TCS Daily


Bill and Karl Take a Walk in the Woods...

By James Pinkerton - August 25, 2006 12:00 AM

Two aging Baby Boomers meet for a walk in the woods -- a rambly joint stroll at an undisclosed location. The two men have long been recognized as the godfathers of their respective political parties; they share the same mystique -- one a Democrat, the other a Republican -- and they have become somewhat friendly over the years, sharing tips that each will use to burnish his influence inside his respective party. These secret conversations are strictly off the record, but this being Washington, nothing stays secret forever.

Karl is chubby and balding, but despite his chosen profession, he still manages to look disarmingly cherubic. Bill is grayer and gaunter; his continuing lifestyle registers on his face and physique, even if he has devoted himself, nominally, to nothing but good works.

The Republican speaks first: "Hello, 42." That nickname is Karl's compromise; it's less off-putting for small-talk than "Mr. President" -- and the GOPer has two other men who go by that title in his life already -- and yet more honoring than merely, "Bill." Karl adds, "And happy birthday, by the way!" He extends his hand; Bill, for his part, shakes his hand with both of his hands; it's always been a successful strategy of emotional escalation for him.

"Hello, Karl, and thanks, I think -- I like an excuse for a party, of course, but I wish it weren't for the big Six-Oh!"

Bill smiles a hearty smile: "Congratulations, to you, on not being indicted. I told you that special persecutors -- oops, I mean, independent counsels -- are a bitch!"

"Yeah," says Karl, "Fitzgerald cost me millions in legal bills. And yet I can't thank you enough for helping me dope out my testimony for the grand jury. So I owe you one." He knows that the debt must be repaid one day, but for the moment, he isn't going to dawdle in sentiment. He has his brusque image of cynical professionalism to maintain, so he changes the subject: "I see your wife is on the cover of Time magazine. Look at this copy: 'The Presidential Ambitions of Hillary Clinton.' And then these two questions to check off: 'Love her? Hate her?'" As they walk along, Karl half turns and winks at his companion: "Hey, 42 -- which emotion do you feel? Or a little it of both?"

Bill smiles: "Very funny." He thinks to himself, Yeah, I had my moments with Hill, like when she threw the lamp at me, not knowing that a Secret Service guy was watching -- and a blabbermouthed one at that. Bill stops, knowing he mustn't dwell on angry things; he needs to avoid stressing his operated-on heart. He continues, sunnily again: "But I should tell you, I really do want my wife to be president. After putting up me with for thirty one years -- she's earned it! And that's what I wanted to talk to you about..."

Karl isn't listening closely to his walking companion; he has some stuff to say about the Time article, and he's going to get it off his chest: "It was interesting to me that the Time poll shows McCain just two points ahead of the, um, junior senator from New York. Forty-nine to forty-seven. Not that impressive, just two points. And McCain below 50."

Bill listens to what he already knows and smiles. He realizes he needs to let Karl talk some more, show off some more, before the GOP man tires out a bit and is ready to be reeled in like the mouthy trout that he is. Bill thinks, I am smarter than this guy, and one way I show it is totally counter-intuitive to most smart people: I am a good listener. You learn to read people by letting them talk. And that's one reason I got elected to the White House, twice, and he only got appointed to the White House, once. So if he wants to sling around some politics, I'll do a little bantering rope-a-dope with him. After I'll come back to my main purpose in a little while.

Karl continues: "It looks Hillary is a lot stronger than either Kerry or Edwards." He trails off, waiting to see if the Democrat will trade him some nugget in return.

So 42 obliges with some non-candid candor. "Kerry, of course, is a loser. As you know, I'm glad he lost in '04. If he had won, Hillary and I would be looking at '12. And who wants to wait that long? As for Edwards, he's OK, but if he ever gets elected, that'd take away some of my glory. It would seem as though the Democrats simply win whenever we nominate a Southerner -- that would take away some of my specialness."

"And what about the Tennessean?" Karl asks. "You know, Ozone Man, Greenhouse Gas Man? Your onetime 'best buddy' in the White House?"

Bill smiles. It's easy to feed Karl what he wants to hear. "Al? I don't mind telling you I stopped liking him after a while." He paused and smiled, "I'm not a big fan of self-righteousness. Meanwhile, if Hillary can get elected, as a woman, from a deep-blue state, that would be pretty cool for me, as well as for her, huh?"

The Republican chuckles.

The Democrat chuckles, too. He has given his interlocutor a little cheap thrill by saying a few things out loud, that sound inside -- way inside. And if his comments ever leak? He can always deny saying them. Meanwhile, he thinks, it's time to gather some intel about the future political landscape: "So where do you see this Iraq thing headed?"

"Well, the Old Man is really stubborn on this one," Karl answers. "The generals say we don't have enough troops, while Mehlman and the party types say we have too many. And Gingrich, that SOB, says, every chance he gets now, that we're losing on the current course. Yet 43 thinks that we just have to stay the course, that this is his finest hour, that history will vindicate him. That's that."

