trial balloon from an Administration that doesn't know yet if they need to be shopping for a new Vice President. Even they don't know what the prosecutor is going to do, so they have to plan for all contingencies. By now, they have a plan in place for if he indicts nobody, if he indicts a few low-level people, if he indicts one high level person but nobody important, and yes, even if the indictments reach all the way up to Dick Cheney. Only one of those contingency plans is going to be used. We probably won't know what's in the other ones, even as suddenly leaky as the White House has become, until everybody involved is retired and writing their books.

But the macabre thought I can't get out of my head is that George Bush would be stark raving insane, or at least possibly terminally foolish, to nominate someone as relatively popular as Condoleeza Rice for his replacement Vice President. Up until now, my thinking goes, Dick Cheney has been his assassination insurance. You see, there's this superstition in American politics that because of an ancient Native American curse, the President who has been elected every 20 years, in every year ending in zero since 1840, has been assassinated, shot, or otherwise died in office. Some say that Reagan broke the curse when he survived his assassination attempt through the wonders of modern medicine. Still, even I think about the curse often enough that during the November 2000 Florida elections fiasco I said, "If I were going to steal an election for President of the United States, I sure as heck wouldn't do it in a year ending in zero. That's tempting fate." So the part of me that's superstitious enough to believe, sort of half-heartedly, in Tecumseh's Curse, thinks that if some prospective assassin weren't more terrified of Bush's Vice President than he is of the President, well, then I sure as heck wouldn't want to be invested in whichever insurance company under-wrote his life insurance.

Of course, this could have nothing to do with a possible Cheney indictment, even if the foreign-relations cover is just a shallow cover. It could actually be what it looked like, a trial balloon for a possible 2008 Presidential run of her own. I even saw one column from a political analyst who speculated that 2008 might be the year that both political parties nominate their first female Presidential candidates, a race between Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Condoleeza Rice for the Republicans. I think that's crazy talk. My money, if I had any money on the race this early, would be on Bill Richardson for the Democrats versus John McCain for the Republicans, betting on McCain for the win. But then, my money was on 500 total casualties, too, so what do I know?