I was on my way to Madison, Wisc. last Friday when I first heard Patrick Fitzgerald. I had just passed through Chicago, the town where he usually resides as a U.S. attorney, and with the Sears Tower still clinging to my rearview mirror, I happened upon his press conference. As the Department of Justice special counsel who investigated the Valerie Plame leak scandal, he was discussing the five-count indictment that had just been issued by a grand jury against Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby – or “Scooter” to those who prefer their public officials to have ridiculous nicknames.
Fitzgerald was immediately impressive. Simply put, he knew his stuff. He was extremely knowledgeable and confident, but modest. For many of the questions the reporters in attendance asked him, he said it would be outside the bounds of his authority to answer them. He made it clear, time and time again, that he was doing his job and nothing more – this wasn’t, from his point of view, about politics or the war or an opportunity for him to wield power – it was about a very specific set of accusations he had investigated to the best of his ability.
Listening to this incredibly intelligent, articulate man answer questions on the fly in an impressive manner, my thoughts turned, of course, to our president. I quickly realized what was going on here. I thought about the Seinfeld episode in which Elaine meets “bizarro” versions of Jerry, George, Kramer and Newman – that is, people who initially seem exactly like her friends but differ greatly when it comes to their personalities. It’s not a perfect analogy because Fitzgerald doesn’t look like Bush, but the rest applies: Fitzgerald is Bizarro Bush.
Whereas Fitzgerald speaks authoritatively and immediately grabs you with his eloquence, Bush, well, doesn’t. Whereas Fitzgerald is a careful, measured speaker who is wary of unnecessary rhetorical flourish and who seeks to avoid hyperbole or abstraction, Bush – uncomfortable with specifics – can only deal in concepts found in the Bible, Greek myths or children’s books. Fitzgerald deals only in facts and exercises restraint when he does so – he’s not one to make wild charges or to disregard salient evidence for the sake of a pre-existing agenda. Bush – you get the picture. Noting these differences, I came to the only logical conclusion: If Bush is a poor president, and Fitzgerald is Bizarro Bush, then Fitzgerald would be a good president.
And I mean it: I want this man in the Oval Office. I don’t even care which party he’d run under, though I’m assuming he’d run as a Democrat – things could get awkward were he and Scooter to be present at the same GOP fundraiser. I’ve been so numbed by five years of terrible governance, by fumblings and bumblings and obliviousness and macho saber-rattling, that I am starved to the point of emaciation for competence. And in this regard, Fitzgerald is a gut-busting, five-course meal.
Would someone as fastidious as Fitzgerald have started a war based on faulty intelligence? Would someone as humble as Fitzgerald, as self-consciously aware of his role, its limitations and the importance of listening to qualified experts around him, have waged it in such a bloodily inept manner? And would Fitzgerald, who seems above all else to exude and admire competence, have appointed to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency a man whose talents would have been better utilized on a dude ranch? The questions stretch out to infinity: landings on aircraft carriers? “Mission Accomplished” speeches? “Bring ’em on” exhortations? It’s hard to imagine as polished and knowledgeable a public servant as Fitzgerald committing a single one of these gaffes, let alone all of them.
So let’s get the exploratory committee started. Let’s churn out bumper stickers and glossy pamphlets and bobbleheads. We’ll need slogans, lots of slogans – people love slogans. The bar’s been set pretty low, so this one shouldn’t be tough: “Fitzgerald: He knows what’s he’s doing.” “Fitzgerald: He’s not Bush.” “Fitzgerald: For those who don’t see cowboy boots as a qualification.”
So please, Mr. Fitzgerald, make a run at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You’re more than qualified, as anyone who heard your press conference can attest, and you’re exactly the sort of breath of fresh air we need. If you won’t do it for the people, then do it for me, a college columnist who is sincerely tired of writing about a president and an administration so remarkably poor at doing their jobs well.
And if you don’t see the importance of sweeping out the old in Washington now, you will when Robert Novak outs your CIA agent wife in his next column.
Singal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.