Bill nods. And if the Iraq war is still raging in early '08, when it's delegate-selection time, then Hillary will have to walk that fine line between supporting the war and not supporting the way -- all the while opposing Bush. Good thing she has me, the man who can parse the definition of "is."

Then Karl continues: "But in the meantime, if the fighting goes on in Iraq, I won't say that's good for the GOP, but it's also bad for Hillary. The chances of her being 'Lieberman-ed' in the '08 Democrat primaries, especially in those dovish states of Iowa and New Hampshire, are going up, no?"

Bill winces at this prospect. Yes, that's why I worked so hard to achieve the DNC's recent shakeup in the Democratic nomination contest, putting Nevada and South Carolina way up front. I never liked Iowa or New Hampshire -- I got nominated in '92 without winning either state. And I figure that the Big Girl will do better, with me helping her, in less dovish places like Nevada and South Carolina. I can really help her with the casino unions and the Dixie blacks, and then she'll owe me all the more.

Karl chatters on: "I must say, the fact that she hasn't turned tail on the war has helped her in the eyes of conservatives and Republicans. She's got some moderate cred now. I know that some neocons are saying to themselves, 'We'd be better off with Hillary in the White House, supporting the war. The Republicans would have to support her, and she'd bring along some Democrats, just out of party loyalty to her, as Blair has done with the Labour Party in Britain. So the Iraq war, and the Iran war, and the Whatever war would be in stronger shape with a hawkish Hillary in the White House than if the Republicans win in '08, after a divisive election fight that puts almost all Democrats on record as against the war. And besides, maybe some Republican will get elected and pull a Chuck Hagel, and pull us out, as did Ike, the new Republican president in '53.' That's what the neocons are telling themselves, anyway." The Republican pauses. He's done enough talking now. But he has to ask: "But are they right? Are the neocons correct in their assessment of Hillary?"

"Right about what?" Bill was listening intensely, of course, but he plays dumb, so that when his answer does come, it will seem all the more spontaneous and natural -- naturally true.

"Are they, the neocons, correct in thinking that Hillary is a hawk?"

This is The Moment for Bill. He fixes Karl in his gaze to deliver the magic words: "She's not a hawk in the Charles Krauthammer sense, of course. But no, she doesn't want to be remembered as the President who lost the Middle East." It's a great lie Bill is telling, about a woman who came of age in the 60s, thinking of the US military as a bunch of Lt. Calleys. She didn't care when Saigon fell; she was simply glad it was finally over. And Bill knows that three decades later, deep down, nothing has changed in her. But she can't say it, of course, and neither can I.

That was another reason Bill wanted to meet with Karl. He knows that if those hawkish words get relayed back to the Republican high command -- specifically, the neoconservatives who provide the party with most of its brains -- then it will be "mission accomplished" for him and for his wife. If the neocons, most of whom were Democrats in the past, can be persuaded that Hillary is not another dovish McGovern, but instead has a little bit of hawkish Scoop Jackson in her, they will ease off on some of the hostility toward her. After all, many neocons would love to support a Democrat again, if they could, since they privately agree with the Democrats on such non-foreign policy issues as abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research.

Bill looks at Karl and is pretty sure that Karl believes him about Hill's quiet hawkishness. And yet at the same time it's possible, Bill knows, that Karl doesn't believe him, and/or won't pass on the Hillary-is-a-neocon message, for whatever reason. You can't trust anybody in this world -- I should know!

Bill and Karl kick around the names of the various Republican '08 hopefuls. Karl doesn't have an overly high opinion of any of them, it seems. That's why it's been easy for him to stay neutral, looking toward '08. Bill is not surprised. Once you've hung out with the boss, it's always hard to see the second string as first-string material. That was part of the problem that Al Gore had in '00: People were used to thinking of him as a vice president, not as a president. Even the Clinton White House staffers felt that way -- hell, I myself felt that way.

So Bill plays his last good card for this walk in the woods. "So, Karl, from what you're telling me, you're still a Bush man."

Karl smiles.

Bill keeps going: "George W. Bush, of course, and then Jeb Bush."

Karl smiles again. "Jeb won't run, he told me. He told everyone."

Now it's Bill's turn to smile: "I wouldn't be interested, either, if I were him, and I wouldn't have much chance -- in '08. Not on the heels of eight years of W. It's not going to be easy for any Republican to win in '08, what with Republican exhaustion and with the 'wrong track' poll number being at 60 percent or more. As you said, even McCain is lookin' weak. But down the road, a real conservative, a principled conservative, without all the neocon baggage, might be in a good position to take back the White House. It'd be kinda cool if the future history of presidential politics, since 1992, goes 'Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton..." and then, after pausing for effect, he adds, "Bush."

Karl turns to him: ":You mean if Jeb were to run in '12? Or '16?

Bill looks thoughtful, almost academic: "Jeb is a fairly young man. So if he were to run in '12, or even '16, he'd still be only around 60. Younger than Reagan when he first ran."

He lets that sink in.

