Bob Riley could not leave office without the editorial chiefs at The Birmingham News puckering up and planting one last sloppy kiss right on the governor's white, doughy behind.
Could it be a send-off for a Riley run at the White House? We wouldn't be surprised.
The latest shameless love letter from Alabama's largest newspaper to our outgoing GOP governor comes in an op-ed piece titled:
Life Under Riley: From economic development to education to quality of life, Alabama's outgoing governor leaves the state in better shape after eight years in office
The piece, written by former News reporter Tom Gordon, is astounding (even by News standards) for several reasons:
* The content of the op-ed piece does not match the headline. Gordon dives into all kinds of statistics, none of which support the headline's claim that Alabama is in better shape after eight years of Riley rule. Gordon's article, taken charitably, shows Alabama has tread water under Riley. But when you include unemployment statistics, which Gordon conveniently ignores, the state clearly has gone backwards.
* Gordon's op-ed is contradicted by an article on the front page, of the same issue, about incoming Governor Robert Bentley. In so many words, Bentley says he is inheriting a mess. So how did Bob Riley leave us in better shape?
* Gordon's op-ed is accompanied by a piece from editorial-page editor Bob Blalock, titled Riley legacy: education governor. After reading the article, one can only ask: Has Bob Blalock been in a catatonic state for the past eight years? Since he works at the News, the answer probably is yes.
What does Tom Gordon actually say in his op-ed piece? This pretty much sums it up:
Admittedly, no governor, even one as powerful as Alabama's, can single-handedly raise incomes, reduce the poverty and school dropout rates or stave off a major economic downturn. But governors get a lot of the blame or credit when numbers show declines or improvements in various areas that define our quality of life. Some of these numbers suggest we are moving in the right direction; some, influenced by the recession, have taken the opposite tack; others suggest that on some issues, we might as well try to squeeze tears from a stone.
That sounds like Riley helped Alabama barely keep its head above water. Gordon goes on to cite statistics that show Alabama remains among the poorest states, fattest states, and most litter-infested states, with one of the nation's most regressive tax systems. So, again, how did Bob Riley move us forward?
Gordon comes up with two areas of improvement: (1) Our rate of high-school graduates increased under Riley a whopping two percent--and remains below the national average; (2) Our infant-mortality rate dropped from 9 to 8 percent.
And then Gordon gives us this: The state's prison system had 26,000 inmates when Riley took office, and we now have 27,000. Yee-haw, that's the good news of the Riley years! I can see a marketing campaign now--Come to Alabama: Our Prison Population Never Stops Growing!
As for Blalock, how does he come to the conclusion that Riley has been "The Education Governor"? Mainly by citing the Alabama Reading Initiative and the Alabama Math Science and Technology Initiative. Never mind that one of those programs launched in 1998 and the other in 2000--and both took flight under Riley's predecessor, Democrat Don Siegelman.
What about those unemployment numbers? Well, the News folks apparently want to ignore those. Here are the facts: When Riley took office in January 2003, Alabama's unemployment rate was 5.3 percent; by January 2010, after seven years of Bob-O-Nomics, the unemployment rate was 11.1 percent--the highest Alabama had seen in 25 years. In other words, Alabama's unemployment rate almost doubled with Riley at the wheel. And he was our "economic development" governor?
Yes, Riley helped develop the personal "economies" of his spoiled-brat kids, Rob and Minda, plus those of other family members and cronies? But regular Alabamians? Well, they learned under Riley how to file for unemployment.
Oh, and what about the article on incoming Governor Robert Bentley? Well, it seems he didn't get the memo about Bob Riley leaving Alabama in better shape. Consider this quote from Kim Chandler's story:
"I don't want people to be under any illusion that things are great right now. They are not," Bentley said. "We've spent every penny of every rainy day (account) we have in education. We've basically spent every penny that we have in the rainy day we created for the general fund. We don't have any money. But I do want to give people hope, because we are going to come out of this."
That's on the front page of the same issue in which News' editorial writers extol Bob Riley's many virtues. Do the op-ed folks even read their own news pages? Apparently not.
The News' op-ed pieces are significant not for what they say about the newspaper--everyone with three brain cells knows the paper is a shameless suck-up for the GOP--but for what they say about Riley. The newspaper's pro-Riley slant has been so blatant--and so at odds with reality--that one can only assume it is part of an orchestrated campaign. To us, it appears the governor's office and the newspaper's editorial types have been working in conjunction on this effort to portray Bob Riley as a successful governor--rather than the corrupt, incompetent slime merchant he really is.
What does that say about Riley? For one, it probably says he is a world-class narcissist. We're not sure who is most infatuated with Riley's image--The Birmingham News or Riley himself. Second, this long-running campaign of puffery indicates that Riley, deep down in his soul (assuming he has one), knows he's a fraud. He probably knows that he's been the beneficiary of election theft, money laundering, political prosecutions and God only knows what else. He knows he's inextricably linked to Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, perhaps the two most notorious political felons in American history.
A governor who knows he's done good work, who knows he has a legitimate record of achievement and ethical behavior, doesn't need a newspaper to toot his horn. Riley seems to welcome The Birmingham News' efforts to portray him as something he's not. That suggests to us that Bob Riley, at best, is an empty suit with cowboy boots and a poofy 'do.
Perhaps most alarming about the News' pieces is what they might bode for the future. We suspect certain words in the News' headline--"Alabama's outgoing governor leaves the state in better shape"--are a thinly veiled reference to the line Ronald Reagan used to great effect against Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Never mind that the line does not remotely apply to Riley. We suspect it signals that Bob Riley, and his Reaganesque bearing--are destined for a presidential bid.
Riley already has shown that he's the Teflon governor. Who's to say he can't become our next Teflon president?
If Riley does make a run for the White House, one can only imagine the kind of puckering that will commence at The Birmingham News. Can't wait for that.