I was shocked. For six years, I had been meeting secretly with the GOP mole
I called "Shallow Throat"** -- a high-ranking official in the Bush
Administration -- and each time, ST made sure to wear different wigs and
scarves and dark glasses. Now, here was Shallow Throat in front of me, at a
Smithsonian cafe, with no disguise. Except this time wearing a smile a mile
"You've outed yourself," I said. "And you're grinning like a banshee. Has
Obama's election liberated you?"
"What's really liberated me," said Shallow Throat, "is that the rightwing
extremists who hijacked my party, and almost took the country down with
them, are gone in electoral disgrace. Before Obama's landslide victory, I
always had to worry that I might be discovered talking to you, and lose my
governmental position, or worse. I revealed a lot about what was going on
inside the White House and my party and Cheney's heavies have no love for
leakers. So thanks, Bernie, for not revealing in your articles any clues
about my identity, not even my gender."
I responded: "My readers and I have always found Shallow Throat's
revelations useful in figuring out how we in the opposition should confront
and challenge the GOP and the CheneyBush Administration. That's why I sent
you the coded message the other day: I think we all could benefit from your
insider perspective about the new Obama presidency and how the Republicans
are responding to his initiatives."
"You understand," said Shallow Throat, "that my long-range goal is to help
take the Republican party back to its traditional, small-government,
conservative roots, if that's still possible, as a brake on your Democrat
friends' tendency toward social engineering. The time will come when you and
I will be political opponents once again."
"Then why are you willing to talk to me now? Isn't there a contradiction
REPAIRING THE WRACK & RUIN
"Not really, not yet," said ST. "The first task is to undo the great damage
done by the wrecking crew of Bush and Cheney and their cohorts -- to the
economy, the Constitution, the environment, America's reputation abroad,
etc. That restoration will take years and years. Especially because the
corporate mass-media still support their point of view, the courts are
riddled with far-right ideologues appointed by Bush/Cheney, and also they've
hidden many of their most effective, lower-level operatives in civil service
jobs inside the government. But since I've exited from government service
and work as a consultant now, I don't have to be afraid any more of
retaliation from GOP dead-enders or the new Administration. I can say what I
"You mean I can use your name now?" I asked.
"Afraid not, " ST said. "I don't want to scare off clients, who might wonder
if I can be trusted with the information they'll be giving me. The Beltway
is a closed loop and everybody knows everybody. I'll continue to be your
'Shallow Throat' but still anonymously, at least for now."
"OK," I said. "Tell me how you read the early plays of the Obama
Administration, and about how your fellow Republicans are responding to
OBAMA AS A PRAGMATIC CENTRIST
"I think it's pretty clear, especially judging from the major appointments
to his Cabinet and economic team, and from the howls coming from the
progressive wing of the party, that Obama plans on governing pretty much
from the pragmatic wide center, though laying on enough liberal veneer to
satisfy his base."
"Give me some examples of what's behind this 'liberal veneer' you're talking
about," I said.
"OK. 1) Among the establishment liberal economists Obama's chosen to head
his recovery program, many are partially responsible for the economic
meltdown in the first place. 2) He is overturning many of Bush's most
egregious executive orders but certain ones have been allowed to remain --
the one moving ahead on possible offshore oil drilling along the coasts, for
example. 3) In the wording of his anti-torture executive order mandating use
of the Army Field Manual's interrogation rules, Obama has left a large
loophole for possibly continuing CIA torture of suspected terrorists. 4) His
Mideast policy, despite the rhetoric, is pretty much the same: unswerving
support for Israel, little or no support for Palestinian positions. And 5)
Already last week deadly missile strikes have taken place by unmanned
Predator drones inside Pakistan, presumably with President Obama's approval
"But he is starting to get some flack from the progressive wing on these and
other matters," I countered. "I'm more interested right now on your insights
into how the Republican opposition is behaving."
THE DEARTH OF A GOP VISION
Shallow Throat launched: "The Republicans have no competent national
spokesman with the reputation and political smarts to deal effectively with
rebuilding the party away from its extremist history of the past few
decades. McCain is damaged goods, and is being wooed successfully by Obama
in any case. So the remnants of the Cheney/Bush ideologues in the Congress,
led by McConnell in the Senate and Boehner in the House, have no guidance
and no program other than to play the obstructionist card."
