By MARSHA MERCER
There’s a reason John McCain flip-flopped on gays in the military.
It’s why Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood slipped up and advised owners of a recalled Toyota to “Stop driving it.” And why President Obama had to apologize to Las Vegas, of all places.
The great newspaper columnist Charles McDowell once observed, “Nobody should be asked to be consistent in February.”
McDowell, a friend and colleague for many years in Washington, wrote annually about man’s struggle with February. His humorous tirades helped generations of readers in Richmond, Va., and elsewhere survive the miserable month. When Charley retired in 1998, his rite of February went too.
As puzzling news stories began to pile up like icy snowdrifts, I remembered Charley’s wisdom. February 2010 was rant-worthy from the first.
The nation’s capital is snowed out. The normal seasonal snowfall here is 15.2 inches. The Washington Post published a handy chart showing that 24 inches of snow had fallen as of Feb. 1. Another four inches or so fell Feb. 2. With the sky a cloudless blue, the governor of Virginia then declared a state of emergency in anticipation of a weekend snowstorm of epic proportions.
Charley had it right about the power of February to confuse, befuddle and perplex..
Take McCain’s reversal on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Just three years ago, the senator from Arizona was as unequivocal about the policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military as a politician ever is.
“The day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it, because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to,” McCain told students at Iowa State University in October 2006.
But when the February day came, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said it was time to change the policy, smoke practically rose from McCain’s ears.
“At this moment of immense hardship for our armed services, we should not be seeking to overturn the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.’” McCain declared. He had his own list of military officers who oppose changing the policy.
Poor Ray LaHood thought he was merely repeating what everyone already knew when he said that owners of a recalled Toyota should, “Stop driving it. And take it to a Toyota dealer.”
But in our hyper-linked age, LaHood’s first three words rang like an alarm. Toyota’s stock plunged, and the company lost $3 billion in value in minutes. The secretary backtracked. What he’d said was “obviously a misstatement,” and people should take their recalled cars to a dealer.
You’d think a man who has had to scrape and shovel snow and ice repeatedly might be forgiven a poor choice of words, but no. Toyota dealers were livid and called LaHood reckless.
And there was the presidential pivot over Las Vegas. Obama said at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire that people who are saving for college shouldn’t “blow a bunch of cash in Vegas.”
This sounds like ordinary common sense, but before night fell, Obama had written a “Dear Harry” letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, saying he hadn’t meant anything bad about Las Vegas.
In fact, there is “no better place to have fun than Vegas,” the president burbled. He has always had fun there and can’t wait to go back. He hopes “folks will visit in record numbers this year.”
Tuition? What tuition?
I found the first February column Charley McDowell wrote. February 1967 was a trying month in which the news focused on war, the budget, wintry weather and flu. Sound familiar?
Charley credited a Washington Daily News editorial writer who had written a filler for the bottom of a page:
“Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one
Except February, which is endless…“
February, the Daily News writer said, was “a whole month of dismal Monday mornings.”
“February depresses,” Charley wrote. “It litters the landscape with dirty, clinging snow. It sabotages the automobile battery. It brings man into bitter conflict with his furnace.”
February, you see, is consistent -- even if we, who have to cope with it, aren’t.
© 2010 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.