Buyer's Remorse: Their Purchase, Our Regret
I don't know about you, but I for one am getting sick and tired of all these right-wing hacks righteously and publicly jumping ship on the Bush administration and the national nightmare they've been so kind as to bequeath to us this last awful decade.
This has been going on for some time, of course, but the revelations of the last week or two have been especially hard to swallow.
What you're supposed to read in between the lines of this Bush-bashing is a sub-text along the lines of "I had nothing to do with this disaster!", or, at the very least, "Gosh, I had no idea it would turn out like this!"
Yeah, well, pardon me if I reject this new line of garbage from the likes of Alan Greenspan and Sandra Day O'Connor. I liked the old line of garbage much better. Whatever else you could say about it, it reeked a lot less of rank hypocrisy.
The list of the deluded publicly waking up to what the regressive movement has wrought at home and abroad is long and seems to grow larger each month. Generally, the pattern is the same. Somebody who was highly instrumental in creating this Category 5 destructive force of nature decides that their conscience can't quite handle the amp load anymore. So they go public with inside dope on the machine they previously had themselves helped to ram pall-mall into our bodies and our hearts. The White House smear machine then goes into hyper-drive, and the offending former-insider is derided as somehow mentally unbalanced or the equivalent, just like Rove did to McCain in South Carolina's 2000 primary. Meanwhile, something (and, boy, wouldn't we all like to know what) gets said behind the scenes, and next thing you know there's some sheepish humiliating half-retraction. It pretty much always goes down that way.
John DiIulio provides an early example. An academic brought in to the administration to run the pander party charade of tossing electoral spoils to the religious right, DiIulio had already had enough by the end of 2002 and became perhaps the first administration insider to risk the Wrath of Rove by breaking ranks with this famously closed clan of mafia clones and their oath of omertÃƒÂ . His apostasy didn't last long.
In an interview published in Esquire, DiIulio made the ridiculous mistake of telling the truth about the operation inside the White House, and even doing so with a well-deserved nasty little rhetorical flourish: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus", he said. "What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."
Mayberry Machiavellis!! Oooooohh, I like that! But then, of course, DiIulio got The Call ("Please hold for the Vice President of the United States"). Next thing you know, it's this from his spokesperson: "John DiIulio agrees that his criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples. He sincerely apologizes and is deeply remorseful." Hey, that's a good one too! DiIulio goes overnight from "everything, and I mean everything" to "poorly chosen examples". It's a bit hard to imagine how one could choose poorly when everything you could possibly choose from (and I mean everything) was in the same category, but perhaps those photos the White House has of him doing strange things with cute and furry little animals or the like would explain his sudden and radical change of heart. Or maybe it's just a coincidence.
A year later, former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill reprised DiIulio's embarrassing act with one of his own which was even more foolish. Having trashed the Bush administration in a book written by Ron Suskind, based on interviews with O'Neill, within 24 hours of its publication Perfidious Paulie did a volte face of which Jittery John DiIulio must have been envious. He tells Katie Couric, "You know, people are trying to make the case that I said the president was planning war in Iraq early in the administration". Well, yeah, Paul, but only cause you did say that. "Actually, there was a continuation of work that had been going on in the Clinton administration with the notion that there needed to be regime change in Iraq." Uh-huh. That can happen, you know. That whole continuation of work thing - that can happen.
Couric: "You say nowhere did you ever see evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction."
O'Neill: "Did I?"
O'Neill had also described Bush as like "a blind man in a roomful of deaf people". But then came, ahem, The Call. ("The Vice President will see you now. Take the elevator down to the triple-secret basement labyrinth, then follow the hallway to the extreme right until you get to the concrete-reinforced woodshed. You'll know you're there when you hear the screams.") Yep. Way to go, O'Neill, you lovely exemplar of that private sector gumption and GOP straight talk we're always hearing about. Now it's, "I used some vivid language that if I could take it back, I'd take that back because it's become the controversial centerpiece. And I'm afraid that it will cause people to have an impression without actually reading the book." Then it gets even worse: "This is Ron Suskind's book. This is not my book." And, "It's not my intention to be personally critical of the president or of anyone else."
