When governing becomes a circus

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By Hal Rhodes

None of our governments — national, state, local — was designed for expeditious and orderly action.   

But when any of them becomes so disorderly as to resemble a circus you have to wonder.

Briefly last week, key functionaries, civilian, military and judicial, in our national government had a great many people wondering if the circus hadn’t become a zoo.

It started with a Rolling Stone magazine “profile” of Stanley McChrystal, then-U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, in which the general and his closest aides came off sounding more like wiseacre frat boys dissing their university’s president and professors after too many Bud Light Limes, reportedly the brew of choice Gen. McChrystal imbibed during part of his magazine interview.  

In this case, however, the boys weren’t maligning university types, but the president of the United States and the men and women who constitute his national security team.

The fracas that ensued was noisy, with every cable and broadcast talking head, along with the entire stable of Internet bloggers, twitters and tweeters, opining on the indiscretion of an Army general and his loose-lipped cohorts.

Reporters, including this one, instinctively dialed up ranking Washington officials for their “take” on l’affaire McChrystal, et al.

New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, ever circumspect, thought the general’s “comments were unfortunate,” but was confident the president and defense secretary would know “how to handle this situation.”

Bingaman’s colleague, Sen. Tom Udall, reckoned McChrystal’s Rolling Stone remarks “extremely troubling, inappropriate and unbecoming of his position.”

For the next 24 hours the chatterers chattered breathlessly, often mindlessly.

Then the president went to the Rose Garden, flanked by his vice president, secretary of defense, Joint Chiefs chairman and Gen. David Petraeus to announce that the chain of command and civilian control of the military were intact and that Gen. Petraeus would replace McChrystal, whose resignation he had accepted, as NATO chief in Afghanistan.

Immediately following the president’s announcement, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman stood before an MSNBC camera gushing about how this had been “the defining moment of the Obama presidency.”

What few onlookers realized was that at about this very moment, had it not been for McChrystal’s insubordination, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman would have been in a scheduled meeting with the president, Lieberman and other senators who hope to get a Senate energy measure passed before times runs out for this Congress.

When you work in a circus, you never know what act will steal the spotlight or preempt important meetings on important business.

And there’s the pity. Absent legislation fostering greater reliance on alternative energy sources, future calamities of the sort occasioned by deep water drilling in the Gulf Coast seem inevitable.

Yet, while all this was going on, a Reagan-appointed federal judge in Louisiana made his own grab for center stage by striking down the six-month moratorium President Obama placed on deep-water drilling after the BP disaster. The president’s aim was to use that time to scrutinize safety and recovery procedures outlined in permits for future deep-water drills.

The oil and gas industry was not amused by the moratorium. Nor was federal Judge Martin Feldman, who, it seems, has financial investments in a number of petroleum outfits.

The Obama administration is appealing Feldman’s ruling, and in a radio session with local reporters last week Sen. Udall said, “I would hope the appeal would reinstate the ban.”

Lots of fishermen and environmentalists and beach-front tourist service providers hope so too.

Meanwhile, perhaps Rolling Stone should interview Judge Feldman about how it came to be that judges are no longer obligated to abstain from handling cases in which they have a financial interest.     

© 201l New Mexico News Services