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Candide's Notebooks

The Talented Mr. Dowd

Pierre Tristam

Matthew Dowd was once a Texas Democrat. Then he wasn't. In the 1990s he fell in love with George Bush. He loved his knack for bi-partisanship, his talk of going beyond business as usual, his focus on education. (Aren't those the very qualities being projected on Barack Obama?) Matthew Dowd joined the Bush camp as it was machinating toward making him president, and in 2004 Dowd actually ran Bush's campaign. He was credited with defining John Kerry as a flip-flopper and a weakling (voters "trust this president more than they trust Senator Kerry on Iraq"), and strutted around campaign headquarters or wherever the Bush team was bullying its way any given day with a fat cigar in his mouth.

A few days ago, on the front page of the Times, on top of the page, second from lead, was this headline: "Ex-Aide Details A Loss of Faith in the President." The story summarizes the love affair then paints a more modest Mr. Dowd reflecting on a lover who's come to the realization that he's been living a lie:

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a "my way or the highway" mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides. "I really like him, which is probably why I'm so disappointed in things," he said. He added, "I think he's become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in." In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush's inner circle to break so publicly with him.

The Jim Rutenberg, the reporter writing the story, gives us this: "In speaking out, Mr. Dowd became the first member of Mr. Bush's inner circle to break so publicly with him." The story is played as a breakthrough, Dowd painted in Rockwellian hues ("Soft-spoken and somewhat melancholy, he wore jeans, a T-shirt and sandals"), a hero, really: Rutenberg, and the Times, are as in love with Dowd as Dowd was in love with Bush in the 1990s. Not a good sign.

For good reason: It's April 3, 2007. By my calculation, this is Day 2,264 of the Bush presidency. It's worth spelling out: Two thousand two hundred sixty-four days of broken promises, broken laws, lies, tortures, three wars, two of them on false pretenses and one of them reduced to similar futilities, going on 4,000 American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, going on at least 100,000 civilian deaths (upwards of 600,000 if those studies are to be believed)—and this is the first time, after 2,264 days, that a member of the Bush administration comes clean with doubts and a "loss of faith." The very man, incidentally, so responsible for ensuring that Bush's deceptions played like Biblical prophesy in voters' minds in 2004. The very man who turned Medieval on Kerry's heroic ass. Forgive the doubtful then: This isn't a loss of faith but a confession. The man is trying to ensure himself a place in heaven and he's just discovered that he's been contracting with Mephistopheles for the last six years. It's not even a full confession: "[H]e had even written but never submitted an op-ed article titled 'Kerry Was Right,' arguing that Mr. Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and 2004 presidential candidate, was correct in calling last year for a withdrawal from Iraq." Why no submission?

Irrelevant question, really. Dowd is man enough to admit being astounded that Bush didn't fire Donald Rumsfeld immediately after the Abu Ghraib scandal became public. What's explicable only to the extent that it reveals the depth of the cowardice and turpitude of the Bush team is that not a single other member of the administration past or present has been man enough to come out as Dowd has and say what's been obvious to everyone else for well over two thousand days.

Tristam is a Daytona Beach, Florida  News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at or through his personal Web site at

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