The Blog

A Season of Cynicism

From campaign finance reform to the resurrection of Oslo, strange things are happening in the White House.

11:00 PM, Mar 31, 2002 • By DAVID BROOKS
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THOSE ENERGY lobbyists are a lame bunch. They are lavishly funded by the oil industry. They get to work in fancy institutes and have open dining at The Palm. And look at how little influence they actually have on the Bush energy plan. Here's the biggest piece of legislation of the decade for them. And do they have any significant impact on it? No!

I realize the press is full of stories about how the lobbyists practically wrote the bill. But don't be a lazy reporter. Be a real human being and read the substance of what they managed to put into the legislation: a provision saying that if an environmental measure is enacted then the agency enacting it should assess whether the measure will disrupt the energy supply and if it does, it should come up with recommendations for alternative ways to get the energy.

That's it! That's what all the media hyperventilating is about. An Energy Impact Statement. This is: A) a tiny little idea, B) a pretty sensible one, and C) apparently already written into law and merely reiterated here. The lobbyists hold all those lunches and make all those campaign donations, and this is all they get! They owe a big apology to their corporate masters.

But of course the media will never make this case, because if a legislative story isn't about malevolent corporate influence upon the political process, then it doesn't exist. Most political reporters care passionately about campaign donations and their alleged corruption, and care not a bit about the actual substance of legislation, which is boring and only of interest to wonks.

They've been infected with malignant Naderism. None dare call it bias.

I've got the inside skinny on how President Bush signed the campaign finance reform bill. He went to bed one night in all-body asbestos underwear and head-to-toe bombproof body armor. Then, at six in the morning, while he was still asleep, an aide he had never met and would never meet again placed a clothespin on his nose and a 10 foot pole with a pen on the end in his hand. The aide then manipulated the pole to mimic Bush's signature over the legislation. In this way Bush could sign the legislation without ever being conscious and without ever coming into any bodily, psychological, or moral contact with the dreaded bill.

My sourcing on this might not be totally reliable, but I am struck by the petty vindictiveness that marked the Bush handling of this ceremony. If he thought it was a bad bill, as I do, he should have had the courage of his convictions and vetoed it. If he thought it was a good bill, he should have had a real signing ceremony. The way he handled it made him look like an unprincipled cynic and a vindictive loser. If the Russians had been allowed to design the medal ceremonies at the winter Olympics, this is what they would have looked like.

But then this is a season of cynicism for the Bush administration. After six months of wonderfully moral handling of the war, suddenly Dick Morris seems to be running things. First there was the dreadful decision on the steel tariffs, then the McCain-Feingold maneuver, and then the cynical turn of our policy in the Middle East. In his State of the Union address George Bush mentioned Hamas and Islamic Jihad as junior partners in the axis of evil. Now the United States has wrapped itself so tightly around the Zinni-Tenet-Mitchell axle we find ourselves excusing Islamist terrorists, rewarding the leaders who sponsor terror, and condemning Israel for trying to combat terror.

The basic problem here is that U.S. policy is still based on the Oslo mindset. It is still based on the land for peace formula--that if the Israelis just give up enough territory then the Arabs will declare peace. That formula seemed realistic a few years ago. It's why Israel gave the Palestinian Authority so much land, allowed the PLO terrorists back into Palestine, supplied them with rifles and other weapons, and finally at Camp David offered them 97 percent of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem.

If this was about land for peace, the problem would be solved. But some Palestinians have never accepted that formula, and others have recently set their psychological clocks back. They accept that there will not be peace soon, but, they believe when peace finally comes they will get everything they want. I don't think they have thought through how they are going to destroy Israel, just that somehow the Jews will vanish as the crusaders did.

When you talk with diplomats from Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, you realize that like the political class in Israel, they are addicted to the game of the peace process. It is a fascinating and complex game, like chess in real life. But unlike the Israelis, they are under the illusion that Camp David almost succeeded and that it is possible to go back to the Oslo process. Most Israelis now know deep in their bones that they were suckered during Oslo--they were tricked into supplying the guns that would be used to kill them. This is not about land for peace. It is a war against modernity and the democratic capitalism of the West. Israel and the Jews are just the forward projection of this global force.

David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.