Friday, March 23, 2012

Why Newt Gingrich Should Stay In The Race

His latest atrocity:
While campaigning ahead of Saturday's primary in Louisiana, Gingrich spoke with the American Family Association's Sandy Rios about the recent Washington Post story on Rick Santorum's association with Opus Dei, a devout Catholic group. Rios, who disapproved of the Post's story, asked Gingrich if he thought the media would similarly "hold their powder" on Mitt Romney for his Mormonism.

Gingrich said the media, which he believes is "in the tank for Obama," will "do anything that helps re-elect" the president.

"It is just astonishing to me how pro-Obama they are," Gingrich told Rios. "Do you think you are going to see two pages on Obama's Muslim friends?..."
Be sure to understand exactly what he said. The media had made an issue of the conservative Roman Catholic associates of Rick Santorum, a Roman Catholic. Gingrich's interlocutor asks if he thinks the media will do the same with the Mormon associates of Mitt Romney, a Mormon. In response, Gingrich predicts the media won't investigate the Muslim associates of Barack Obama, who is washed in the One Baptism as is Gingrich himself and is a member of the United Church of Christ but who many GOP voters in Louisiana still believe is Muslim. If you don't think Gingrich is purposely exploiting their confusion, here he is again today, resorting to the slimy ploy of taking Obama "at his word" that he's a Christian.

Yet I'm delighted he's still running. His sneering attacks on the frontrunner, combined with each new demonstration of his toxicity and near-irrelevance, reduce the likelihood that Romney, if elected, would feel any obligation to put him in the government.

Adult Daughters

Few joys exceed meeting one's adult daughters for lunch on a warm spring afternoon. Valerie (right), who's marrying Mark in October, with her father serving as officiant, was back from a three-day parks and recreation conference in Long Beach. She works for the Yorba Linda community center and discloses that Amy Poehler has become living patron saint of an entire generation of municipal employees, or at least those charged with planning nonsectarian Santa breakfasts.

Lindsay will be graduated from Long Beach State in May and is thinking about parlaying her degree in political theory (she has been known to mention Rousseau, Locke, and Mao in polite conversation) into a career serving those at need, which will be easy given her brains and openness of mind and heart. When I asked for a little help for the tip, she said apologetically, "I gave my last dollar to a homeless person."

We lingered happily over lunch and in the sunshine on the sidewalk. Reluctant to leave Fullerton, which everyone in Orange County loves or should, Valerie and Lindsay asked if I wanted to go for some additional refreshment. I declined and asked for another kiss. After Valerie changed out of her parks and rec shirt in the back of her VW, they wandered away together, past the Fullerton museum with its permanent exhibit on local hero Leo Fender. Adult daughters! Life is good.

You Won't Get Action Like This At Starbucks

Tip jar at the Coffee Bean in Yorba Linda, California. I've seen both "Jurassic Park"s and voted for the velociraptor.

Taking T Too Seriously

In the the April 2012 Vanity Fair, an oral history of "The Sopranos," including this from executive producer Terence Winter:
When Uncle Junior was diagnosed with cancer, people were calling me up, saying, "Is he going to be OK?" I said, "We're getting him the best doctors we can. Really, we're on it."

"Cruel To Be Kind," Nick Lowe and Wilco

Cruel to be kind means that I love you. Performing on Feb. 2 on Austin City Limits. Hat tip to No Depression.

B. H. Obama And J. R. Ewing

Environmentalists are rightly concerned, and no doubt the Saudis as well. But he's drilling, baby, and Midland, Texas is booming again, according to the New York Times:
[I]ncreasing production and declining consumption have unexpectedly brought the United States markedly closer to a goal that has tantalized presidents since Richard Nixon: independence from foreign energy sources, a milestone that could reconfigure American foreign policy, the economy and more. In 2011, the country imported just 45 percent of the liquid fuels it used, down from a record high of 60 percent in 2005.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Borders, Not Boycotts

