01/24/2006: Surprised I'd find myself agreeing with him....
Listening to Air America Morning today, Rachel Maddow threw an on air reference to conservative blogger Dale Franks. Apparently, blogging übermensch N.Z. Bear organized conference calls for right-leaning bloggers with the leading candidates to take over the post of House Majority Leader (John Shadegg (R-AZ), John Boehner (R-OH), and Roy Blunt (R-MO)). Franks merited the mention because the series of conference calls led to Franks issuing an interesting "unendorsement" in the House Majority Leader's race. I'm going to take the liberty of quoting Franks's "unendorsement" extensively, because it provides an interesting insight into how things are going to be run in the House if Blunt does become Majority Leader (and interestingly enough, Blunt seems to believe, according to Franks, that "the fix is in"):
And then there was Roy Blunt.Well, not that I have any say about the issue, but I'm in perfect agreement with Mr. Franks here (right down to licking fire ants off a stick), though I base that opinion on being a Missouri resident most of my life, and being a first-hand witness to Rep. Blunt's political career.... But I digress.
After spending a half hour listening to him, I think...let's see...how do I put this...
I would rather lick fire ants off a stick than see Roy Blunt as Majority Leader. I'm not at the point of making a firm endorsement of either Reps. Shaddeg or Boehner, but the sun will set in a blazing red sky to the east of Casablanca before I'd want Roy Blunt as Majority leader.
The first troubling thing about the Blunt conference call was the way it was handled. In the other two calls, [the conference calls with Reps. Shaddeg and Boehner] the conversation was unmoderated, and we all had chances to get our licks in. We asked candid questions and, for the most part, got equally candid answers. All of the bloggers who were there were part of the group organized by NZ Bear, and the Congressmen had no idea who was gonna be there when he got on the line.What I find interesting about this is that it seems clear (at least to me) that if Blunt is selected as House Majority Leader, it's pretty much going to be business as usual for the Rethugnican majority. Blunt's manipulation of the bloggers, his stage management and spinning of the conference call, the intimidation and threatening (however veiled) of the participants--all show that he served his apprenticeship at the feet of Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, and if Blunt is selected I suspect that his leadership style (and the results) will be indistinguishable from the reign of DeLay.
The Blunt people put a stop to that. They required us to email David All, one of Rep. Blunt's staffers, for permission to attend the conference call. Then, Mr. All asked us to submit our questions in writing, and informed us that the call would be moderated. Also, once we were on the line, we had to hit "*1" to be recognized before we could ask a question; otherwise, we were muted. That, though is a technical thing, which is no big deal.
When we got on the line, Rep. Blunt made a statement, part of which I found confusing, because he said that he knew most of us had already endorsed Shadegg, which was news to me. Indeed, one of the email conversations that we've had between the blogger group was whether or not we should provide an endorsement of anybody at all, and the consensus seemed to be that, while some of us might individually do so, as a group we should not. My impression was that most individuals wouldn't be providing an endorsement, either. So, this statement caught me by surprise.
Then, when Rep. Blunt opened the floor for questions, the next surprise was that the first question came from someone from GOP Bloggers. He wasn't a part of our group, i.e., the one organized by NZ Bear. How did he get on the call? This guy then proceeded to throw a softball at Rep Blunt, essentially asking him if those naughty Democrats were just dirty liars for denying that they had anything to do with Jack Abramoff, and was the Congressman going to fight back properly? Then, the next questioner was from Townhall.com. WTF? I mean, while Townhall has what is technically a blog, Townhall is nothing more than an organ of the Heritage Institute. And they weren't part of our group either. He tossed another softball at Rep. Blunt, asking why Blunt hadn't gotten support from Conservative icons. Icons like...well...Townhall. And NRO. [Townhall's Tim Chapman has notified me that he objects to my characterization of his question. He should feel free to publicly correct me at Townhall.com. Just be sure to get the link URL to QandO right, Tim.—EDF]
So at this point it was obvious that, rather than just talking to our group, which was already organized, Rep. Blunt had pulled in ringers, and, having asked for questions in advance—which I declined to provide, by the way—had screened them prior to the conference call. So, at this point, I'm feeling like we're being played. Unlike the calls with the other candidates, which were unscripted, Blunt had turned this into the least spontaneous event possible.
