MARATHON, TEXAS -- So far out in West Texas, there's only God and country on the radio. Along with endless sky and no cellphones. Drive across the Rio Grande in your pickup for lunch and say, "Oh, good, the War on Drugs is bound to work eventually, because there's only 27 trucks waiting on the other side."
In the odd way that the detachment of distant places seems to reinforce reality, it becomes ever clearer that the Republicans in Washington are in an impossible bind.
President-elect George W. Bush seems to have made the odd choice of governing as if he had a mandate in a country where the hot new bumper sticker is "Re-elect Gore." One watches the Republicans in the Senate seal their own doom -- no power sharing, no committee chairmanships. And what do they think the Democrats are going to do when the D's take power?
It's like writing election law -- if you try to bend it in your favor one time, it will come around and bite you on the behind the next.
The D's play is obvious. A 50-50 split? Not really. All the D's have to do is refuse to pair -- the practice of marrying automatically opposing votes so neither player has to show up for the vote. This then forces the R's to produce Strom Thurmond and have him vote intelligibly.
I am told by connoisseurs that the U.S. Senate is so clubby and collegial that this will never happen. Upon hearing this prediction, several D's in the Texas Senate, now apparently doomed to be famous for the bipartisanship that W. Bush is urging as a national model, were moved to describe the gutlessness of their national counterparts in terms so unflattering that they cannot even be approximated in print.
The two saddest Cabinet choices are Gale Norton at the Interior Department and John Ashcroft for attorney general.
Norton, former attorney general in Colorado, is an ardent property rights advocate and protégé of James Watt, Ronald Reagan's notoriously anti-environmentalist interior secretary, who was last heard from in public life making a tasteless joke about "a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple."
The property rights movement, which has been investigated numerous times, is not so much an actual group of citizens of like mind as it is the deliberate creation of the big timber, big mining, big oil and big cattle industries.
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The industries built this AstroTurf (meaning phony grass roots) movement to help lobby against repealing outrages like the 1898 mining law, cut-rate grazing fees, cut-rate oil royalties on public lands, etc.
Assuming that Bush must pay off or placate the Republican right in some way at the Cabinet level, why not the Commerce, Energy or Transportation departments -- positions where social or environmental views are largely irrelevant?
For Bush to emphasize his notorious disregard for the environment shows, among other things, a distressing inability to learn from experience. Texans will recall that upon first becoming governor appointed a trio of anti-environmentalists to the state environmental regulatory agency who soon earned an almost comic reputation for outlandishness.
Ashcroft, who lost his Senate seat to a dead guy, is one of the most vocal Christian conservatives in public life. Jerry Falwell was ecstatic over news of his appointment.
I will say that naming Spencer Abraham as secretary of energy shows a sense of humor. In 1999, Abraham sponsored a bill to abolish the department.
And many would find Linda Chavez's appointment as secretary of labor equally amusing (she is not known as a great advocate of labor rights). But I'm afraid that my humor slips on that one, and I find it merely insulting.
During the campaign, Bush urged his $1.3 trillion tax cut on us because we were going to have this enormous surplus. Now the economy is tanking, the surplus is disappearing, and Bush insists that we still have an enormous tax cut because the economy is tanking and the surplus is disappearing.
He says the money belongs to us. So does the national debt.
Angry Democrats have been vowing, "No honeymoon, no honeymoon." At this rate, the D's won't need to do a thing. Bush is ending his honeymoon himself before it even has a chance to get started.