Not ready for prime time
 Chavez flap is one more sign of Bushies’ arrogance
By Paul Begala
Jan. 8 —  So now we learn that Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez housed — and may have employed — an illegal alien. We don’t have enough information yet to discern whether this was a commendable act of charity or a criminal violation of the labor laws. And until more facts are in I’m not interested in passing judgment on Chavez. But this revelation does allow us to make some important judgments about Team Bush:
THEY LIE: I know that sounds harsh, but what else do you call it? The New York Times reports that Bush spokesman Tucker Eskew “said Ms. Chavez was unaware of the woman’s legal status at the time she was sheltering her and only realized after she had departed from her home that she was here illegally.” But that’s not what the woman in question says. Marta Mercado told The Washington Post that she informed Chavez of her illegal status about three months after moving into her home. And Chavez’s close friend, Abigail Thernstrom, told the Times, “I’m pretty confident that Linda did know” that Mercado was not legally in this country.
       Why would the Bushies lie about such a thing? For the same reason George W. Bush lied about failing to report to the Alabama National Guard and for the same reason the president-elect lied about his arrest for drunk driving. It’s the same reason the Bushies lied about Dick Cheney’s post-election heart attack. And the same reason Bush lied to a court in Texas about whether he’d discussed with state regulators a controversial investigation of a funeral home company run by a gubernatorial campaign contributor. Because that’s what they do.

       Yes, Bill Clinton denied having an affair. I don’t excuse that, but what straying husband wants his family, much less the world, to know? And (except for Hillary) whose dadgum business is it anyway?
As they never tire of telling us, the Bushies don’t have extramarital affairs. They save their lies for public affairs. Remember: “Read my lips.” Remember: “I was out of the loop on Iran-Contra.” And who can forget: “Clarence Thomas is the most qualified person in America for the Supreme Court.”
       So spare us the lectures about “restoring honor and dignity” to the White House. Bush hasn’t even gotten there yet, and he’s already left a trail of mendacity from here to Waco. The only thing the Bushies ever wanted to restore was themselves — to power.
       But the lack of candor from Bush and his minions is not the only lesson from this mess. We’ve also learned — horrors:
 They’re hypocrites. When Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird was being pilloried for failing to pay Social Security taxes on an illegal immigrant she’d hired as a nanny, Linda Chavez was one of the loudest voices in the hypocrites’ choir. “I think most of the American people were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination that she’d hired an illegal alien. That was what upset them more than the fact that she did not pay Social Security taxes,” Chavez told PBS in 1993, according to the Post.
And Chavez was far from alone. During the Baird case, and all the way through impeachment, Republicans argued for a strict, unforgiving reading of the law, invoking in pompous, pious tones, “The Rule of Law.” Let’s see the same people who argued for Bill Clinton because he was reluctant to admit an affair turn around and argue for leniency in the Chavez case.
A strict reading of the law says it’s a violation to harbor someone who is illegally in this country — irrespective of whether you actually employed her (which would be another violation). But suddenly, the same people who trashed the Constitution to impeach President Clinton because they wanted to make a constitutional crisis out of an affair, are now, in the words of the Bush transition spokesman, appealing for “a common-sense standard: government should not punish you for trying to help somebody else out in life.”
       Only a Bushie could produce this whiplash-inducing spin. Only a Bushie could convince himself that the rules don’t apply to him and his cronies. And only a Bushie could argue that when “they” break the rules, the act is a manifestation of their good intentions and moral superiority, while if a Democrat makes a mistake it is, literally, a federal case and proof of that person’s moral sleaziness.

       Finally, we’ve learned something more surprising:
 Not ready for prime time. Who would’ve thought that Cheney-Bush, Inc. would stumble so badly on something so obvious? Spokesfibber Eskew was coy when asked if Chavez’s illegal immigrant problem had surfaced in the pre-nomination vetting. “The vetters ask a range of serious questions,” he told the Post, “including things about domestic employees and paying taxes. They don’t, however, ask potential nominees to enumerate every act of compassion.”
       Sounds like they missed this. They missed Dick Cheney’s EKG, which looks like 40 miles of bad Oklahoma farm road, and his congressional voting record, which looks like Jesse Helms’ greatest hits. They missed John Ashcroft’s remark that the cause of the Confederacy — slavery — was not “perverted.” If people owning people ain’t perverted, I don’t know what is.
       The Bushies promised competence more than ideology. So far we’ve gotten mendacity and hypocrisy — all in service of a right-wing ideology. No wonder they lost the election.

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