Jeffrey Goldberg says that Israel and the Palestinians must get back to the table and decide on the borders of a new state:
Borders -- those are the issue, in my opinion. I used to think settlements were a main stumbling block. But they can be bypassed. If you can negotiate the borders of Palestine, the settlement problem dissipates. It gets ugly, also -- the extremists will make sure of that -- but it's obvious that settlements are secondary. Settlements that are outside the negotiated border will have to be dismantled (or their residents will have to take Palestinian citizenship) and those settlements inside the border become normal communities within Israel. We just have to get back to negotiations. I'm hoping President Obama, if he's reelected, will be visiting Israel and the West Bank by spring of next year to lay out his vision of how the two sides need to act.

The One And Only Two-State Solution

Scholar and blogger Peter Beinart has ignited a controversy by calling for a boycott of goods produced in West Bank settlements. On his behalf, Andrew Sullivan called on Beinart's critics to say what they'd do instead to promote the peace process. Beinart's proposition:
Today, the Israeli government—with the active consent of the organized American Jewish community—provides myriad subsidies for Jews to leave democratic Israel to settle across the green line. Regardless of your opinion about the Palestinian willingness to make a two state deal today, such policies are deeply self-defeating since they make a two-state solution harder ever. A settlement boycott could help to rebalance the scales. If critics disagree—and yet still profess a belief in the two state solution—then they should offer their own alternatives for how to stop the settlement growth that threatens Israel’s democratic future. I’m all ears.
My reply, e-mailed to Sullivan (I'll only check every five minutes or so to see if he uses it):
No fair. When Beinart writes, "Regardless of your opinion about the Palestinian willingness to make a two state deal today," he takes the solution off the table. Neither the U.S. president nor op-ed writers can stop settlement expansion. Only the Palestinians can, by accepting the best available territorial offer as soon as possible (and, I'm afraid, agree to punt on dividing Jerusalem). While we may be appalled by the settlement movement, it isn't a conspiracy to undermine the peace process. It's a function of Israel's complex social, theological, and political dynamics. That means that each time Palestinians have said no -- 2000, 2008, 2010, and 2012, in Jordan -- the inevitable result was or will be settlement expansion and a smaller, less coherent Palestine. It will keep happening until the PNA figures out that they're the ones, beside Israel, with the power. As a matter of fact, the Beinart initiative just provides more encouragement for the mistaken belief that outside leverage will get Palestinians a better deal. If they're going to have a state, if they really want one, it's time for them to say yes.

War Powers And The Problem With Presidents

Tom Campbell, who served five terms in Congress from a district in northern California, has been dean of the Chapman University law school since February 2011. "It's a pleasure to have another moderate Republican in Orange County," I told him last night at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, where Kathy and I were guests of our St. John's friends Bob (serving again as a peerless MC) and Ann Mosier. "On behalf of the other four, welcome."

"Richard Nixon?" he said with a bemused look. Dead these 17 years, I replied, as he knew. "Of course," he said with a smile. "Chuck Percy? George Romney?" Alas, also gone are the great Illinois senator and Michigan governor, beacons of the great American center. Campbell was suggesting that pragmatic conservatism had died along with its lions. Then he perked up and said, "Olympia Snowe! Ah, but then she's retiring."

We agreed that Nixon -- promoting detente with communists, the EPA, and near-universal health insurance, not to mention wage and price controls -- wouldn't be welcome in today's GOP. Indeed in most portraits of the modern conservative movement, Nixon's corner of the Etch A Sketch screen has been rendered inoperative. And yet a prominent local jurist standing nearby said that he too would join a party for the socially tolerant and fiscally prudent. One does meet such people in Orange County, even while clinking glasses in its premier social and business club. Perhaps Mitt Romney, if nominated, will be able to erase the hard-right positions he took to get onto the ticket, having spent years trying to do so with his centrist positions as Massachusetts governor. If not, in November we may learn that the lions' passing presaged a diminishment of the GOP's ability to contend for the White House.

