Take a good, hard look at this man. This is Frank Murkowski, Alaska's soon-to-be-former Governor and probably the most tone-deaf politician currently drawing a public paycheck in America.
And, boy oh boy, did he defend that title today.
Murkowski's litany of offenses to the political craft and to common sense are too long to retell here. Appointing his daughter to the US Senate ranks high on the list, as does his ceaseless, tantrum-like pursuit of a private jet to be placed at his disposal while Governor, arguing the state police could use it as well, despite its well-publicized inability to land on a vast majority of Alaska's unimproved airfields.
From ANWR to the Gas Pipeline to Bridges to Nowhere, Murkowski runs his office like Brewster ran his millions.
Today, though, I offer you the most astonishing display of political ineptitude since San Diego Republican Howard Kaloogian started publishing pictures of "peaceful, downtown Baghdad," his bestest friends in Iraq and his personal relationship with Dubya.
That might not be fair. Kaloogian was a small-time hack - nay, a no-time hack - who took a longshot on riding the Lie Train, hoping it could get him places his record and talent couldn't. He failed, which is what small-timers do.
Frank Murkowski isn't a small-timer. He shouldn't be failing. He was a US Senator for 20 years and he is the Governor of The ByGawd Biggest State In The Union.
He can run campaigns and win elections. So how did today happen?
(And let me be clear: I wish this Governor no particular electoral harm. He sent me a very nice, nearly personal letter last week for helping out on our Crazy tilted-boat rescue. And other than his personal plane, I can't name a policy of his I strongly oppose. His Gas Line work has been particularly yeoman-like. This post, and other chronicles of his antics in this space, is just a recording of an ongoing political trainwreck far too violent, gory and destructive to turn away from)
Facing a stiff primary challenge from two formidable opponents, Ken Binkley and Sarah Palin, Murkowski made the mistake of accepting the chance to debate them in a round table on local TV.
Sarah Palin and Ken Binkley are almost comicly young, energetic and good looking. Whether they are Rhodes Scholars or Kaloogian-order baffoons is immaterial. This was a TV debate and they each look like movie stars (OK, sitcom stars) and they talk a tremendous, TV-ready game.
Frank Murkowski, by any measure, is a jowly, akward, old man. He scolds and gets flustered and visibly pouts. He's Nixon without the hair grease.
As hopeless a mismatch as it was, it got worse in the studio.
The one thing Murkowski has is height - he's a big guy.
This debate was held sitting around a small, Denny's-sized round table. So not only was his height negated, he was denied an expansive square desk behind which to hide the fact that he is, unlike his opponents, fat. Also, being a bit gangly, he had nowhere to rest his arms, which made him look fidgity.
For the entirety of the debate, the incumbant Governor looked like a kid who flunked fifth grade and didn't fit in the desk his second time through.
My lesson is this: It is ridiculous that Murkowski's campaign staff even allowed him to go on.
Then the debate started. And it got much, much worse.
As Palin and Binkley took turns in a particularly long-winded spat of gang-up-on-the-Incumbant (what did he expect?), this time over ethics, Frank - looking pissed - turned to Binkley and accused him of lying about his education on his website.
What, exactly, asked Binkley, is a lie?
Frank then accused him - outloud, on camera, bigger'n'shit - of NOT GRADUATING FROM HIS FAIRBANKS HIGH SCHOOL!!!!
To everyone's credit, neither astonished silence nor raucous laughter overcame the set.
That would have been my reaction because that is a staggering accusation if it is true, and an even more staggering one if it isn't.
In fact, let's take a hard look at it.
Ask yourself - have you ever heard of a person higher up the food chain than, say, asst Night Manager at a Target, accused of lying about graduating from high school? It just isn't one of those things that people lie about.
College, sure - everybody, it seems, lies about college. People lie about thier GPAs, lie about activities, even lie about how many times they got laid, bending the truth up or down depending on the audience.
There was Notre Dame's old football coach who said he graduated from somewhere and just flat didn't. There's that Republican running for congress out east who says he has a Masters from Harvard, only what he has is a Masters from Harvard's "extension" school , aka night school (and who called himself a Gulf War combat vet but never left the US... but let's stay focused).
