In the Arena

Home Again

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…after 10 days in the Middle East and watching the Sunday morning talk shows. A few thoughts:

–It certainly was fun watching Governors Schwarzenegger and Rendell carve into pieces the puerile speeches delivered at the CPAC convention. The bites from Mitt Romney–who said not one net new private sector job had been created by the stimulus–and Rep. Mike Pence, who led the wingers in a chorus of nos, seemed laughably irresponsible. Ahhnold did not spare his fellow Republicans, citing their opposition to the President’s stimulus programs while cutting ribbons and waving big checks about at home.

–But it was Ed Rendell, steady, solid and grownup, who was especially effective here. After Pence ranted about saying no to new borrowing, no to new spending, Rendell chuckled and said, “As a former prosecutor, I’d love to cross examine him on that.” Which raised a thought: why doesn’t the Obama Administration have anyone as authoritative and easy-in-his-skin as Rendell speaking for it on a regular basis? This goes for both domestic and foreign policy. The Administration too often sends political aides into the fray–they tend to be youngish, defensive and ridden with talking points. More than a year later, there is no single, authoritative voice on foreign policy, either. This is getting to be a real problem. At a moment when the Republicans are acting like children–the “daddy” party has become the clubhouse for testosterone-addled juvenile talk-show delinquents–there is a real need for the Administration to be seen as rock-solid and adult. (The CPAC straw poll, which was won by Ron Paul, reinforces the general sense of the G.O.P. as a high school Ayn Rand Fan Club.)

–David Petraeus, on Meet the Press, was unequivocal in his opposition to the sort of torture that Dick Cheney openly supported on TV last week. Asked whether he thought the U.S. could be getting more from the Taliban military leader captured this past week if the Bush Administration were still in charge, Petraeus said that he had been clear, since 2003, that the U.S. had to “live our values” because when we didn’t “it inevitably turns around and bites us in the rear end.” Moral disasters like Abu Ghraib–a direct result of Cheney-approved interrogation techniques–were “non-biodegradable,” Petraeus said. They were used against us in perpetuity by extremists. Petraeus was also clear that it was the diplomatic cajoling of the past ten months–that is, during the Obama Administration, not its predecessor–that has convinced the Pakistanis to become more aggressive in their anti-Taliban efforts. (It seems very clear that if Petraeus ever did decide to run for President as a Republican–a move I’m not convinced he’ll ever make–he’d be far too moderate to win the support of the Rush-Beck dittoheads.)

In all, a bracing morning–maybe because I avoided Fox. Coming home, the dangerous illogic of the President’s enemies seems especially clear. In these circumstances, it seems time for the President’s (alleged) friends in Congress to stop playing their own political games–especially the Appropriators–and join the party of adults. It is the only way they save their skins come November.