Gosh, no. We can't have that. I mean, even if the guy did lie an entire country into a war which has now taken over a million lives, and even if he did it by being willfully blind and surrounding himself with deaf sycophants, we really shouldn't be personally critical of the president, should we? At least in O'Neill's case we know how they bought him off, with the lame threat of prosecution based on his releasing of a classified document which had already become public. This from the very same people who blew Valerie Plame's cover for partisan political purposes, mind you.
Richard Clarke became the next example, about a year later. Clarke exposed the utter failures of the administration in the months before 9/11, as it obsessed over Iraq and couldn't have cared less about al Qaeda or terrorism. Clarke even apologized to the families of 9/11 victims - the only official to do so - noting that, "Your government failed you". Predictably, the White House smear machine went into full court press mode, though their efforts at coordination were somewhat less than stellar (I think Rove was off wrecking some other country that day). Cheney told Rush Limbaugh that Clarke was out of the loop on counter-terrorism efforts while Rice was simultaneously claiming that he was at the center of those operations. Meanwhile, the utterly morality-bereft Bill Frist joined the chorus by trotting out a bogus accusation against Clarke that could not be refuted, as it was based on classified documents. Cute.
Unlike others who dared to criticize the administration, Clarke never folded under the pressure of the counterattack, and he deserves a lot of credit for his honesty and integrity, and especially his courage, knowing - as he must have - what was in store for him. My only question for Clarke, as for the rest of these folks is, what the hell took you so long to figure all this out? These are supposedly some of the smartest people around. So what in the world was Clarke doing - as he admitted - voting for a buffoon like George W. Bush in 2000?
Others would follow. Surely Colin Powell will have his own personal Circle of Hell reserved for him, having committed the Sin of the Century, repudiating all his alleged principles and all the dues that he had supposedly once paid as a pawn in somebody else's misbegotten war for lies. It was bad enough that Powell was silent at a time when he was literally the one person in the world who might have put the brakes on the Iraq travesty (and he knew it was a travesty) before it happened. The Bush Mafia will smear anybody who crosses them, including triple-amputee Vietnam vets or six-year POW residents of the Hanoi Hilton. Heck, they might have even have tried to smear Powell, had he resigned in protest in early 2003, warning the world of the lies and the danger ahead. Indeed, Rove might even have seen it as some sort of sporting professional challenge. Could he prove that he was worthy of playing in the same league as Goebbels by taking down Powell the Icon (nobody was ever quite sure what for, but that's another story), their very own Secretary of State?! Rove's gambit for greatness in the Liar's League of Lasting Infamy wouldn't likely have mattered, though. It's hard to see how the war could have been sold in the face of Powell's fervent opposition.
Alas, we'll never know. Not only did he fail to oppose this greatest foreign policy blunder in American history, but, of course, he went to the UN and actually sold the damn thing. Sold it, at least, to a doddering polity called America - nobody else ever quite believed the fairytale. Even to this day Powell can't come clean, only occasionally dropping another of Colin's anonymous bon mots (get 'em while they're not!) about a "broken Army" or some such, hither and thither. He can't be a happy camper, though. If I had to guess, I suspect one would find a medicine cabinet chock full of sleeping aids over at the Powell household.
The list goes on and on, and is probably only just starting in earnest. Lame duck presidents, especially unpopular ones, are sitting ducks for insiders cutting the chain that attaches them to the sinking ship. But this is different. This guy is no ordinary lame duck - he's an entire lame flock. Serious historians, even conservative ones, have already concluded that this is the worst presidency in history. I mean, let's see here... the guy has lost two wars on his watch, launched one, on the basis of complete fabrications, that has nothing to do whatsoever with national security other than that it is actually manufacturing anti-American terrorists, broken the American military, taken a record-setting surplus and turned it into a record-setting deficit, watched as a major American city drowned, was unprepared for the worst attack on America in history, has utterly failed in six years to come close to catching the accused perpetrator of that crime, has exacerbated a looming global environmental disaster, divided the country and alienated the world. And that's just for starters. And people are racing to disassociate themselves from that? Go figure.
