Copyrighted material


by Michael Winship

W0rd of the Year: Colberticity

At the end of their careers, the actors David Niven and Peter Sellers were too ill to finish work on their final films (in fact, Sellers died while his was still in production). To dub their voices for the last few scenes, Hollywood hired impressionist and comic Rich Little.

So there seemed a certain fearful symmetry to last week's announcement that Mr. Little will provide the entertainment at this year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner, an annual ritual of establishment Washington. As the presidency of George Bush grows increasingly moribund, his approval rating at 33 percent, who better to jest the court and its scribes than someone skilled at impersonating the deceased?

Besides, Abbott and Costello aren't available to do their "Who's on First?" routine.

The appearance of Little, whose humor The New Yorker Magazine described as "reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's, though without the edge," follows last year's acerbic performance by Steven Colbert, with Bush in attendance, which delighted many but apparently rubbed various and sundry the wrong way, including certain members of the press corps.

Although Correspondents' Association President Steve Scully says there was no attempt to curry favor with, nor any pressure from, the Bush administration, Little told The New Yorker, "Believe me, you won't hear the word 'Iraq' out of my mouth the whole evening. They know I'm a safe bet over there at the White House."

The chief executive could use a safe bet or two these days, but in truth, reports of his presidency's demise are somewhat exaggerated. Despite his abysmal poll numbers, ship-abandoning Republicans, reports of desperation at 1600 Pennsylvania and the Democratic Congress' attempts to constrain Bush, there's Rasputin-like life in the good old boy yet. The man who put the bully in bully pulpit -- with the help of his vice president -- is down but not out.

In Iraq, his troop surge has him once again savoring the role of commander-in-chief, forcing upon us a martial droit de seigneur, flying butt-first in the face of reality and regardless of vast congressional opposition. "I fully understand they could try to stop me from doing it," he told 60 Minutes' Scott Pelley. "But I made my decision and we're going forward." As Custer said to his soldiers at the Little Big Horn, "Men, don't take any prisoners."

What's more, this administration continues to employ a variety of stealth-like methods that take executive power beyond the realm of excess, stratagems they'll only relinquish if the public squawks loud, long and often. So beware. Eternal vigilance is the price of, well, you know...

In the reauthorization of the Patriot Act last March, for example, the Justice Department managed to get included an (at the time) little noticed provision that allows the president to obtain the resignation of U.S. Attorneys and replace them with appointees for the rest of the president's term -- without the advice and consent of the Senate.

Thus far, at least 11 prosecutors have been asked to go, including Carol Lam in California, who sent GOP Congressman Duke Cunningham to the slammer for bribetaking. According to California U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, "a high ranking administration official was involved in the decision process" surrounding her departure, which may also have been affected by allegations that she was too soft on illegal alien smuggling.

In Arkansas, one of the new appointees is Timothy Griffin, an associate of Karl Rove who was the Republican National Committee's research director. Some have suggested that he has returned to Arkansas just in time to dig for new dirt on the Clintons, although it's hard to imagine there's enough left undug to make a single satisfying mudpie.

The administration denies politics were involved and now says it will return to the old Senate confirmation process. California Senator Diane Feinstein's co-sponsoring legislation to overturn the offending provision in the Patriot Act. But keep your eye on this one.

And despite last week's announcement by Attorney General Gonzales that the warrantless eavesdropping program "will now be subject to the approval of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court," there continue to be loopholes you could drive a Humvee through, facilitating the administration's unparalleled domestic spying efforts.

Along those lines, the signing statement continues to be an effective tool for this gang. As has been mentioned before, the president has made more than 800 of them -- exceptions to the law that he announces after he approves legislation. I'll obey the law I've just signed, the statements seem to say, except when I don't want to. That's my privilege.

The latest major signing statement followed the December 20 signing of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, a good piece of reform legislation, streamlining he United States Postal Service. But in the signing statement, the president asserted his right to ignore a provision of the new law that prohibits the government's opening of other people's mail without a warrant.

Florida's Daytona Beach-Journal editorialized, "Only Congress writes the laws in this country. Only the courts interpret them. The president only executes them. This president is doing all three. The other two branches, to their inexcusable discredit and mounting injury to Americans, are letting him."

This and the executive's other power-grabbing machinations make for a pale impersonation of democracy. Maybe Rich Little will add it to his repertoire in time for this year's correspondents' feast.

© 2006 Messenger Post Newspapers

Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor   January 22, 2007   (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.