During his lecture on war powers and the U.S. Constitution, Campbell demonstrated the capacity for nuance that makes pragmatists so infuriating. Bolstering his analysis with quotations from the Founders, he argued that only Congress may conduct an aggressive war, though the commander-in-chief has broad authority to act defensively. That being said, the War Powers Act (which Congress passed over Nixon's veto in 1973) lets a president wage war without permission from Congress for up to 90 days, meaning that any president can start World War III by himself so long as he sends Congress a memo within 48 hours of firing the first shot and then wins (or loses) inside of three months.

From Nixon on, presidents have resented this limitation on what some construe as their sovereign right to protect and defend the country. During a congressional hearing after Bill Clinton went to war in Yugoslavia in 1999, Campbell pressed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to explain the difference between war or hostilities, which would have triggered the War Powers Act, and her description of the massive bombing campaign, armed conflict. She responded, "You're the law professor. You figure it out."

That's the war-making executive's usual high-handedness toward Congress for you. Then there's the judiciary's timidity. When Campbell and 15 Republican and Democratic colleagues sued Clinton for violating the War Powers Act, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit on the grounds that Congress, though it had refused to declare war, had tacitly authorized it by appropriating funds to pay for it. "But the [current] appropriation isn't for the cruise missiles that are being used in the war," Campbell said. "They've already been paid for. The appropriation is to rebuild the stock that will be needed for the next war." By Campbell's lights, the judge was saying that Congress could only stop an illegal war by reducing the nation's overall preparedness.

Campbell advised judges who may fear being ignored by a willful president to remember July 1974's Nixon vs. United States, when the Supreme Court, by an 8-0 vote, ordered the president to turn over tapes to the Watergate special prosecutor. Nixon complied and then resigned on Aug. 9 in the firestorm over one transcript's contents.

Since Campbell had mentioned Kathy's and my ex-boss, I asked during the Q&A about Nixon's own constitutional scholarship. Campbell had already argued that that Congress had authorized the Vietnam war with the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964. Fast forward to the 1977 Nixon-Frost interviews, when the ex-president was asked about an operative's scheme to expand the president's power to monitor and harass anti-war activists, 1970's Huston Plan. It was never implemented. But when David Frost wondered why he'd even considered such an appalling abuse of power, Nixon replied that if the president does it, it's "not illegal."

My question last night: Since the U.S. was at war, was Nixon's formulation (widely misunderstood as an excuse for Watergate crimes) actually a defensible assertion of a president's sovereign right to protect the country? Campbell replied that Nixon would have been better off saying that Congress, by authorizing the war, had already permitted security measures at home. It was an overreach for Nixon to arrogate the power to the executive, which, as it turns out, seems to be a persistent problem with presidents.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lent At St. John's: Healing And Freedom

The life of St. Patrick (what we know, and what we don't) provided an opportunity to sum up a month's teachings at St. John's on our Lenten themes of healing and freedom. My sermon for March 18, the fourth Sunday in Lent, including a wee bit of singing, is here.

Ironical? Or Moronical?

The state that might well clinch the GOP nomination for Mitt Romney? Utah.

Sullivan's Obama-First Policy?

Bloggers Jeffrey Goldberg and Andrew Sullivan profess to remain friends, though their public argument over Israel and the Palestinians has become so heated that it's hard to imagine their finding much common ground to have a beer over. Today Goldberg appears to take it up a notch by accusing Sullivan of personalizing the issue to an alarming extent:
I remember when Andrew, of course, characterized Palestinians as devils and thought Israelis wore halos, but this was before, as he told me over lunch one day a couple of years ago, he realized that Netanyahu, in his opinion, was standing in the way of President Obama's destiny. Once Netanyahu got in the way, Andrew said, he was finished defending Israel.

The True Bond Of Peace

Lord God, you have taught us that anything we do without love is worth nothing, for whoever lives without love is counted dead before you; send your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues; grant this for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ who is alive with with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.
Prayer based on 1 Cor. 13 and attributed to Thomas Cranmer, who was executed at Oxford on March 21, 1556. This version is from the prayer book of the Anglican Church of New Zealand.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fast Mickey

As part of his centennial tribute to Pat Nixon, presidential historian Carl Anthony includes this photo of the former First Lady backstage with Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller, stars of "Sugar Babies" on Broadway in the early 1980s.