Then Bill continues: "You know, I'm just reading this biography of Colonel House, the adviser to Woodrow Wilson. He was a Texan, you know. And a dozen years after Wilson, he was still around to help FDR. Pretty cool guy."

He lets that sink in, too. Bill eyes his quarry, watching Karl think to himself, "Karl Rove, the next Ed House." Has a kinda catchy monosyllabic ring to it, huh? Bill keeps thinking and watching, as calculating, as the other man, being watched, thinks and calculates. I'll bet that Bush never talks to him about the possible future like this to his top aide -- has W. ever even heard of Colonel House? What do you expect from a man whose nickname for Rove is "turd blossom"? Does W. really think that Karl likes being called that in public? I yelled plenty in private, but in public, I was always respectful to my advisers. Those damn aristocrats -- in the end, they are always like that, treating "the help" like dirt, or worse. I treat him better than his own boss does, and maybe I can do more for Karl in the future, too, by opening up a path for Jeb. All Karl has to do, in return, is not get in my way too much as I get Hillary elected. Because the coming cycle of presidential victories can't go George W. Bush-John McCain-Jeb Bush. No way -- it has to be Hillary, or some other Democrat, but let's make it Hillary, in between. Yup, for Jeb to make it, ever, there has to be an opposite-party president in between, just as was true for me and for hopefully Hillary. If I can plant that seed in Karl's head -- that he can be a top guru to a third Bush president but only after a second Clinton president -- well, that'll clear away some of the problems we might be facing in '08.

"Yup, that would be kinda cool," Bill says aloud: "Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton-Bush."

Karl doesn't say anything in response. He is still thinking.

"One thing that could spoil that sequence, of course, would be if some Republican gets elected in '08." Pause. "So any sort of 'wag the dog' thing -- that could really upend this little sequencing scenario."

Karl blushes slightly. I can't tell if Karl is blushing because he feels insulted, or because he feels like he got caught red-handed, October Surprise-wise. But hopefully during this conversation I've given this Bush loyalist reason to think twice before launching any extra-special effort to help a non-Bush Republican win in '08. Which is good for my candidate, Mrs. Hillary Rodham '08. That's what matters. After that, who knows? I'll probably be dead by then.

"Hey Karl, this has been fun. Let's do it again soon."

"I'd like that, 42, I'd really like that."

And so the two men part ways, each with a lot to think about.

James Pinkerton is a fellow at the New America Foundation and TCS Daily's media critic.

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8 Comments

Crap!
This "article" merely kills brain-cells.

Very disappointing and idiotic.

Hillary and McCain
Neither of those explosive temperments should ever be given the powers of the executive office. They both are narcissistic powermongers with precious little patience and both have been known to go "off" with little provocation and less warning.

No, McCain's valorous war record is not a life long pass to ever greater public office.

Pinkerton at his best
...make-believe!

He really should stick to his best genre.

bad writing
That was weak writing. Stylistically trashy. Kind of fun to think about though.

Entertaining
And knowing somewhat the depths of the political prowess of those two figures I can imagine it actually happening. Sons-a-bitches.

Whats funny is neither character in the story will get what they want in the story, in real life.

Isn't everything Pinkerton writes a work of fiction?

Wag God Hath Wrought
" It's a little wag the dog thing "

Really Jim, you about to turn Turk and go squirrily on stem cells and Darwin just when we can see the exit poll at the end of the tunnel? .........................................................

What neocon needs Iran when we have its Northern Neighbor--.... The Nakhchivan Republic..............

(From Naxcivan Muxtar Respublika website )............

"Geography This wonderfully atmospheric semi-desert region...dating only from 1924, when Stalin transferred ...the exclave with a vital link to the world... the Armenian forces bombed Nakhchivan but never invaded, taking only the sub-exclave of Kerki...The region has impressive volcanic domes and is regularly visited by strong earthquakes.Mining is important.The deposits of the rock salt are exhausted.The important Molybdenite mines are currently closed as a consequence of the exclave's isolation. There are a lot of mineral springs there such as Badamli, Sirab, Nagajir, Kiziljir where water contains arsenic.

Agriculture has become a poorly capitalized, backyard activity...Very hot summers...make it possible to grow such highly saccharine grapes as bayan-shiraz. Wines such as..."Aznaburk" are of reasonable quality and very popular... Buffaloes are also bred here... radio-engineering and... bottling of miineral water are the principal branches of Nakhchivan's industry.

Although good intentions have been declared by the government, tourism is still at best incipient. Until 1997 Tourists needed special permission to visit, which has now been suppressed, making travel easier. “

Bill and Karl Take a Walk in the Woods
I liked the musings.....however, why did Bill come across as "sinister" like a Rove and Karl was portrayed as a "good, ole boy" with more of a listening ear than Bill was characterized? Methinks a bit of bias, perhaps? It is not that I don't think they are both master political plotters......it's not the "what", it is the "how" that I think is different.

Sounds like a page from Dune
With all that internal Bene Geserit dialogue, I expected Rove to recite the Litanny Against Fear: "I must not fear; fear is the mind-killer..."

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