I was shocked. For six years, I had been meeting secretly with the GOP mole I called "Shallow Throat"  — a high-ranking official in the Bush Administration — and each time, ST made sure to wear different wigs and scarves and dark glasses. Now, here was Shallow Throat in front of me, at a Smithsonian cafe, with no disguise. Except this time wearing a smile a mile wide.
"You’ve outed yourself," I said. "And you’re grinning like a banshee. Has Obama’s election liberated you?"
"What’s really liberated me," said Shallow Throat, "is that the rightwing extremists who hijacked my party, and almost took the country down with them, are gone in electoral disgrace. Before Obama’s landslide victory, I always had to worry that I might be discovered talking to you, and lose my governmental position, or worse. I revealed a lot about what was going on inside the White House and my party and Cheney’s heavies have no love for leakers. So thanks, Bernie, for not revealing in your articles any clues about my identity, not even my gender."
I responded: "My readers and I have always found Shallow Throat’s revelations useful in figuring out how we in the opposition should confront and challenge the GOP and the CheneyBush Administration. That’s why I sent you the coded message the other day: I think we all could benefit from your insider perspective about the new Obama presidency and how the Republicans are responding to his initiatives."
"You understand," said Shallow Throat, "that my long-range goal is to help take the Republican party back to its traditional, small-government, conservative roots, if that’s still possible, as a brake on your Democrat friends’ tendency toward social engineering. The time will come when you and I will be political opponents once again."
"Then why are you willing to talk to me now? Isn’t there a contradiction there?"
REPAIRING THE WRACK & RUIN
"Not really, not yet," said ST. "The first task is to undo the great damage done by the wrecking crew of Bush and Cheney and their cohorts — to the economy, the Constitution, the environment, America’s reputation abroad, etc. That restoration will take years and years. Especially because the corporate mass-media still support their point of view, the courts are riddled with far-right ideologues appointed by Bush/Cheney, and also they’ve hidden many of their most effective, lower-level operatives in civil service jobs inside the government. But since I’ve exited from government service and work as a consultant now, I don’t have to be afraid any more of retaliation from GOP dead-enders or the new Administration. I can say what I like, openly."
"You mean I can use your name now?" I asked.
"Afraid not, " ST said. "I don’t want to scare off clients, who might wonder if I can be trusted with the information they’ll be giving me. The Beltway is a closed loop and everybody knows everybody. I’ll continue to be your ‘Shallow Throat’ but still anonymously, at least for now."
"OK," I said. "Tell me how you read the early plays of the Obama Administration, and about how your fellow Republicans are responding to them."
OBAMA AS A PRAGMATIC CENTRIST
"I think it’s pretty clear, especially judging from the major appointments to his Cabinet and economic team, and from the howls coming from the progressive wing of the party, that Obama plans on governing pretty much from the pragmatic wide center, though laying on enough liberal veneer to satisfy his base."
"Give me some examples of what’s behind this ‘liberal veneer’ you’re talking about," I said.
"OK. 1) Among the establishment liberal economists Obama’s chosen to head his recovery program, many are partially responsible for the economic meltdown in the first place. 2) He is overturning many of Bush’s most egregious executive orders but certain ones have been allowed to remain — the one moving ahead on possible offshore oil drilling along the coasts, for example. 3) In the wording of his anti-torture executive order mandating use of the Army Field Manual’s interrogation rules, Obama has left a large loophole for possibly continuing CIA torture of suspected terrorists. 4) His Mideast policy, despite the rhetoric, is pretty much the same: unswerving support for Israel, little or no support for Palestinian positions. And 5) Already last week deadly missile strikes have taken place by unmanned Predator drones inside Pakistan, presumably with President Obama’s approval or acquiescence."
"But he is starting to get some flack from the progressive wing on these and other matters," I countered. "I’m more interested right now on your insights into how the Republican opposition is behaving."
THE DEARTH OF A GOP VISION
Shallow Throat launched: "The Republicans have no competent national spokesman with the reputation and political smarts to deal effectively with rebuilding the party away from its extremist history of the past few decades. McCain is damaged goods, and is being wooed successfully by Obama in any case. So the remnants of the Cheney/Bush ideologues in the Congress, led by McConnell in the Senate and Boehner in the House, have no guidance and no program other than to play the obstructionist card."