You can add to the list of formerly-deluded-but-now-just-disaffected one David Kuo, who joined Bush, Inc. thinking he was helping to bring religion into government and government into religion. Leave aside for the moment that these are two of the most spectacularly stupid ideas ever (can you say, "Ayatollah Khomeini"?), so lame that they were denounced over two-hundred years ago by a group of people even Kuo may have heard of - they're called "The Founders". Regardless, Kuo went to work on this project only to discover that Bush was never even remotely serious about any of that clap-trap. Rove and the gang mocked religious dupes over beers and laughed their butts off at how easily these hopeless saps could be mobilized into Republican shock troops. How Kuo ever fell for it in the first place is beyond me, but eventually he figured out that the sap club had one more member than he had originally realized.
Ditto Francis Fukuyama, a recently deprogrammed neo-con who has, unlike nearly all of his former brethren, at least held onto enough of a remaining shred of intellectual honesty to allow him to publicly walk away from the disaster that is Iraq. That takes a bit of personal courage, but there's lots more to be done on that front. I hope Francis has, at minimum, taken a vow of poverty and is donating the entirety of his income to Iraqi citizens who are the current beneficiaries of his former wisdom. Perhaps there's a bank he can stop at to wire the money, on his way to the self-flagellation center with its tiled rooms and in-floor drain spouts, which I trust he also frequents several times a day. I tell you what, if it were me and I was carrying the guilt and grief these guys ought to be, that'd be about the only thing keeping me from firmly ensconcing a bullet deep in my brain.
Just ask Matthew Dowd, another on this illustrious list. More culpable than just about anybody - he helped sell Bush to America in the shameful campaign of Election 2004 - he has now had a change of heart. What a coincidence. Did I mention that his kid has been shipped over to Iraq recently?
But really the two most outstanding winners of the Surely-You're-Joking-Hypocrisy-Like-You've-Never-Seen-It-Before Award are its two latest entrants.
First runner-up honors go to Alan Greenspan, who (now he tells us!) matter-of-factly expresses his disappointment that nobody is talking about how the Iraq was just for oil, after all. You know, just like we "loony lefties" have long been asserting. From that remark ensued two results as predictable as the next GOP sex scandal. One is that the White House claimed that Greenspan has retracted the comment (although Big Al seems to be silent on the subject), and the other is that this biggest of news stories is in fact nowhere to be found in the industry that somewhere along the line inadvertently got mistitled the "news business".
The even more disgusting Greenspan comment, however, was his black comedy routine in which he attempts to disown culpability for the budget-busting deficits of the Bush years. Greenspan forced Democratic president Bill Clinton to cut back his 'dangerous' spending plans when the latter came to office in 1993. But in 2001, he put his imprimatur on Republican Bush's absolutely reckless tax cuts, which was the economic equivalent of Powell backing the Iraq invasion. It sealed the deal. Still not satisfied yet, Greenspan had the temerity to come before Congress a couple years later and tell lawmakers that they had to cut back on Social Security benefits because - shock of shocks - the coffers were empty. Gosh, how'd that happen?
Of course, this was only actually a shock if you'd bought into the old Wall Street hagiography of Greenspan as the greatest thing since sliced bread (read: a seriously serious money-maker for the Hamptons set). Perhaps a more enlightening visage of the man could be derived from a letter he wrote to the New York Times back in the day when he was literally a disciple of the toxic 'philosophy' of Ayn "Greed Is Good" Rand. Greenspan defended her book - a novelistic make-over of the sort of infantile gimme-gimme mindset most of us already find tedious in our two-year olds, but for which Rand provides a handy alibi to those who never quite learned to share way back in Sandbox 101 - against a deservedly hostile review. According to Young Alan, "'Atlas Shrugged' is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should."
Hey, here's a cool idea: Let's put a guy like that in charge of the world's biggest economy! Talk about your compassionate conservative! Nevermind that if slothfulness and absence of rationality were capital crimes, as Greenspan evidently believes they should be, there would hardly be anybody left in the Republican Party today (hey, wait a sec... maybe this isn't such a bad concept after all), including a certain noted economist who supported massive tax revenue slashing, only to come back to Congress a couple of years later to insist that there was no more money left for Social Security. If that's 'rational', then I'm Billy Barty. Sorry, Alan, now you must "perish" for the crime of irrationality, as you "should". At least we can agree on that much.
