D Is for Dogzilla

MERCURY IN RETROGRADE: The great tragedy of our times is that Karl Rove doesn’t make house calls. Late last week we learned that Rove, George Bush’s beloved political hatchet man, can affect long-distance medical miracles simply by picking up the phone and “touching” someone electronically. I’m referring to the dramatic improvement reported by Republican Congressmember Elton Gallegly, the Simi Valley arch-conservative who also represents much of inland Santa Barbara County, after taking a call from Bush’s chief plotter and schemer. Prior to Rove’s call, Gallegly had announced he was suffering such serious, if unspecified, health problems that he could not run for an 11th term in Congress. Given that Gallegly’s announcement to bow out of the race came after it was too late for any credible Republicans to fill his shoes — or even for him to remove his name from the ballot — this news came as a huge jolt to Republican apparatchiks in Washington, D.C. already freaked out about the impending midterm congressional elections. Given Bush’s plunging popularity — duplicity, incompetence, and dead bodies don’t play well even in heartland districts where the Bible is routinely confused with the Constitution — there’s good reason to think a few Republicans in Congress might get bumped off. While Gallegly has never been anything but a reliable seat-warmer — having distinguished himself only by the persistence of his anti-immigrant rhetoric — he’s provided a safe conservative vote from a safely conservative district. But when he announced his retirement from politics two weeks ago, the Republicans suddenly found themselves confronting one more thing they needed to worry about. Within seconds of his resignation, every Republican in the land was inquiring after Elton’s health, wishing him well while blistering his name with every conceivable profanity. That’s because in the timing of his announcement, Elton had violated the two cardinal rules guiding the conduct of all political parties. The first: Never give a sucker an even break; and the second: Always kick a dog while he’s down. Elton’s district — the 24th — was recently gerrymandered to make it a deadlock for all but the most egregiously inexperienced Republican candidates. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the 24th by a full 10 percent. Given that Republicans tend to get off their asses and vote more reliably than their Democratic counterparts, this edge is almost insurmountable. In this scenario, typically only the Democrats courting a serious death wish even bother running. But Elton screwed up. By announcing when he did, he effectively precluded party stalwarts like Tom McClintock, Tony Strickland, and his wife Audra Strickland from jumping in. Many Republicans suspect this failure was by design. Instead, Republican voters will confront a ballot with only one name other than Gallegly’s — Michael Tenenbaum’s. What we don’t know about Tenenbaum would fill volumes. Smart, good-looking, and articulate, Tenenbaum is a 37-year-old former-class-valedictorian-turned-corporate-lawyer. Ironically, it was Gallegly’s people who invited Tenenbaum to serve on the Republican Central Committee only a few short months ago. So naturally they’re miffed to hear Tenenbaum dis their boss for lack of mental acuity and fiscal recklessness. They’ve responded by tagging Tenenbaum as a back-stabbing nobody who never did nothin’. Efforts to sabotage Tenenbaum’s campaign began immediately. Many reporters got a bogus press release alleging to be from his campaign that left no stone unthrown when it came to offending and alienating every political interest group imaginable. In this scenario, the Democrats could be excused for thinking they have a fighting chance. Already they’ve managed to winnow down the field from three candidates to one. With much melodramatic fanfare, perennial gadfly Brett Wagner announced he would not run, but would instead launch a one-man recall campaign against 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone. And political newcomer Mary Pallant — an anti-war activist whose business cards are printed in lavender ink — also bowed out, leaving the field wide open for Jill Martinez, a Presbyterian minister, longtime affordable housing advocate, and an admitted political novice. The Democrats were already preparing to hammer Gallegly as a do-nothing nobody, so ineffective and inconsequential that none of the corporate bag men now running Washington even bothered to bribe him. And, according to the Dems, if Gallegly’s constituents had to rely on Elton to bring home the bacon, they’d all be eating lettuce and tomato sandwiches. Gallegly is so poorly regarded by his colleagues, the Democrats contend, that when he sought chairmanship of the Natural Resources Committee, he lost out to Richard Pombo, whose anti-environmental extremism is surpassed only by his venality. (Pombo made headlines when he proposed selling off many of the national parks. He also made headlines when he took his family on a taxpayer-paid $25,000 “fact-finding mission,” touring many of California’s great parks in a massive motor home.) The Republicans have responded to this mess by performing medical miracles of such magnitude and mystery that those responsible might be eligible for sainthood. Many Republicans flooded poor Gallegly with get-well-soon phone calls. Even the president called, though Gallegly wasn’t around at the time. Ultimately it took Karl Rove’s healing touch to get the job done. Five days after Gallegly withdrew from the race, he announced he was back in. His doctors, he proclaimed, had given him a clean bill of health, saying he’s “100 percent” okay to run for Congress. If you don’t think that’s enough to qualify Rove for sainthood, think again. There already is a Saint Karl, who happened to be the last of the Austr-Hungarian emperors. This Karl was canonized for making efforts to strike a peace during the dark days of WWI. But he’s also the guy who ordered his troops to use poison gas on the enemy. By that standard, I think Rove should be a shoo-in, but I’ll leave that debate to the religious scholars. But the next time I feel under the weather, I won’t bother with the gatekeeper of my HMO. I’ll just call Karl.

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