All the President’s Men, Too
In Washington, the same old same old.


The paranoid thriller is a Hollywood staple, especially during Republican administrations. You know, the one where an innocent man who looks remarkably like Pinch Sulzberger is being hounded by sinister forces, all of whom look remarkably like Richard Nixon. Cars mysteriously blow up, friends vanish, telephones are tapped until our beleaguered hero finally realizes it’s all a sinister government plot that only the New York Times can expose. I’m thinking of such films as Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, Winter Kills, and, of course, All the President’s Men.

Those days are gone, especially now that we on the left have realized that the CIA has been on our side all along. For years, we assumed Langley was the heart of darkness, until along came Joe Wilson and his super-top-secret wife-cum-Vanity Fair model, Valerie Plame. Then the scales fell from our eyes: They hate Bush too! If and when Jason Bourne comes back, it will be as a heroic Agency black op, a liberal Jack Bauer who singlehandedly closes Gitmo while personally delivering Khalid Sheik Mohammed to some very special friends in a particularly dark corner of Egypt and then showing up in black tie to dine on wagyu steak at the White House. The film would end as Matt Damon leans over and whispers something in Obama’s ear; the president nods and they both share a good chuckle as the credits roll and a Kanye West rap song bursts from the soundtrack.

But today, in the bright, blinding sunshine of the reflected glory of the wondrous transparency of The One, we have, um, a different kind of problem: Try as he might, Obama just can’t seem to find an honest man or woman to serve either in his Caesar’s Wife cabinet or in his congressional delegation.

Call it All the President’s Men II: Tom Daschle! Timothy Geithner! Charles Rangel! If they were Republicans, imagine the hiding the Contessa Brewers of the world would be giving this trio of refugees from the IRS, how high the dudgeon, how spluttering the outrage over the free car and driver, the IMF monies, the undocumented nannies, the apartments in Harlem, and the unreported vacation-home rental income. Taxes? We don’t pay no stinkin’ taxes! Somewhere, the ghost of Leona Helmsley is smiling and stroking her pet Maltese, “Trouble.”

Luckily, there’s the tried-and-true Sandy Berger DefenseTM: It was an honest mistake! Good ol’ Sandypants, the pride of Millerton, N.Y., skating out of the National Archives with classified material and then, you know, destroying it. Why, no less an authority on felonious behavior than Billy Jeff Blythe III excused Berger by chalking it up to simple sloppiness. Yes, that’s just the quality we need in a national security adviser–sloppiness!

In the same way, the Tax Trio has basically said: oops! Daschle, in fact, has pronounced himself “disappointed” by his erroneous tax returns. “I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns,” said Tom Thumb in a contrite, heartfelt note of apology to his former Senate BFFs. “I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them.” There–all better now? Good thing he’s not a lobbyist or, you know, married to one, or his nomination would really be in trouble.

And then there’s the ineffable Chris Dodd, for some unfathomable reason Connecticut’s longest-serving senator, who by dint of parentage and physiognomy was born to play the role of a Tammany Hall thug, shaking down local businessmen while professing his solicitude for widows and orphans. Instead, he’s the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee and, entirely coincidentally, the top recipient of “campaign contributions” from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which just so happened to go belly up on his watch. (Yes, this is the same Chris Dodd whose father–coincidentally a senator from Connecticut–was censured by his colleagues for the coincidental misuse of campaign funds.) Now comes the news that Chris is refinancing his hinky Countrywide mortgages, which just proves he was no Friend of Angelo after all. Apology accepted!

You see, this is the genius of progresso-world, the new alternative universe that began on January 20, in which you’ll be living for at least the next four years. We liberals have long believed that up is really down, black is really white, in is really out, men are really women, good is really evil, and vice versa. Not that we can prove it, mind you, but in our hearts we believe it, which is even better. Progresso-world allows us to live out our fantasies with–and here’s the best part–absolutely no adverse consequences, to us at least.

Didn’t pay your taxes? In wingnut-world, you pay fines and interest, you go to jail, and your wife and kids get sold into slavery. In progresso-world, you say: “I forgot!” and everything is hunky-dory. Why, you may become the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, get nominated for the Orwellianly named Department of Health and Human Services, or, if you play your cards right, even get to be secretary of the Treasury and command the IRS yourself!

Stole classified information and trashed it? In wingnut-world, you get arrested, put on trial, sent to Guantánamo, and executed. In progresso-world, you cop a plea, pay a fine, get probation, lose your law license, and get stripped of your security clearance for a couple of years, or until a new Democratic administration comes to power. Plus, of course, you apologize: “I deeply regret the actions that I took at the National Archives two years ago, and I accept the judgment of the court,” said Sloppy Sandy at his sentencing in 2005. Problem solved!

So maybe it’s a dumb idea for me to try to make a movie out of this one. Rangel, Geithner, Daschle, Dodd–all these President’s Men are good, honorable, decent Democrats, who only want to do what is right for our country. They’re self-sacrificing public servants, willing to forego the blandishments of private enterprise to selflessly serve the American people at this crucial time. Why, any day now, Chris Dodd will live up to his promise to release the paperwork on his two Countrywide mortgages and everything will be A-OK.

What the hell was I thinking?

– David Kahane has never had a mortgage from Countrywide, always paid his taxes, and never stole anything from the National Archives, which is why he is working as a hack screenwriter in Hollywood, instead of living it up in Washington. You can feel sorry for him at [email protected].