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
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
’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
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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