December 5, 2003

Pawns Amidst the Palms
Bush Proxies Battle for Florida

by Anthony Gancarski

Bush Versus Bush in 2004? A fraternal fracas brewing in Florida as proxies of the Governor and the President vie to succeed retiring Senator Bob Graham. Jeb backs Katherine Harris, but the White House [allegedly] demurs: "There's no way the White House will let her run. There's just no way the president's going to stand next to Katherine Harris on every stop in Florida in '04." said a Florida Congressman's aide to The Hill newspaper. Meanwhile, the Miami Herald recently quoted a GOP eminence grise in Washington claiming that "the entire campaign in Florida becomes a rehash of the recount" if Harris is the nominee. Rove backs Housing and Urban Development chief Mel Martinez, which should play well in South Florida; off the record, though, it is said that Harris is willing to go negative to torpedo opposition, and Martinez would be no exception. This quite visible fissure in the GOP asserts, yet again, that Florida is In Play next year. Harris, for her part, claims to have "little" contact with the White House, indicating that conditions will have to be met to finally discourage her interest in the Senate.

HUD Secretary Martinez, meanwhile, is a bowl of the turgid broth that is Orlando politics. His political experience speaks to his usefulness in committees. Before he came to HUD, Secretary Martinez was the elected Chairman of Orange County, Florida, in Orlando, laboring while Chair on the Governor's Growth Management Study Commission. He previously served as President of the Orlando Utilities Commission and as Chair of the Orlando Housing Authority. At HUD, meanwhile, Martinez has been key in implementing "faith-based initiatives" in the time-honored, fully Constitutional tradition of Compassionate Conservatism.

Very little regarding the nomination is being said to the media at this point. In a terse reply to a query by the St. Petersburg Times, Bush said that "the White House is not behind Mel Martinez's decision to run for Senate". [Those who rip into Bush for inarticulateness would do well to consider the tight, focused inscrutability of the Presidential reply, and the myriad things those words could actually mean]. For his part, Jeb says that if Martinez runs, "he's going to have to earn it", adding that the Governor would offer no public endorsement of any candidate.

The list of candidates, declared and prospective, slants heavily toward the southern end of the state. Martinez would be the third Orlando area candidate in a wide-open Republican Senate race, joining the charisma-free former U.S. Rep. McCollum and the race's own Don Quixote, State Sen. Daniel Webster. A fourth hopeful, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, is from Plant City, and lawyer Larry Klayman of Miami likewise is in the race. An unappetizing brew of candidates aside from the aforementioned superstars; it is nearly a lock that one Bush proxy or the other will score the nomination and then take the seat. So why the apparent schism between the President and the Governor?

One school of thought says that the President wants someone more reliable [and pliable] than the outgoing, often problematic Senator Graham. Martinez, unlike Harris, has no hold card over President Bush; he is an affable regional politician who serves the Administration in a forgettable capacity. Harris and her firsthand knowledge of the 2000 Election Postgame in Florida could present President Bush with tactical difficulty in case a legislative capitulation on one issue or another was necessary. And as his recent behavior toward a Florida Congressman indicates, he has little time for internecine disagreements.

2004, to be blunt, will be a year of war, a year in which Americans should be willing to sacrifice a little more liberty to ensure their safety. Often, I joke with people that 2004 will be a very interesting year in which to write about politics, as it could well be the last free election. But freedom is a relative thing.

Consider who our leading figures are. The political writers are mostly hacks, whose nervous, giddy laughter on talkshow panels exposes them for the frauds they are. Interchangeable fascists of the Bill Bennett variety burble on and on about how America is incomparably "rich and free" – easy enough for the Video Poker hand to say that as he pisses hundreds of thousands of dollars down his leg. Money that would better have been spent on OxyContin.

We have war, and will have war for as long as there is a Washington government. It is what our economy is built on. Our children eschew the predictability of church hymns to genuflect at the altars of Botox and Boeing. The boys aspire to work for SOCOM, and the girls yearn to twirl around a stripper's pole. This is America, a place moored in violence, cheap sentiment, and misplaced longing, and forever it shall be such.

~ Anthony Gancarski

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Anthony Gancarski, the author of Unfortunate Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch, and His web journalism was recognized by Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.

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