Silliest Political Statement Since 1776

St. Santorum gets the win tonight:
And I’ve gone around this country over the past year now and said this is the most important election in our lifetimes. And, in fact, I think it’s the most important election since the election of 1860.

We're Natural-Born Killers

As Christians prepare for Holy Week, which among other things is about our complicity in the killing of Jesus Christ, David Brooks suggests that most of us are theoretically capable of crimes such as the massacre Robert Bales allegedly committed in Afghanistan:
[E]ven people who contain reservoirs of compassion and neighborliness also possess a latent potential to commit murder.

David Buss of the University of Texas asked his students if they had ever thought seriously about killing someone, and if so, to write out their homicidal fantasies in an essay. He was astonished to find that 91 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women had detailed, vivid homicidal fantasies. He was even more astonished to learn how many steps some of his students had taken toward carrying them out.

One woman invited an abusive ex-boyfriend to dinner with thoughts of stabbing him in the chest. A young man in a fit of road rage pulled a baseball bat out of his trunk and would have pummeled his opponent if he hadn’t run away. Another young man planned the progression of his murder — crushing a former friend’s fingers, puncturing his lungs, then killing him.

These thoughts do not arise from playing violent video games, Buss argues. They occur because we are descended from creatures who killed to thrive and survive. We’re natural-born killers and the real question is not what makes people kill but what prevents them from doing so.

Photo by Andy Guilford

Plus He Can Sit In The Front Of The Plane

Newt Gingrich got 7.9% in Illinois, even less than Ron Paul. He's now lost 31 out of 33 states. His campaign is broke. He'll probably cost Rick Santorum votes in Louisiana, which could be St. Santorum's last stand against Mitt Romney. But Gingrich probably doesn't care, Michelle Cottle writes, now that taxpayers are handling his arrangements:
He clearly gave up running to win several states ago and only stays in the race because he’s drunk on a cocktail of spite, narcissism, and general mischief. Indeed, so long as a smattering of other spendthrift supporters keep the dough flowing, why should Newt’s subsidized road trip ever end? Especially now, when the former speaker has his very own Secret Service detail, thus confirming the big-cheese status he has so long possessed in his own mind.

Nightstick At The Ready

Filing from Jerusalem on March 19, Jeffrey Goldberg says the "bad cop" is toughening its stance:

The arguments I’ve outlined here -- and those I’ll describe in my next column -- all lead to a single conclusion: The Israeli political leadership increasingly believes that an attack on Iran will not be the disaster many American officials, and some ex-Israeli security officials, fear it will be.

Cops And Bloggers

For two years Jeffrey Goldberg has been warning readers about the likelihood of Israel attacking Iran. Writing during a Middle East visit last week, Goldberg speculated that Benyamin Netanyahu may have been bluffing the whole time in order to get the U.S. to toughen its position. Andrew Sullivan, perhaps forgetting Winston Churchill's maneuvers before the U.S. entry into World War II, is shocked, just shocked that Israel would leverage and manipulate its generous ally. For his part, Goldberg admires the Washington-Jerusalem two-step:
[Obama and Netanyahu] they have accomplished something extraordinary together over the past two years. The sanctions Obama has placed on Iran are some of the toughest ever placed on any country. Even some hardliners now believe that they just might force a change in Iran’s nuclear calculus. And how has Obama convinced the world that these sanctions are necessary? By pointing to Netanyahu and saying, “If you don’t cooperate with me on sanctions, this guy is going to blow up the Middle East.”

Obama’s good-cop routine is then aided immeasurably by the world’s willingness to believe that Netanyahu is the bad cop.

