Barbecuing Dogs and Blowing Up Frogs

It's easy enough to list the ways that George W. Bush is similar to the Pride of Yorba Linda, Richard M. Nixon. In fact, it's too easy– the obsession with secrecy, the contempt for the constitution, the wiretapping, the history of binge drinking, etc. etc.– and now I learn they have one more thing in common: Fred Malek.

Malek's current attempts to acquire D.C.'s baseball team, the Washington Nationals, caught the attention of Washington Post columnist Colbert King, who has been providing readers a brief history of Malek and his various careers. I knew about Malek's role in the Nixon Administration– after all, who could forget his loyal service as Nixon's Jew-Finder General?

Technically, that wasn't his title– Malek was an assistant to White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldemann– but in 1971, the ever paranoid Nixon was convinced that Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics were conspiring against him and doctoring employment statistics to make him look bad. So, Nixon decided someone needed to make him a list of the BLS's Jews. Many would have balked at such an assignment– on legal grounds, because it reeked of anti-Semitism, or because it was just plain crazy– but not Fred Malek. He dutifully compiled a list of 13 top BLS employees he suspected of being Jews. Two senior BLS officials on the list were then transferred to other jobs, though Malek has always insisted that his Jew list had nothing to do with the transfers. Just a coincidence.

While Malek's Jew hunting and his other dirty work as a Nixon hatchet man, which King recounts, have on occasion come back to haunt him– eg, his special efforts for Nixon scuttled Ronald Reagan's attempt to appoint him as a governor of the US Postal Service (and the Jews at the Post Office still go uncounted)– none of his activities have kept him from flourishing in today's Republican party. Just recently, his name appeared among a “Who's Who of Republican heavy hitters and Bush administration supporters”, as the Post put it, raising money for the legal defense fund for Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. But that's not his only connection to the current administration. I learned from King's first column that Malek is not only close friend of the Bush family, but was once a business partner of George W's. In fact, he was a partner in the only business George W. ever ran that wasn't a failure: the Texas Rangers baseball team.

It's not that George W., who as a younger man already displayed the sort of foresight and intelligence he's brought to the reconstruction of Iraq and New Orleans, wouldn't have run the Rangers into the ground given the chance. After all, he famously traded away Sammy Sosa. It's just that the Rangers made money by adhering to that great tradition of Republican economics: socialism for the wealthy, free enterprise for the poor. The team's wealthy and well connected owners were able to get the citizens of Texas to hand them lavish subsidies and extraordinary powers to build a new stadium, which greatly increased the value of the franchise.

But Malek and W have more than just baseball and soaking Texas taxpayers to bond over– they have both been involved in spectacularly grotesque acts of animal cruelty. As King reveals in his second column on Malek, in 1959, a twenty-two year old Fred Malek was arrested along with some friends in a public park near Peoria, Illinois, after they, as the sheriff described it at the time, “caught a dog and were barbecuing it.” Charges against Malek were dropped after one of his friends, Andrew O'Meara, insisted that he, and he alone, had caught the dog, skinned and gutted it, and put it on the spit to roast. Malek, asked about the incident by King, insisted he was strictly a passive participant in the incident, and couldn't have stopped or dissuaded O'Meara, and anyway, he was drunk at the time. He asserts he had no responsibility in the matter. Just as he had no responsibility for those job transfers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Most psychiatrists will tell you that such flagrant examples of cruelty to animals are often early warning signs of the sort of personality that will eventually become a serial killer. But most psychiatrists ignore the exciting career opportunities offered by the Republican party. Our president, the Grand Old Party's current leader, whiled away many an afternoon as a young lad by shoving firecrackers into frogs and blowing them up.

King's columns are a useful reminder of just how appalling the cast of characters in the Nixon administration were. At a time like, when even those who saw everything in Sage of San Clemente's White House up close are concerned that the Bush administration actions are Worse than Watergate, you occasionally hear whispers of nostalgia for the Nixon days. Remembering Malek should help ward off any Nixonian nostalgia you might feel as you watch the brutal incompetence of the Bush administration, an administration very unlikely to ever generate any nostalgic longings.

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