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Round Up The Usual Ironies

by Alexander Cockburn

The Repubs may finally be getting a clue
As the press corps sweats it out in Waco, wishing they were back on Martha's Vineyard, Bush climbs steadily in the polls. When Bush first announced he'd spend a month on his ranch outside Waco there was some pro forma huffing in the liberal press about the president's prolonged vacation. A true hands-on leader should apparently sweat August out in Washington, with occasional sorties to Camp David.

But not for the first time in world history is a nation's leader finding that absence from the nation's capital sits well with the people. The only time this rule doesn't apply is in times of war, when the people want their man right at Ground Zero. Other than that, the people find it soothing to have their president out of harm's way, swatting away at golf balls (Eisenhower), chopping cord after cord of firewood (Reagan), or chasing bonefish off the Florida Keys (Bush Sr.).

True to form, Clinton tried to have it both ways, going on holiday in Jackson Hole or Martha's Vineyard, but he felt impelled to rush out for photo ops in Yellowstone or ordered the navy to bombard Iraq. He did visit the golf course a lot, probably because these sexless excursions offered proof that he wasn't philandering. (Even so, the screwed-up knee he got on one golfing trip to Florida was supposedly a cover for tearing a tendon while cavorting with his mistress of the hour.)

Meanwhile, all the usual ironies populate the landscape. Take the great symbolic environmental fight of Bush's first year: his proposal to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). I was working my way through an article in a recent National Review by Rich Lowery, mostly devoted to the hash Don Rumsfeld is making of his job running the Defense Department. But then, near the end, came this passage, apropos of the desire of the White House to diminish Bush's conservative profile: "On this model, Bush should abandon his ANWR drilling plan -- which may produce only a negligible amount of oil anyway -- and pursue photo-ops with caribou."

So here's the National Review shouting, hands off the caribou and the Wildlife Reserve. These conservatives are realizing (finally) that the electorate is not slow to punish what it perceives to be callousness towards the environment. Newt Gingrich found that out the hard way in the mid- to late nineties, though not soon enough to save his political career.

Now let us take note of a report by Bob Novak, to the effect that the Teamsters Union is lobbying Senator Tom Daschle fiercely to drop plans for a filibuster against plans to drill for oil in the Reserve. " The union's vote-counters," Novak wrote, "see between 46 and 51 senators in support of drilling -- close in an up-and-down vote, but far short of the 60 needed to break a filibuster."

Novak added that Senator Dan Inouye is also pushing strongly for drilling. Inouye is siding with Alaska's Eskimos, who favor drilling in ANWR's chunk of the North Slope in the futile hope that this will keep the oil companies out of the Beaufort Sea, where the Eskimo hunt whales and seals. The Alaskan Indians, in the form of the Gwich'in people, don't want drilling inside the Reserve because they fear it will mess up the caribou migrations.

So here we have the distinct prospect that Democrats could doom the Arctic Wildlife Reserve unless enough Republicans rally to save it out of political prudence.

Life sound complicated to you? Anne Ehrlich (wife of the Stanford-based population alarmist, Paul Ehrlich) is boosting British Petroleum as Good Guy oil company, one whose gas consumers can buy with relatively clear consciences, on the grounds that the company is sensitive to the problem of global warming.

Now mark the ironies: Anne Ehrlich is a Sierra Club board member. The Sierra Club is on the forefront of the fight to save the Reserve. BP is a member of the consortium hoping to drill in the reserve and, indeed, everywhere else in and around Alaska. Can there be a "good" (in the sense of morally virtuous oil company?) Of course, anyone driving down an interstate asks themselves this question once in a while. But it's the wrong question, like asking, is there a "good" in the sense of virtuous, place in Downtown in which to be mugged? Better to ask yourself, which gas stations have the cleanest bathrooms.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor August 29, 2001 (

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