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Wednesday began, oddly enough, with the news that Rod Stewart has built a model railway in the attic of his home in Los Angeles. Hilarity ensued as the media piled on top of what seems like a nerdy thing for a rock star to do. Yet it was more than that. It was a reminder that beyond the fame, the celebrity, the riches, there are things in this world that are more tangible and rewarding. Think of Marlon Brando who spent his career demeaning the profession of acting only to find satisfaction in the world of ham radio.
George Kent is no Brando, though given the most famous attempt to impeach a president was Watergate, it seemed fitting that the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs does resemble Hal Holbrook who played “Deep Throat” in the film adaptation of Watergate’s most famous book. Kent walked into the committee room on Wednesday wearing a bow tie and a suit complete with waistcoat and a breast pocket handkerchief. He looked out of place in a room dominated by the rigid TV suits that characterise American politics. Here was a man markedly different and easy for an audience to read. It suddenly made sense that the impeachment process is now going public. We would have faces to attach to facts, archetypes to associate with a story. Here, it seemed to say, is a real expert on Eastern Europe and he even wears a bow tie.
Next to him sat Ambassador William Taylor who would provide the gravitas. America’s news networks had made much of his not-quite Geoffrey Robinson levels of baritone, but they were right. When he spoke, people listened. This wasn’t going to be the underwhelming performance that characterised the last days of the Mueller Report. Say what you like about the Special Counsel’s service to his country but Robert Mueller’s performance on the Hill had given the nation a collective nap. Chair of the committee, Adam Schiff, was right to start with these two men. Between them, Taylor and Kent were to provide a health tonic to the sugar-rush of this presidency. Their testimony wasn’t thick with the dumb labels that have come to define the debate. There would be no “fake news” and “corrupt media”. There was none of the “bullshit”, “bastard” and “son of bitch” that has come to define presidential language in recent weeks. These were intelligent men, offering sharp responses and precise meanings. Dates flowed as easily as the geopolitics.