John Hughes

Mama Grizzly mating habits: The WikiLeaks cable you won't see

How might the ambassador of a small foreign embassy in Washington characterize Sarah Palin or President Obama? Columnist John Hughes imagines...

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Upon release of the WikiLeaks cables in November, a foreign diplomat told Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton: “You should see what we say about you.” Following is a (fanciful) cable that the ambassador of a small embassy in Washington might send to his foreign minister.

SECRET. FOR EYES ONLY: FOREIGN MINISTER.

As requested, here is my assessment of the current US political situation. I am mindful of your criticism that earlier embassy assessments told you no more than you had already read in our capital on Internet versions of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

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We are cultivating reporters in Washington. Much of their juicy stuff does not appear in what they write. But, as I have mentioned earlier, our embassy budget is very tight. It is difficult to get much out of a White House correspondent over a couple of hamburgers at McDonald’s.

Obama's post-shellacking performance

After President Obama’s “shellacking” in the midterm elections, his immediate attitude was “you can take this job and shove it.” It looked as though “POTUS,” as the Secret Service calls the president, was outsourcing the job. He sent Vice President Joe Biden to deal with Congress. He delegated Secretary Clinton to arm-twist the Israelis and Palestinians. (Both Mr. Biden and Clinton ran against Mr. Obama in the 2008 campaign and both probably think they could do the president’s job better.) Then, during a pre-Christmas press conference, he left for a party, giving the White House press podium to Bill Clinton (presumably “PAST-POTUS”), who clearly thinks he could do the job better than Obama, Biden, and Hillary.

But POTUS is now back on his game. In the waning hours of the outgoing Congress, he pushed through a string of legislative victories that show he’s good for at least another two, and maybe six, years in the White House. Clearly, Bill Clinton isn’t the only Comeback Kid.

Why the turnaround? Perhaps he got a stern talking-to from Michelle Obama (“FLOTUS”), whose popularity rating is higher than the president’s and who might on a bad day ponder whether she could do the job better.

Actually, most US senators of either political party think they could do a better job as president. Some Americans think George Clooney, or Angelina Jolie could handle it. Even CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer would be fine, seeing as Walter Cronkite was once touted for the presidency. Although “President Blitzer” might fly, it’s difficult to imagine a US president named “Wolf.”

Mama Grizzly misunderstanding

On the Republican side, you asked for an appraisal of Sarah Palin. Unfortunately, we are behind on that due to a misunderstanding by the junior officer assigned to the project. (I think I mentioned the staffing problems we are facing due to a slender embassy budget.) Researching Ms. Palin’s call for more “Mama Grizzlies,” the officer wasted several weeks investigating the mating habits of female grizzly bears before learning that Palin was talking about feisty Republican women.

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I also want to respond to your very intriguing proposal that we replace Bo, the White House dog, with a look-alike dog embedded with a listening device. This might be very productive. But I regret we cannot attempt it because we must husband our slender budget resources for the next presidential campaign in 2012.

It is amazing how incomprehensible is this American democratic system that turns out so well. Instead of a campaign that lasts three or four weeks, it goes on here for a couple of years.

The midterm elections cost $4 billion and the last presidential campaign, $5 billion. Individual states hold scattered primary elections, and a presidential candidate who wins the popular vote may still not win the White House. Yet there is no threat of a military coup, and during the polling, the Army is not even restricted to its barracks.

In conclusion, did I mention that a substantial increase in our embassy budget would enable us to do more comprehensive reporting?

– Ambassador XXXXXXXXX [deleted for security reasons]

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served as US State Department spokesman in the Reagan administration. He writes a biweekly column.

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