(Quick unrelated note: In the comment thread I note the appearance of the 6,000th comment posting on the Whatever since I switched over to Movable Type. It’s the second posting, so feel free to check it out. I say nice things about you (speaking in the second-person plural sense).)
I’ve been blogging quite a bit about Dick Clarke over on the Detroit News blog (link — and the link to my entry archives is here), so I won’t repeat myself here; just go over to the Detroit News blog and see what I have to say on the subject. But to get a bit blog-centric here, I will say that I’m very nearly dumbfounded at the extent to which many right-leaning bloggers appear to be totally clueless as to how bad Clarke is making the Bush administration look — to be blunt, he’s making them look like secretive, paranoid blunderers, and he’s adeptly coring the Bushies’ core re-election issue (i.e., the idea Bush as done a good job fighting terror) and hollowing it out in ways that deeply compromise it now and which set the stage for larger pummelings to come.
Clarke’s Sunday Talk Show Massacre this week is a perfect example: Rather than imploding under the weight of Republican hints he’s a lying sack of crap, he’s dared them to declassify everything he’s ever said, which he certainly knows they won’t do. But it doesn’t matter; he’s called their bluff, and when they fold, the Bush folks won’t just look bad, they’ll look weak — and that plants the seed of doubt which will undoubtedly blossom over the next several months (the handwritten “thank you” note from Bush that he propped up on TV was a nice touch, too). This is beyond bad for Bush, who frankly has no other issue on which to run. Really, what else does he have? The economy? Well, let me just say this about that: It’s hard to tell people the economy’s better when they can’t find jobs. The war on terror is all Bush has got, and it’s getting taken away from him.
But you wouldn’t know it on the right side of the blogger table, where they appear to give the impression that it’s already settled that Clarke is a dissembling aggrieved bureaucrat, and we can all move on from here. Well, no, guys; it’s not settled. Clarke’s credibility is high (because unlike any number of Bush administration members one can name, he’s testified under oath and publicly) and getting higher as he leads the Bush administration into rhetorical corners and then hands them buckets of paint to slather about themselves. Let’s have a moment of bracing clarity, here: When the best the Republicans can do regarding Clarke is Bob Novak’s implication that Clarke’s real issue with Condi Rice is that she’s black, that’s a pretty good indication there’s nothing more substantive to go after this guy with.
So why aren’t right-learning bloggers being more honest with themselves that Clarke is kicking the hell out of the Bush administration — and that he’s using the Bush administration’s own inclinations toward paranoia and secrecy against them, i.e., hoisting them on their own petard? I mean, come on, now: Even if you don’t agree with Clarke’s message that the Bush administration is staffed with incompetents, at least you can admire the craft with which the message has been delivered. The Bushies have been defending themselves against the same guy for ten days now — ten days! Even Bush’s pathetic deflective attempt to gain goodwill by tossing up the idea of broadband for everybody by 2007 was shown to be just that — deflective and pathetic. Come on, right-wing bloggers, just come out and admit it: Clarke is beating the Bush administration like a festive piņata. You’ll feel better when you do. And you’ll get candy!
But I doubt they will, and here’s why: Most right-wing bloggers I read are either generally neutral on Bush or actually sort of dislike him for every other thing except the War on Terror — but their focus on that War on Terror is such that when it comes to it, they’re willing to put up with everything else — the contempt for most Americans, particularly the ones who are not rich, the fundamental disregard for entire swaths of the Constitution, the unseemly theocratic leanings — because they believe Bush’s actions since 9/11 have kept them safe; the entirety of their political thinking, therefore, can be summed up in the words “There’s a War On.” If Bush is in fact shown to have been negligent or incompetent in the execution of this war, what happens is that these poor folks are going to have their noses rubbed in the fact they’ve willingly compromised every other important political position they have in order to put their trust in someone in whom that trust was entirely unwarranted. In short, they’ll look like they’re naive dumbasses. For the sake of their own personal political self-image, they have to defend Bush’s war on terror to the bitter, contradictory end.
Let me make it easy for these guys: Yes, I believe that Bush’s moves after 9/11 have in many ways made this a better and safer world in the long run (for Americans). But it does not necessarily follow that Bush actions were the best actions — indeed that they were even primarily correct actions. To use a metaphor here, if a patient is gravely ill with a disease in his leg, the doctor who amputates that leg at the hip might save the patient’s life — but a more competent doctor could have saved the leg and the life. Is it ungrateful for the amputee to note that a more skilled doctor could have saved his leg — or to wish that a more skilled doctor had been the one wielding the knife — or to make sure the less competent doctor doesn’t get a chance at his other leg?
Bush is an amputator par excellence — of the many things that people say about him, positive or negative, “subtle” has never been one of them — but it’s entirely fair to ask whether an amputator is what was required then, and certainly whether such drastic services are still required now. Personally, I am glad for the leadership Bush provided directly after 9/11, and I’m glad his “moral clarity” allowed him to make some important, correct decisions. However, I do not delude myself that all — or even most — of Bush’s implementation of those decisions have been skillful to any degree, either in the War on Terror or in the Invasion of Iraq. Some 18 months ago, regarding the Iraq War, I noted that it was possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Today I will note it’s entirely possible to do the right thing, and do it really badly.
Bush has done things really badly in the War on Terror and the War in Iraq. Clarke, whatever his other motivations, is entirely correct in pointing this out to the public. I feel sorry for the right-leaning bloggers that they can’t seem to wrap their brains around the idea that Bush could have good ideas and poor execution, but that’s their karma, not mine. I’m just glad it’s not me. My head would hurt.