White House Chutzpah
Remember how the Bush administration ambled unassumingly into office -- downing Texas-sized helpings of humble pie at every meal?
"I hope I'm viewed as a humble person," the president said just before moving into the White House. And on his first day on the job, he counseled his senior staff members to "be an example of humility and decency and fairness." White House chief of staff Andy Card echoed the sentiment, telling would-be staffers: "Be among the most humble people in Washington."
Well, those days are certainly long gone. Forget tiptoeing. Team Bush now stomps down the halls of power like Godzilla trampling the streets of Tokyo. Humble pie is no longer being served at the White House -- instead, it's being shoved in our faces.
When describing the administration at midterm, the words that come to mind are arrogant, cocky, galling and drunk with power.
Almost every day brings fresh evidence that Bush and his crew believe that they can get away with just about anything -- no matter how shocking, offensive, corrupt, underhanded or in-your-face the transgression. The prevailing motto seems to be: "Our way or the highway. If you don't like it, you can just move to Canada."
The latest example of Bush's "screw you" mind-set was the stunning appointment of cover-up cover boy Henry Kissinger to head the 9/11 commission. I mean, what was he thinking? Was he deliberately trying to select the one person in the world least likely to get to the bottom of the foul-ups that preceded Sept. 11. Was Prince Bandar too busy reining in his wife's charitable impulses to take the job?
The only thing more ludicrous than naming Kissinger to head this inquiry would be picking somebody who thinks "pollution is a right" to head the Department of the Interior or selecting a guy who made his name fighting to undercut the authority of the Securities and Exchange Commission as its chairman. Oh, wait a minute -- that's right, Bush already did both of those things, too. It's only a matter of time before Rush Limbaugh is tapped to be Chief of Protocol.
But the Kissinger appointment is merely the pointy tip of the chutzpah iceberg. In the last few months alone, the White House has shown its disdain for public opinion -- and indeed the public interest -- in an exceptionally wide variety of areas. Here are just a few of the more blood-boiling cases:
On the environment: Not satisfied with just gutting the Clean Air Act, the White House chose to announce its polluter-friendly decision in the most dismissive, least accountable way possible, delivered not by the president or EPA head Christie Whitman but by a low-level administrator, on a Friday afternoon leading into a holiday week, and with no cameras allowed. In your face, people who like fresh air!
On stealing from the poor to give to the rich: In an act of reverse Robin Hood effrontery, the president helped defray some of the cost of his non-stop campaigning with an accounting trick that allowed him to dip into the coffers of the Office of Family Assistance by piggy-backing campaign appearances onto trips ostensibly made to talk about welfare reform. That's right, money meant to assist poor families was used to help elect politicians who believe that, even with all the problems facing this country, cutting taxes for the rich should be job No. 1. These, of course, are the same Scrooges who did nothing to stop the unemployment benefits of 800,000 workers from expiring during the midst of the holiday season. Ho, ho, ho, poor people!
On sucking up to special interests: I guess the back channel passage of that tailor-made -- and White House approved -- amendment to the Homeland Security Bill protecting Eli Lilly (maker of the questionable vaccine preservative Thimerosal) from billions in potential lawsuits just wasn't enough of an insult to democracy. To pour salt in that fresh wound, the administration has asked a federal claims court to block public access to documents unearthed in over a thousand Thimerosal-related lawsuits. Take that, suffering parents of autistic children!
On political patronage: At the same time the White House was moving to scale back pay increases for career federal employees, it was also secretly doling out big buck bonuses to political appointees -- a practice banned during the Clinton presidency because of abuses during the last Bush administration. Who was it again who was going to restore integrity to the White House?
On fighting the war on terror: A majority of Americans have a negative view of Saudi Arabia. As well they should, given the desert kingdom's two-faced attitude, the money that ended up in the pockets of 9/11 hijackers, its telethons for suicide bombers, its refusal to let U.S. planes targeting the Taliban take off from Saudi soil, and the not insignificant fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, as are most of the suspects being held in Guantanamo. In spite of all this, the White House continues to treat the spoiled princes of the House of Saud as bosom brothers, welcome at the Crawford ranch anytime they're in the mood for a little down-home cookin'.
In your eye, American people!
Arianna Huffington is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of nine books.