No one fully understands the dynamic between Obama and Netanyahu, apart from the men themselves. And no one, maybe not even their closest advisers, knows what they said to each other when they met alone March 5 in the White House. I recognize the suggestion that the two men are deliberately tag-teaming Iran is a bit much to swallow, and I recognize, too, that believing Netanyahu never intends to attack Iran by himself is dangerous.

When word got around the Episconixonian newsroom about Goldberg's use of that particular law enforcement metaphor, our voices were raised as one proclaiming "Holy Guacamole!" Back on Feb. 22, I wrote:
Whether taking the threat of an Israeli or U.S. attack seriously would lead to war or the negotiating table remains an open question. It occurs to me that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, without having set out to do so, have fallen into a good cop, bad cop dynamic that is making the threat of an Israeli attack seem more imminent than it perhaps is -- which, again, may help draw Teheran into a meaningful conversation about how to avoid war, which would be by not developing a nuclear weapon. George W. Bush pulled off something similar with Libya.

Monday, March 19, 2012


The AP's Calvin Woodward on the roots of Obama- and Romneycare in Richard Nixon's 1974 health care initiative, torpedoed in Congress by Ted Kennedy:

Nixon's initiative was bold for its time — and even bolder now — because it contained measures that have become anathema to the Republican mainstream, including a requirement that all employers offer coverage to their workers. To his everlasting regret, Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, his party's broker on health care, chose not to seal a deal with Nixon along those lines, reasoning that a Democratic president down the road could achieve a single-payer government system like Canada's.

"You never know how the thing would have played out," said [Stuart] Altman, an architect of Nixon's initiative and author of a new book on the century-long struggle for expanded medical care, "Power, Politics, and Universal Health Care." ''There was no question that the stars were aligned in 1974 for the passage of something important."

Nixon declared, "The time is at hand this year to bring comprehensive, high-quality health care within the reach of every American. I shall propose a sweeping new program that will assure comprehensive health insurance protection to millions of Americans who cannot now obtain it or afford it."

With the Watergate scandal soon to destroy Nixon's presidency, health care was surely a topic he preferred to talk about. It's just not one that Romney or Obama want to talk about now.

St. John's Sky

6:40 p.m.

Things That Were Said Back In Those Days

In response to questions from Paul Brandeis Raushenbush at the Huffington Post about the Bible's teachings on gender and sexual orientation, Sunday school teacher and former President Jimmy Carter gives us some of that old-time historical and cultural criticism:

I separated from the Southern Baptists when they adopted the discriminatory attitude towards women, because I believe what Paul taught in Galatians that there is no distinction in God’s eyes between men and women, slaves and masters, Jews and non-Jews -– everybody is created equally in the eyes of God.

There are some things that were said back in those days –- Paul also said that women should not be adorned, fix up their hair, put on cosmetics, and that every woman who goes in a place of worship should have her head covered. Paul also said that men should not cut their beards and advocated against people getting married, except if they couldn’t control their sexual urges. Those kinds of things applied to the customs of those days. Every worshipper has to decide if and when they want those particular passages to apply to them and their lives....

Homosexuality was well known in the ancient world, well before Christ was born and Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. In all of his teachings about multiple things -– he never said that gay people should be condemned. I personally think it is very fine for gay people to be married in civil ceremonies.

I draw the line, maybe arbitrarily, in requiring by law that churches must marry people. I’m a Baptist, and I believe that each congregation is autonomous and can govern its own affairs. So if a local Baptist church wants to accept gay members on an equal basis, which my church does by the way, then that is fine. If a church decides not to, then government laws shouldn’t require them to.

Iran: We'll Get Back To You In A Few Months

An AP report says that Israeli officials now agree with the U.S. conclusion that Iran hasn't yet decided whether to build a nuclear weapon. Of course it all may an Iranian ploy to trick the Israelis, who are itching to attack, into standing down and leaving the task to the U.S., which Iran may have concluded is less certain to do so:

Israel officials have said that with Iran moving its installations underground, Israel's level of bunker-busting capability leaves it with a window of no more than several months to act effectively. The United States, with more powerful bombs, would have a much longer period — but leaders [in Israel] are loathe to be entirely dependent on U.S. determination on the issue.

