Tuesday, December 23, 2008

John Warner: Great Senator, or Greatest Senator?

When a prominent U.S. politician either dies or retires, the press and his or her fellow lawmakers can be expected to fall over themselves to praise their dignity, their devotion to country over party, etc. (see: Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, et al.) no matter how corrupt or immoral they actually were.

The latest beneficiary of bipartisan hosannas is retiring Senator John Warner, a Republican from Virginia who did his best to gloss over the Bush administration's responsibility for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq and helped shepherd the Military Commissions Act of 2006 through Congress -- the bill that abolished habeas corpus for those accused of acts of terrorism and retroactively legalized torture.  And when I last spoke to Warner in the summer of 2006, amid rampant bloodshed in Iraq, what issue was the respected senator focused on? Pushing a constitutional amendment to ban the national epidemic of flag burning, which he told me was necessary in order to honor our nation's veterans (which, via his support of the Iraq war, he was ensuring there would be many more of).

Of course, these details -- you know, actual facts about Warner's record -- seem not to matter to his colleagues in the U.S. Senate, including his fellow Virginia Senator, Democrat Jim Webb, who offers this howler:
"There is not a person who is wearing the military uniform today who has not benefited from the wisdom and judgment of John Warner."
Yeah . . . except maybe all those wearing military uniforms who are being bombed and shot at in the quagmires that are Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now, I'm not entirely naive -- I realize politicians spout b.s. about "my good friend" this and "my esteemed colleague" that all the time. Nonetheless, it's a bit disconcerting to see Webb -- an opponent of the Iraq war whose son is currently deployed in that country, and who certainly knows better -- gloss over Warner's outspoken support for a war of aggression that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, but so it goes.

More amusing, however, is what Warner believes is wrong with the Republican Party today (hint: it's not the Party's support for "preemptive" war and crony capitalism):
Warner thinks the Republican Party in Virginia, which he helped build, is substituting rigidity for independent thinking.

"I would have to say that I'm deeply concerned, indeed sad, about the Republican Party of Virginia," he said.

A year ago, when he knew he was not going to seek re-election, Warner said he donated $2,000 to the Republican Party of Virginia to help defray the costs of a luncheon and straw poll at the party's annual Advance in Arlington.

"Guess who they elected? Ron Paul. That was the worst investment of several thousand dollars I ever made."
If the problem with the Republican Party, as Warner posits, is that it is "substituting rigidity for independent thinking," why, prey tell, is he bemoaning the fact that the only Republican presidential candidate who dared to challenge his party on its support for endless war and corporatism -- and the only one to challenge the consensus during the primaries that the economy was fine and dandy -- won a local straw poll? Say what you will about Ron Paul (who I interviewed here and here), but he was clearly the only Republican candidate who had any semblance of "independent thinking", for which he was pilloried by the Party establishment. 

Methinks John Warner's opposition to "rigidity" and support for "independent thinking" just may be nothing more than meaningless claptrap self-styled mavericks like he and John McCain are expected to utter for the media's consumption. Admitting the Republican Party lost the '06 and '08 elections because of the policies he himself pushed -- imperialism abroad and corporatism at home -- would probably be too much for the senior senator from Virginia. 

It sure must be comforting for Warner to blame the Party's woes on poor old Ron Paul. Too bad it isn't true.

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