The Bush administration executed the political equivalent of a trick play last weekend.
Bush’s cronies followed the script to a tee, casting blame to CIA scapegoat George Tenet, who took one for the team despite the fact that the CIA had repeatedly warned about specious claims that Saddam Hussein sought uranium from Africa.
You almost want to feel sorry for the designated fall guy, Oliver Nor– err, George Tenet.
Tenet, of course, was subsequently forgiven by Bush, who declared his confidence in the man and summarily declared the matter closed.
Watching it all unfold, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the George W. Bush who promised to restore honor and integrity to the presidency, and who said he would “change the tone in Washington” and usher in “a responsibility era” as president.
Instead, Bush has gone the route of “No Controlling Legal Authority,” obfuscating the issue and splitting hairs (“It’s technically true, but we shouldn’t have said it.”). The White House, the Dept. of State and the CIA are passing the buck like a hot potato rather than than owning up to what amounts to a lie.
The controversy offers a lesson, I think, for the conservatives who love to whine about “the liberal media.” While the press is questioning the veracity of the administration’s claims, they have largely given the president himself a pass, instead wondering if he will find out who dropped the ball and fire them.
Indeed, a President Gore would never have been allowed to put forth such an intellectually dishonest case for war. Not by the press, not by his base, and certainly not by the Republicans. If he had uttered one-tenth as many half-truths, there would be none of the depersonalized discussions in the press about “exaggerations by hawks within the administration.”
Instead, the media and pundits would work themselves into a frenzy. What’s wrong with him? the editorial pages would ask. Why is our president a serial liar?
Already operating under the cloud of impeachment after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Gore’s every move would be subject to second-guessing and psychoanalyzing. “Is he really trying to protect the American people, or is he merely overcompensating for the failure of Sept. 11?”
Gore’s approval ratings would be at levels not seen since the Carter administration. And unlike the current disheartening Democratic field, the Republicans would be salivating over their chances in next year’s election, already tossing about names for the next cabinet.
George W. Bush is a dishonest man, even on issues where soldiers’ lives at put at risk. Yet when Democrats criticize the president, they are the liars, the opportunists, the unfit ideologues who are “not interested in the security of the American people,” as Bush put it.
And so, even when leveling devastating criticisms at the president, the Democrats wilt under pressure from the perpetually outraged conservative establishment. The president is able to rally his forces, scatter theirs, and carry on while the American public remains none the wiser.