The suspicion in Israel is that the Iranians have held off on a decision [to build a weapon] in order to deny Israel — and other countries — the pretext for an attack, officials said...

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ink-Stained Hustlers

Rough being Richard Nixon this week, with his diabolical influence being plotted well into the 21st century (he resigned in 1974 and died in 1994). Steve Donoghue blames him for Iraq, calling Nixon's national security fixation "an inky stain on the nation, and it spread forward in time" to what Donoghue calls an illegal war launched by his former operatives. In his March 29 Rolling Stone interview with Jon Stewart (not available in full on-line; I'm a proud subscriber), Bruce Springsteen also waxes metaphorical in saddling Nixon and his men with Wall Street greed, the subject of his new song "Easy Money":
That's the street criminalization of the big-money Wall Street hustle. That's the guy that's saying, "Everybody else is getting theirs, and not paying for it, I'm going out to get mine." That hustle has been legitimized over the past four years, when you have the level of risk and greed at the top of the financial industry, and people basically walking away, relatively scot-free, completely unaccountable. That lack of accountability is the poison shot straight into the heart of the country. It goes back to Watergate. Watergate legitimized the hustle at the top of the game -- it legitimized every street-corner thug. You almost had the country brought down by it, basically. All the radical hippies, longhairs -- no one ever came as close to sinking the USA as the guys in the pinstriped suits.

Yorba Linda Sky

Sunday afternoon, as the storms passed

Bin There, Done That

At the National Interest, published by the former Nixon Center, Paul Pillar discusses documents seized in the Abbottabad raid that reveal Osama bin Laden's Palestine preoccupation:
The Palestinian issue has the power it does not because individual terrorist leaders like bin Laden necessarily make it their first personal priority but instead because it has tremendous resonance among the Muslim populations to which they appeal. The reason that supporters and rank-and-file practitioners of anti-U.S. terrorism cite most frequently for their hatred of the United States is U.S. condoning of Israeli occupation of Palestinian-inhabited land and of other Israeli actions that involve the killing or subjugation of Muslims.

There are many good reasons not to let the Israeli-Palestinian issue fester. Its role as a readily exploitable extremist cause is one of them.

Pillar and others believe this is why Israel and the U.S. should do more. It's probably also one of the reasons the Palestinians keep doing less, because they think the support of fellow Muslims (not that all Palestinians are Muslim) will leverage a better settlement with Israel. But they're wrong. With each passing year, and each Israeli offer Palestinians spurn, the Israelis build more settlements, and the parameters of a future Palestine get smaller. Bin Laden was a tactical and political adviser the Palestinians are infinitely better off without, especially if it increases the chances they'll just say yes.

You Think?

See No Evil

Steve Donoghue demolishes Don Fulsom's hack job Nixon's Darkest Secrets and then turns on Nixon:
[T]he greatest disappointment of Nixon's Darkest Secrets is how minor those secrets come across as being when measured against the full evil of the man. When Nixon went before the nation on Aug. 8, 1974, and announced his resignation -- only a few days after a White House tape recording surfaced proving beyond question that he'd known everything about the Watergate break-in -- something unspoken and completely vital to the nation cracked along its entire axis. And three years later (during a 1977 interview with David Frost), when Nixon said, "When the president does it, that means it's not illegal," that crack shattered open and has never been closed since. It was an inky stain on the nation, and it spread forward in time even to the present, with the United States launching two wars, one of them illegal, mainly at the urging of two former Nixon acolytes, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the vice-president and defense secretary under president George W. Bush. The real Nixon was far darker than the bumbling cartoon villain Fulsom paints here -- perhaps the sharpest irony of them all.
When Nixon released the transcript of the June 23, 1972 "smoking gun" conversation, we learned that he'd briefly acquiesced in a Watergate cover-up, not that he'd "known everything" about the break-in. Still, it's actually reassuring to see the emergence of a critique of Nixon and Watergate based on his national security rather than alleged criminal predispositions. Donoghue traces a direct line between Nixon's "not illegal" formulation and Bush's Iraq war (presumably the one he thinks was illegal). Ironically, most people think the theory had to do with the Watergate break-in or coverup, but Nixon was actually offering a justification of surveillance of domestic militants during the Vietnam war. In 2008, when the misunderstanding was perpetuated in Ron Howard's film "Frost/Nixon," I wondered if Howard and scriptwriter Peter Morgan had blurred the record because post-Sept. 11 audiences would've been inclined to agree with Nixon that presidents have extra-constitutional authority to protect the the U.S. from violent extremists. Some may well think, as Donoghue does, that such impulses make a leader evil. I'll bet most probably don't.
Hat tip to Dona Christensen

