- The Washington Times - Friday, January 9, 2009

Humble pie

“So the Chicago Way hauled off and slapped the U.S. Senate in the face — one of those backhands with the knuckles to unsuspecting lips — and guess who blinked?” Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass writes.

“It wasn’t Chicago.

“It was the Senate.

“Get used to it, America. And it won’t be the last time either,” Mr. Kass said.

“Roland ‘Tombstone’ Burris, the amiable Illinois Democratic political hack who is being called eminently qualified by the national Democrats — perhaps because he’s from Illinois and he hasn’t been indicted — has almost reached his goal of being addressed as ‘Yes, sir, Senator.’

“Now Tombstone has President-elect Barack Obama behind him, muscling Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid in a phone call earlier in the week. So much for transcending the old politics.

“Only a week ago, Obama, Reid and other Democratic leaders were adamant that they’d block any Senate appointment made by tainted Illinois Gov. Rod ‘Dead Meat” Blagojevich, who has been charged with trying to sell Obama’s seat to the highest bidder. …

“In political terms, Reid rolled up his sleeves, put on his favorite ‘Kiss the Chef’ apron, got his fingers dusty with flour and baked himself a big humble pie. He scarfed it down in front of reporters Wednesday, without a fork, all but licking his fingers, that pie was so sweet and tasty. Mmm-mmm.”

Choosing Panetta

“There are, I suspect, quite a few jobs in government for which having no experience is not a liability. But few would list CIA director among them. Which is why Barack Obama’s pick of Leon Panetta is causing so much consternation,” Jack Kelly writes at www.realclearpolitics.com.

“A former congressman, Mr. Panetta, 70, served as budget director and then as chief of staff in the Clinton administration. But he’s never spent a day in the intelligence community,” Mr. Kelly said.

“The outgoing chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and the incoming chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), are cool to the choice. Both Ms. Feinstein and Mr. Rockefeller had recommended deputy director Steven Kappes.

“Mr. Obama originally had planned to tap John Brennan, who was head of the National Counterterrorism Center at the time of his retirement in 2005. But the rumored appointment ignited a storm of protest from left wingers who opposed the coercive interrogation techniques the CIA used on some high-level al Qaeda prisoners.

“‘The fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored,’ Mr. Brennan said in a Nov. 26 letter withdrawing his name.

“By yielding to Mr. Brennan’s critics, Mr. Obama made it all but impossible to pick anyone who held a senior position in the intelligence community during the Bush administration, which may be why Mr. Kappes was passed over.”

Myth and reality

“Mythmaking is in full swing as the Bush administration prepares to leave town. Among the more prominent is the assertion that the housing meltdown resulted from unbridled capitalism under a president opposed to all regulation,” Karl Rove, a former senior adviser to President Bush, writes in the Wall Street Journal.

“Like most myths, this is entertaining but fictional. In reality, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were among the principal culprits of the housing crisis, and Mr. Bush wanted to rein them in before things got out of hand. …

“Fannie and Freddie are ‘government-sponsored enterprises’ (GSEs), chartered by Congress. As such, they had an implicit promise of taxpayer backing and could borrow money at rates well below competitors. …

“Mr. Bush wanted to limit systemic risk by raising the GSEs’ capital requirements, compelling preapproval of new activities, and limiting the size of their portfolios. Why should government regulate banks, credit unions and savings and loans, but not GSEs? Mr. Bush wanted the GSEs to be treated just like their private-sector competitors. …

“When Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama, then chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, pushed for comprehensive GSE reform in 2005, Democrat Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut successfully threatened a filibuster. Later, after Fannie and Freddie collapsed, Mr. Dodd asked, ‘Why weren’t we doing more?’ He then voted for the Bush reforms that he once called ‘ill-advised.’

“But Mr. Dodd wasn’t the only Democrat to heap abuse on the Bush reforms. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts defended Fannie and Freddie as ‘fundamentally sound’ and labeled the president’s proposals as ‘inane.’ He later voted for the reforms. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York dismissed Mr. Bush’s ‘safety and soundness concerns’ as ‘a straw man.’ ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ was the helpful advice of both Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware and Rep. Maxine Waters of California. Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York berated a Bush official at a hearing, saying, ‘I am just pissed off’ at the administration for raising the issue.”

Lunch with Cheney

“On Wednesday, some conservative journalists had a final lunch discussion with Vice President Cheney at his residence. Over the past eight years, the vice president has periodically hosted these sessions and was always unfailingly candid and insightful. And charming and quick-witted,” Kate O’Beirne writes at National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com).

“Wednesday he talked about a range of issues. On the international front, he mentioned multiple challenges, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and Russia. He concluded, ‘It’s a big, complex, dangerous world out there and President Obama and his people are going to have their hands full.’

“He expressed concerns about the president-elect’s approach to the war on terror based on his campaign rhetoric but noted that Sen. Obama did vote to reauthorize the terrorist surveillance program. He recommends (hopes?) that the Obama team will carefully study the whats and whys of the Bush administration’s (successful) efforts in countering the terrorist threat before abandoning certain strategies. While hoping they get it right, he’s worried. So am I.

“Fortunately, the vice president is giving ‘serious thought to writing a book.’ Let’s hope we will continue to benefit from his unparalleled experience and sound judgment.”

• Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected] times.com.

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