There's Dan Quayle who didn't want to lie so he refused to discuss college altogether.
We accept some lying about college because those of us who went probably lied a little to get INTO college and lied a bit more to get a job that got us out.
But surely nobody lies about the simple, true/false question of finishing high school, right? At least not outside of MySpace.
So now we have to decide: which of two seemingly impossible events has occured?
- Has a man reached a status in life where he is a serious threat to become Govenor of a state, and yet feels safe lying about the basic act of graduating from high school, and may have a history of doing so? Maybe he graduated, maybe he did not - surely the latter is no bar from office. But has he lied about such a small thintg? And if so, has he never been caught?
- Has Alaska's second-most successful politician (who studied behind Alaska's most successful politician when they served together in DC) just inaccurately accused an opponent of a sin that can literally be proven or disproven in less than a minute? Has the Governor of Alaska, veteran of a dozen major races, on a televised debate, announced the the sky is green?
Binkley, as his campaign joyfully proved, graduated from high school in 1971. In fact, he finished early, and apparently did not march with his graduating class (another jaw dropper: Binkley produced the original letter from the principal inviting him, as an early-graduater, to come back and march - who would keep that?).
If you need my wild-ass guess, it appears Murkowski's staff took Binkley's absense at the ceremony (perhaps recorded in a picture) as evidence he did not graduate and ran with that - which would be the all-time, hands down worse "Op-Research" work in Dirty Tricks history.
There may even be some 'missing credits, later earned'-issues developing in the story.
But Binkley is a high school grad.
His claims to college education, as presented on his website, may be open for criticism - it lists Western Washington University under "Education", which a reader might take to mean 'graduate.' The site claims no degree, but then it doesn't steer the reader away from assuming it, either. Predictably, Binkley didn't graduate from there.
Deceptive? I'd allow for 'slightly' but a) its a campaign website and b) so what?
It can't sully the shining brilliance of Murkowski's high school debacle.
That just can't be topped....
Or. So. I. Thought.
So here is what happened next: apparently, behind the scenes, Murkowski said if Binkley could prove he graduated, Murkowski would apologize.
Fair enough. Dangerous ground for Big Frank, but fair enough.
Binkley proved it.
And Frank apologized... ON TV!!!!
The picture at the top of this post - the sad-sack, back-alley-lookin', whipped-dog picture - is from the interview. He looked die-rectly into the camera and apologized to Binkley, by name.
I'm beginning to think Murkowski wants out of his race worse than Tom Delay.
How could this have happened? How could a man, whom the camera despises in his most triumphant of moments, be sent out to humble himself like this?
Has the campaign never heard of a press release? "Gov. Murkowski Announces New Information In Binkley Research; Issues Apology; Binkley Still Sucks"
There are only about 10 million low-key ways to weasel your way out of that mistake.
No. Let's send the ol' bear out there, tell him to eat shit on camera, let the anchors laugh and laugh and laugh.
To put this political event in the context I put all political events, if I was told a West Wing character was running Frank's campaign, just about the only one I could still suspect would be Zoe's French boyfriend who put Ecstacy in her drink and got her kidnapped.
That might be Frank's last chance.
FINAL POINT: two days ago, BP shut down it's Prudhoe Bay oil operation, a news story unequaled in size and scope since the Exxon Valdez, or at least since those 12 people took simultaneous headers off the mountain outside Anchorage.
Meaning... this would have been a GREAT WEEK to take a page from Dubya, and Act Like A Leader. Be A Decider. Do What Governors Do.
If Murkowski could have just put forth the IMPRESSION that he was On The BP Thing, he'd have bought huge points. But if that was out of reach, at least this was almost an impossible week to screw up so badly in the campaign that your screw up actually makes the news.
And there he is, on the news.
Well, I'll tell ya how I would have handled it. I'd have sent him out there with a 1971 Lathrop high yearbook and a sharpie. I'd have told him to grin as wide as those jowly cheeks will let him and sign it:
Have a Crazy Summer!
BFF!!!! - Frank"
Have a Crazy Summer!
BFF!!!! - Frank"