Et Tu, Al?

John Mitchell biographer James Rosen (shown here) gives high marks to Leak, in which Max Holland argues that Bob Woodward's most famous secret source, Mark Felt, wanted Richard Nixon to make him FBI director so he would plug his own leaks. Rosen has two demurs:
[S]ome wobbly columns in the Deep Throat temple Leak inexplicably lets stand. “Felt was much too busy and prominent a man to circle page 20 of Woodward’s home-delivered New York Times . . . or monitor the movement of a red-flagged flower pot on the balcony of Woodward’s apartment,” Holland notes. Such chores, he shrugs, “were probably entrusted to reliable [FBI] agents.” Who, exactly — and why haven’t they been identified? Perhaps, alternatively, Holland is wrong to accept Woodward’s statements about this signaling system.

Likewise, Holland describes in detail Deep Throat’s “last great leak”: the accurate disclosure to Woodward, in November 1973, that the Nixon tapes contained a deliberate erasure. Felt had been forced out of the FBI five months earlier, in June 1973, and the existence of the “tape gap,” a rather recent development, was a secret held closely by President Nixon, his secretary Rose Woods and only a few White House intimates and attorneys; so how could Felt have been in a position to tell Woodward about it?

Holland ignores this problem. The only logical conclusion — especially since other Nixon-era officials, like Alexander Haig, Donald Santarelli, and Robert F. Bennett, are known to have served as sources for Woodward — is that “Deep Throat” was more than just Mark Felt. Holland’s unusual silence on this point suggests his otherwise indefatigable research turned up no other satisfactory answer.

Put another way, how many FBI agents does it actually take to overthrow an elected president, and who inside the White House may have helped them, and why? Rosen says that the records Bob Woodward and his reporting partner, Carl Bernstein, have opened so far don't add much to the picture. But as I wrote last April, when Woodward visited the Nixon library:

He said that when he and Bernstein open more reporting files from their second book, The Final Days, people will be surprised to find that one of Nixon's intimates was especially helpful, having concluded by late 1972 that he was doomed.

No Clouds. No Snakes.

The Emerald Isle in October 2010, photographed from NASA's Aqua satellite
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan

The Rejection Of Impossibility

Visiting the Nixon library, Bob Greene fixes on the exhibit Richard Nixon himself loved best: The house his father, Frank, built from a kit on his citrus farm in 1912:

You stand in that structure -- you look at the bedroom, to the left of the front door, and at the bed upon which Hannah Nixon in 1913 gave birth to the child who would end up a president -- and you think of the long and tumultuous life that Nixon would go on, from here, to lead.

Most of all -- and this is the inescapable thought as you stand within those four close walls -- you ponder a United States before there was commercial airline travel, before there was television, and you picture the White House, a continent and a universe away.

It would seem: You can't get there from here.

And yet. ...

The nature of raw ambition, and the rejection of impossibility, and the need to escape from what is to find out what will be. You stand in that nailed-together-from-a-kit house, and you try to imagine being a boy living there who has not yet learned what it is like to have strangers love you and strangers hate you, or even to have strangers know who you are. In the history of the United States, of all the hundreds of millions of people who have lived and died, fewer than 50 have become president. Where does it start?