Political Intelligence



Every prolonged national news spectacle involves a great deal of nothingness, pauses and intermissions where nothing is decided, nothing is announced, no one shows up to protest anything, and the weather is unremarkable. News people sit around and do nothing, and the Major Players sit around and do nothing. And then the news people report on nothing.

So it went in Austin during the last days of November. As is typically the case with no-news reportage, you had your media vans and tents, and then you had your important people making entrances and exits in a large vehicle, a Suburban in Bush’s case. Boxy white tents were lined up along Lavaca Street like so many seaside pavilions; in them the news people waited for Suburbans to come and go from the Governor’s mansion. The Bush people sent out a car every so often, to entertain the news people.

The two sides seemed equally captive: the reporters in their tents, and Bush in the constricted universe navigated by his SUVs. That universe consisted of: the mansion, the Crawford ranch, Tarrytown United Methodist church, the Capitol, and the University of Texas, where Bush goes to work out. A select group of pool reporters was privy to Bush’s movements, and it was they who provided the rest of the media with such gripping reading as the “Pool report on Governor Bush’s arrival at the Governor’s Mansion, Nov. 25, 2000,” in which Bush returned from the ranch. “As they pulled up, both of the back seat windows were down on the Suburban in which they rode…. Two Suburbans pulled into the driveway and the iron gate shut.” Then Bush came back out, waved, gave a thumbs up, blew a kiss, and gave the “W” hand sign. That was all.

On Sunday it was reported that Governor Bush and his Suburban went to church, and that Laura did not go. Bush fiddled with his glasses during the service.

On Monday Bush had been declared President by the members of his own party, but the situation on the ground was much the same. He left the Capitol before noon, and went to go exercise at U.T. After that he returned to the mansion.

Tuesday, a Suburban arrived at the Capitol at 9:05 a.m., carrying Bush and his chief-of-staff designee Andrew Card. Bush got out, buttoned his jacket, and waved. He refused to say whether he was going to go exercise later or not.

And so it went. An occasional swell of bemused frustration rippled through the pool report. Wrote a Washington Times reporter, “Mr. Bush walked to his awaiting vehicle [probably a Suburban] to our left and waved, but could not be persuaded to toss a few crumbs to the journalistic rabble. ‘Good to see you,’ he called out. Asked if he had any announcements planned, Mr. Bush said, ‘We’ll keep you posted.'”

Poor George W., imprisoned by reporters’ bored stares, raising his arm and lowering it, ferried back and forth from place to place, saying nothing, doing nothing. A taste of things to come.


Jim Harrington, the state’s sternest publicity hound, recently called a press conference in front of Austin’s Federal Courthouse, to announce that he and Philadelphia lawyer Philip J. Berg were filing a class-action lawsuit against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. As it happened, Harrington and a cluster of reporters ended up not exactly in front of the courthouse, but off to one side, in the middle of the sidewalk. So it was as if Harrington, who wore a grey pinstripe suit and a multicolored tie for the occasion, had simply been set upon by a band of roving reporters while out on an afternoon stroll.

The lawsuit, filed two days after Kathryn Harris awarded Florida’s electoral votes to Bush, charges that Cheney is in fact an inhabitant of Dallas, and that therefore Texas electors cannot cast their votes both for him and for Bush without violating the Twelfth Amendment (“The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice President, one of whom, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves….”)

The case that Cheney lives in Dallas is a strong one: his house is there, for one thing. His Halliburton job was there, he holds a Texas driver’s license, and he listed a Texas address on his most recent income tax return. Nevertheless, members of the news media were skeptical about the suit. Why had the lawyers waited a whole three weeks after Election Day to file suit? Why had Harrington joined Berg to begin with? Wasn’t this whole Twelfth Amendment issue just a silly technicality? Harrington didn’t bat an eye. Berg had been “unable to find any other lawyer to file in this courthouse,” replied Harrington. He maintained that the timing wasn’t political: shucks, it just took them some time to put the suit together. And the United States Constitution, he said gravely, “is nothing but a series of technicalities. There are reasons these provisions exist.”

Harrington himself seemed doubtful that the plaintiffs would prevail. After explaining that their real goal was to call further attention to the design of the electoral college system, he added, as almost an afterthought, “And of course maybe the judge will do what we ask.”