"What else is new?" I replied. "Their candidate didn't have any good,
popular ideas to run on for the presidency either and, as a result, McCain
failed miserably at the polls. Absent new ideas, can the Republicans be
successful in stopping the Obama/Democratic momentum?"
"Well, assuming Obama can't lure enough moderate Republican senators to his
side on key votes, the GOP can use their numbers in the Senate to filibuster
or threaten to filibuster, making Obama think that he has to compromise on
important legislation. That's just out-and-out GOP obstructionism. Shouting
'socialism' isn't an agenda."
"Exactly," I replied. "The voters want government to work for them, and too
many Republicans, still in the throes of extremist demagoguery, continue
talking about 'drowning government in a bathtub' and are desperate enough to
look to Sarah Palin for leadership. That's just political suicide."
"In a sense, I certainly hope so," said Shallow Throat. "It could be that
the extreme wing will paint the party into such an unelectable corner by the
2010 midterms that mainstream Republicans like me and my friends will
finally have enough momentum to drive them out. The extremist/fundamentalist
wing might then found its own variant of the Know-Nothing Party while the
rejuvenated GOP will be able to put forth a genuine presidential competitor
in 2012 to help rebuild the party."
A SLIME STRATEGY
"But," I countered, "wouldn't the GOP's current strategy of obstructionism
and sliming Obama and his supporters wherever and however they can --
wouldn't that aid your cause, by weakening Obama for 2012?"
"Maybe," said ST, "but at what cost to the country? We moderate Republicans
are not Rush Limbaughs, calling for Obama to fail badly in all his
initiatives, even those aimed at rescuing the wrecked economy. We
Republicans want to be judged as the better alternative in a healthy, civil
contest between two competing ideologies, not appear to be arrogant,
my-way-or-the-highway destroyers. We've had quite enough of that kind of
politics during the past eight years."
"I think you're hopelessly naive," I said. "The Congressional Republicans,
after having their hands on all the goodies of power for the past eight
years -- actually, with some exceptions, since the Reagan 1980s -- aren't
about to play nice just because they got their asses whooped in the last
election. Obama is making a big mistake if he thinks by working with them
that they'll abandon their scorched-earth political strategy. These guys
play for nothing less than victory, they're not civilized players like you
and your moderate GOP buddies."
"Which" said ST, "is precisely why we GOP moderates must in the next several
years prepare ourselves for a return to power in the party after the
congressional leaders self-destruct with their values-thin, obstructionist
HOW SHOULD PROGRESSIVES BEHAVE?
"And progressive Democrats?" I asked. "How do they fit into the picture?"
"They'll like some of what Obama does," said ST, "mainly in domestic areas,
but will feel betrayed in foreign and military policy, especially with
regard to Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan and maybe even Iraq. Obama is
gambling on their so liking being at the locus of federal power that they
won't abandon him. After all, Obama might reason, where else would the
Democrat left go? But after decades of compromised, watered-down
center-right liberalism, the progressives might just decide to walk and
explore founding their own party, perhaps in an alignment with the Greens
and disaffected Republican moderates."
"You really believe that could happen?"
HOW THINGS COULD EXPLODE
"No. But in a horrific time that calls out for radical reform, and that
offers the rare opportunity to effect those massive changes, if Obama blows
it and sticks to the more-or-less status-quo center, public anger and
disappointment could become heated and party alignments could begin to
gyrate wildly. Hope, as important as it is psychologically for public
morale, still isn't a paycheck.
"Just think what could happen if the recovery monies don't get out
immediately to the states for 'shovel-ready' infrastructure projects.
Imagine the anger and frustration if those jobs don't start to materialize
until 2010 or 2011, and if there isn't quick relief for mortgage-payers
facing foreclosure. Don't rule out a public backlash of immense proportions
directed against a perceived more-of-the-same Obama Administration and the
Democrat and Republican Parties in general."
And with that, Shallow Throat quickly walked away, leaving me sitting there
stunned, not knowing if I'd heard a forecast of hope for genuine change or a
prediction of massive failure and potential social revolution.
Copyright 2009 by Bernard Weiner
**To read Bernard Weiner's conversations with the Shallow Throat character
from 2002 to 2008, click
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught
at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as
co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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