"What else is new?" I replied. "Their candidate didn’t have any good, popular ideas to run on for the presidency either and, as a result, McCain failed miserably at the polls. Absent new ideas, can the Republicans be successful in stopping the Obama/Democratic momentum?"
"Well, assuming Obama can’t lure enough moderate Republican senators to his side on key votes, the GOP can use their numbers in the Senate to filibuster or threaten to filibuster, making Obama think that he has to compromise on important legislation. That’s just out-and-out GOP obstructionism. Shouting ‘socialism’ isn’t an agenda."
"Exactly," I replied. "The voters want government to work for them, and too many Republicans, still in the throes of extremist demagoguery, continue talking about ‘drowning government in a bathtub’ and are desperate enough to look to Sarah Palin for leadership. That’s just political suicide."
"In a sense, I certainly hope so," said Shallow Throat. "It could be that the extreme wing will paint the party into such an unelectable corner by the 2010 midterms that mainstream Republicans like me and my friends will finally have enough momentum to drive them out. The extremist/fundamentalist wing might then found its own variant of the Know-Nothing Party while the rejuvenated GOP will be able to put forth a genuine presidential competitor in 2012 to help rebuild the party."
A SLIME STRATEGY
"But," I countered, "wouldn’t the GOP’s current strategy of obstructionism and sliming Obama and his supporters wherever and however they can — wouldn’t that aid your cause, by weakening Obama for 2012?"
"Maybe," said ST, "but at what cost to the country? We moderate Republicans are not Rush Limbaughs, calling for Obama to fail badly in all his initiatives, even those aimed at rescuing the wrecked economy. We Republicans want to be judged as the better alternative in a healthy, civil contest between two competing ideologies, not appear to be arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway destroyers. We’ve had quite enough of that kind of politics during the past eight years."
"I think you’re hopelessly naive," I said. "The Congressional Republicans, after having their hands on all the goodies of power for the past eight years — actually, with some exceptions, since the Reagan 1980s — aren’t about to play nice just because they got their asses whooped in the last election. Obama is making a big mistake if he thinks by working with them that they’ll abandon their scorched-earth political strategy. These guys play for nothing less than victory, they’re not civilized players like you and your moderate GOP buddies."
"Which" said ST, "is precisely why we GOP moderates must in the next several years prepare ourselves for a return to power in the party after the congressional leaders self-destruct with their values-thin, obstructionist approach."
HOW SHOULD PROGRESSIVES BEHAVE?
"And progressive Democrats?" I asked. "How do they fit into the picture?"
"They’ll like some of what Obama does," said ST, "mainly in domestic areas, but will feel betrayed in foreign and military policy, especially with regard to Israel/Palestine, Afghanistan and maybe even Iraq. Obama is gambling on their so liking being at the locus of federal power that they won’t abandon him. After all, Obama might reason, where else would the Democrat left go? But after decades of compromised, watered-down center-right liberalism, the progressives might just decide to walk and explore founding their own party, perhaps in an alignment with the Greens and disaffected Republican moderates."
"You really believe that could happen?"
HOW THINGS COULD EXPLODE
"No. But in a horrific time that calls out for radical reform, and that offers the rare opportunity to effect those massive changes, if Obama blows it and sticks to the more-or-less status-quo center, public anger and disappointment could become heated and party alignments could begin to gyrate wildly. Hope, as important as it is psychologically for public morale, still isn’t a paycheck.
"Just think what could happen if the recovery monies don’t get out immediately to the states for ‘shovel-ready’ infrastructure projects. Imagine the anger and frustration if those jobs don’t start to materialize until 2010 or 2011, and if there isn’t quick relief for mortgage-payers facing foreclosure. Don’t rule out a public backlash of immense proportions directed against a perceived more-of-the-same Obama Administration and the Democrat and Republican Parties in general."
And with that, Shallow Throat quickly walked away, leaving me sitting there stunned, not knowing if I’d heard a forecast of hope for genuine change or a prediction of massive failure and potential social revolution.
. To read Bernard Weiner’s conversations with the Shallow Throat character from 2002 to 2008, click here.