My longtime problem with conspiracy theories is that they attribute great cunning to those who have never proved capable of great cunning. Some would have you believe that NASA staged the walk on the moon and then sold the entire country, with help from master thespians Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, on the idea that we did land on the moon. Or that the Air Force is still lying about what went on in Hangar 18 in Roswell. To me, an event like Valerie Plame’s cover being blown by an oafish circus clown like Robert Novak proves that there are few agencies truly capable of a good conspiracy. That said, it’s been fun up until recently to believe that Republicans and the right somehow had the ability to consistently control information and the news. Now, the administration’s failure to control the message on Iraq, the GOP’s blithe arrogance with both Mark Foley’s e-mails and Dennis Hastert’s botched cover-up, and new revelations about White House attitudes toward the religious right reveal to us that, over the long haul, the Republicans can’t even contain their own hypocrisy let alone dictate the flow of information. In a piece last week that suggested we’re hearing “the death rattle of the conservative revolution,” LA Weekly columnist Marc Cooper posited that “Foleygate” has “rudely yanked a national nerve, symbolizing and crystallizing into one juicy tabloid story all of the cumulative cluelessness, corruption and corrosion that has piled up during the Bush era.” He says, “Americans have simply had enough…” Yes, please, let’s hope so. And while we’re on conspiracies, I’d love to believe that the timing on all these things is the result of smart people trying to turn the next election. But before the effervescence of Foleygate has dissipated, it will have highlighted two remaining problems. First, we’re fatiguing on the Iraq war because the human mind can only ingest so much horror, then it wants out. The media didn’t grab on to Foley with tenacity because they’ve had a crisis of consciousness stemming from their support for the ramp-up to Iraq, although I’d love to think that they have. No, Foley is a big story because it’s the perfect blend of sex and politics. How many believe that Congressional pages were harmed in any way by Foley’s pathetic do-it-yourself porn? The real “yank,” to borrow from Mr. Cooper, is that the Foley story provided a legitimate yet entertaining excuse to push the darkest tragedy of the 21st century – the violence in Iraq – out of view for a few days. Secondly, way before you use it to gauge the Republicans as liars and two-faced opportunists, the Foley scandal must function as a yardstick for measuring the incompetence and ineptness of the GOP. They can’t even keep their own house in order. It’s difficult now to view Karl Rove as a master juggler of some kind when he failed to keep the balls of Abramoff, Foley and (eventually) Hastert in the air. Right or left, red or blue, you want politicians to demonstrate some level of competence. Bringing all this home, imagine that government was always about effective administration and that elections were always about selecting the most qualified personnel. Logically, you’d never end up with a race for governor involving Arnold Schwarzenegger. But we do live in that other world of Mark Foley’s and movie star governors. And in a bizarre “parallel hell,” as the Firesign Theater might call it, this kind of “leadership” is still out there at the same time that we’re struggling to find our way out of a war that has become a greater moral challenge and decision-making morass than Vietnam. Depressing as reality might be, it doesn’t get any better by turning away or focusing on tragi-comic losers instead of the difficult matters at hand.
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