Still, though, the all-time prize for hypocritical inanity has to go to Sandra Day O'Connor, at least if Jeffrey Toobin has portrayed her accurately in his new book, "The Nine". Not only does it seem likely that his portrait is accurate, it seems even more likely that the direct source for his characterization is none other than the former justice herself, who - like Powell - doesn't have the courage to directly tell the truth herself, in public.
Apparently, however, O'Connor was a wee bit shy of sympathy for those Florida voters back in 2000 whom she considered dumb (nevermind that they weren't responsible for the ballots they were handed), and so she thought the whole darned thing just need to be over with and the presidency handed over to the (extremely) right candidate. You know who. Didn't hurt, of course, that she was big pals with the Bush family, tennis partner with Barbara, and that she wanted to retire but didn't want to turn the seat on the Court over to a Democratic president. So she not only signed onto the most blatantly partisan and jurisprudentially embarrassing decision in the Court's history, but by providing the fifth vote to make that opinion the majority, she in fact became the decision.
And vice versa. Now we find out that she's more than a tad disappointed with the results of her work in the Supreme Court laboratory! Now we learn that being known as the Dr. Frankenstein who built the monster that produced the Guantánamo and habeas corpus and Fourth Amendment horror shows is not exactly what O'Connor had in mind for the second sentence of her freakin' obituary, dude! Sorry, Sandy, if you've come to find George W. Bush "arrogant, lawless, incompetent and extreme". Welcome to our world, dark and foreboding as it's now long been. You certainly won't get an argument with your assessment here, other than to wonder why you broke every law and principle in the book to make someone with exactly those qualities president. (Or did you simply think, way back in 2000, that Boy George was merely stupid, dumb, uneducated and dimwitted, as opposed to "arrogant, lawless, incompetent and extreme"?) So sorry that you are reported by Toobin to be appalled at Ashcroft, the Schiavo case, Harriet Miers, the administration's position on everything from affirmative action to the war on terror, and having the Iraq Study Group on which you served dissed by your own monster, only then to suffer the greatest indignity of having the very guy (Alito), whose lower court opinion requiring husbands to notify their wives in advance of an abortion horrified you enough to label it "repugnant", appointed by Bush to fill your own seat.
But, gosh, Sandy, if you think you've got it bad, you ought to chat with the 1.2 million or so dead Iraqis about their opinion of the mess you made at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Oops! Oh, shoot - I forgot. You can't actually talk to them anymore. They're dead. Bush murdered them, and you - well, you created the murderer. And you weren't even smart enough to cover your tracks in doing so. You broke every single major judicial principle that you Neanderthals always say you stand for in the process of making the monster - from states' rights, to judicial restraint, to opposing civil rights rules, to respecting precedent. In casting one vote, on one decision, you wrecked the world. And now you're disappointed with the results?! The least you could have done in penance is to have ruined your own reputation in the process, which, actually, is what you did.
But I have a question for you, and your soulmates Greenspan and Powell and the rest. When will it be enough that you can come clean and help those who still don't see the light to do so, by telling us some serious truth? When will enough damage be done that you can lift the veil and expose these world-class lies? Does Cheney have to come right out and establish the House of Dick, installing himself as emperor once and for all, before you're willing to admit the damage done to American democracy? And would you be able to so at that point, anyhow, or would the praetorians just unceremoniously toss you into the Gitmo Hilton then, along with the rest of us?
What a sad litany of losers lining up on the wrong side of history, purchasing the cant and the calamity and leaving us the bill. DiIulio, O'Neill, Clarke, Powell, Kuo, Fukuyama, Dowd, Greenspan, O'Connor.
The publication of George H. W. Bush's book, "Blame It On The Milkman"?
Barbara Bush's "If You Thought That Was Fun, Wait Till You See What Jeb Does"?
Condi's "Omigod, I Had No Idea!"?
Cheney's "Snarl: Two Wars Are Just Not Enough"?
Or perhaps W's doddering attempt at a mea culpa for the history books: "Hey, Fellas, What Happens If You Push This Button Right Here?"
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (mailto:email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.