Then, Rep. Blunt just outright pissed me off. He said words to the effect that, while he understood that many of us supported someone else, and he knew we'd be writing up the call later, he hoped we wouldn't write or do something that would jeopardize our ability to work together later, and since he was gonna win—already had the votes locked up, in fact—we would be dealing with him.
OK. I admit I have a slight problem with authority. So, maybe I'm taking this wrong, but I took that as veiled threat to mean that, if we expected any access in the future, maybe we'd better think about what we wrote about him. I really don't respond well to threats. Even pleasantly veiled ones.
Huh. OK. I'll make a deal with Rep. Blunt. How's this sound? I'll go ahead and write whatever the hell I want to write. In return, if Rep. Blunt doesn't like it, then he can cry me a river. I think that sounds fair. Somehow, I managed to get along fine for the first 41 years of my life without talking to Roy Blunt, and things turned out OK. I'm not a Washington journalist. My livelihood doesn't depend on having access to powerful DC insiders. So, I think I'll be fine if I never talk to him again.
Indeed, I would prefer it.
But this little statement brings up an interesting point. One of the later questioners (I think it was Mike Krempasky from Red State, but I'm not sure), asked, why Rep. Blunt wouldn't step down from his Republican conference leadership position, since some members might fear some retaliation from him if they publicly came out for Shadegg or Boehner. Rep. Blunt responded that he was shocked—shocked!—that anyone would think of him in that way, and besides, he had to stay in the job, keeping the wheels of the conference turning, and whatnot.
Frankly, after the thinly veiled threat he had just dropped on us, I was thinking that, if I was a Congressman, I'd be pretty careful about offending the vindictive SOB myself.
As far as I'm concerned, the Blunt call was a disaster for Rep Blunt. My dominant impression was that he was trying to stack the deck with ringers who'd throw him softball questions, so our group's ability to question him closely would be limited by squandering time on people who were not part of our group, and whose questions he saw in advance. In short, he was trying to spin us. As far as I can tell, Rep. Blunt broke just about every rule for how to deal effectively with bloggers. I don't think he could've alienated me more effectively had he intentionally set out to do so.
I mean, has the guy ever even seen a blog? Have any of his staff?
After the call had ended, on of the attendees sent out an email, asking why he hadn't been invited to any of the earlier conference calls. Well, Sparky, the answer is that you weren't part of our blogger group, and the other candidates didn't try, like Rep. Blunt, to invite questioners that they perceived as being friendlier, in order to reduce their exposure to tough questioning. Once Rep. Blunt agreed to the conference call, he pretty much took it over, organizing the attendees as well as the technical portion, and screening questions in advance.
Also, several members of our group had hit "*1" but were never recognized to allow them to ask questions. They were still hanging when Rep. Blunt said, essentially, "Woo, look at the time! Thanks for coming by folks. Now get out!'
So, if you're a Republican Congressman, I'm not going to endorse anyone, or tell you who to vote for. But if I was one of you, I could think of about 220 Republican members that I'd vote for before I voted for Roy Blunt as Majority Leader.
I suppose the "good" news, if one can call it that, is that if Blunt-as-majority-leader is merely DeLay in a different suit of clothes, there might be a fair likelihood that Blunt himself will face an indictment in the future, and maybe we'll get to be entertained by that dog-and-pony show.
But the selection of the House Majority Leader does serve as a litmus test as to the GOP's commitment to getting their house in order. If Blunt wins (as he seems to think he will), be prepared to see "more of the same"--more threats, more intimidation, more corruption--at least through the elections (and given Democratic electoral incompetence and lack of spine, through 2008 or far into the future...).
Len on 01.24.06 @ 07:28 AM CST