Monday, October 31, 2005

Greg Mitchell: Our Myth Brooks

Our Myth Brooks
In his Sunday column, David Brooks declares there is no cancer on the presidency, no cover-up in the Plame scandal, and the White House did not mislead the country into war. Anyone who thinks otherwise is inhaling "swamp gas."

By Greg Mitchell

(October 30, 2005) -- David Brooks no doubt benefits from context. At The New York Times’ Op-Ed page his only reliably conservative brother is the hapless John Tierney, which often allows Brooks to appear reasoned, thoughtful, and moderate in comparison (except when he urges women to fulfill their destiny as babymakers). How could Brooks not come off well in that kind of company?

In Tierney’s latest example of addled thinking, this past Saturday, he called the leak of Valerie Plame’s CIA employment an “accident.” It might have been many things, but one thing it wasn’t: an “accident.”

Still, Brooks seemed intent on outdoing Tierney in his Sunday column. This is too good to be denied those lacking a TimesSelect gold key.

For starters, Brooks declares, “One thing is clear: there is no cancer on this presidency.” Actually, one thing that is not clear even after the Friday indictments is exactly where, and how malignant, that cancer might be, even after the successful removal of the malignant Libby nodes.

Brooks tops that whopper by declaring flatly that the notion of Karl Rove’s "general culpability" is basically "hokum." And that’s why federal prosecutor Fitzgerald is still probing Rove?

Brooks asserts that Fitzgerald “did not find evidence of wide-ranging criminal behavior.” How does he know this? Pressed for time (thanks to Brooks’ colleague Judith Miller), Fitzgerald did not feel he had enough evidence to indict anyone else, just yet. But any reading of the indictment and the prosecutor’s public remarks on Friday leaves no doubt that he believes -- and obtained evidence -- that there was criminal behavior, beyond Libby (stay tuned).

You’ll look in vain in Brooks’ column for any condemnation of Rove or Libby for leaking the name of a CIA operative who (Fitzgerald has underlined) was indeed still under cover. So who are the bad guys in this Bobo world? Why, the Democrats, who had nothing to do with it.

Leading Democratic politicians, Brooks writes, have filled the precious airtime “with grand conspiracy theories that would be at home in the John Birch Society.” For gosh sake, that wacko Howard Dean even alleged a “huge cover-up.” Lock that man up and then let’s hear him scream! A cover-up? Brooks says any such charge is nothing but “swamp gas.”

And Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has clearly lost his mind, in Brooks’ view. How else to explain his statement: "There is mounting evidence, that there may have been a well-orchestrated effort by the president, the vice president and other top White House officials to lie to Congress in order to get its support for the Iraq war."

And Teddy Kennedy saying that the Fitzgerald charge amounts to ”far more than an indictment of an individual.” Put Teddy in a straight jacket for that one.

“The question is, why are these people so compulsively overheated?” Brooks asks. “One of the president's top advisers is indicted on serious charges. Why are they incapable of leaving it at that? Why do they have to slather on wild, unsupported charges that do little more than make them look unhinged?”

Wild, unsupported charges…. a White House cover-up…lies that led to war…. GET OVER IT PEOPLE.

Then Brooks offers a review of Hofstadter’s classic “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Brooks’ message: the White House cabal has only made “honest mistakes.” To think otherwise makes Democrats frustrated to the point of paranoia.

Actually it is Brooks and his like that are growing frustrated. Their favorite president’s approval rating now rests below 40% in every major poll, and that was before the Libby indictments. Six in 10 Americans want disengagement from Brooks’ war in Iraq. Perhaps it is Brooks who is turning paranoid -- not worrying about what any of us might think of him, but how history might judge his support for a disastrous war and all those other “honest mistakes” in the White House.

On ABC last week, after Fitzgerald launched a Web site to publish indictment-related material, Brooks said, "Maybe he just wanted to start a blog, talk about his favorite movies, favorite TV shows. You know, I think this is actually a story that is not a politically important story. You know, when I've talked to a lot of House members this week about what people are asking about, it's never this. The amount of American people who have heard about Karl Rove is small."

He wishes. In fact, every poll on the subject shows that most Americans have heard of Rove, and have a negative opinion of him.

Brooks’ latest work follows by just three days his column profiling Bush’s second-term malaise and how he can repeat the Reagan resurrection -- without once mentioning the war in Iraq. “The Bush administration is not in quite the same bind the Reagan administration was in,” he wrote. “There is no one big scandal.” Brooks willfully ignores that even if Plamegate is no Iran-contra, Bush is beset with a far worse scandal than anything Reagan faced: misleading his country into war, a war that is still going on, with no end in sight and American boys coming home in body bags almost every day. A cancer on this presidency.
Greg Mitchell ( is editor of E&P and author of seven books on politics and history.

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October 30, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
The Prosecutor's Diagnosis: No Cancer Found
On March 21, 1973, John Dean told President Nixon that there was a cancer on his presidency. There was, Dean said, a metastasizing criminal conspiracy spreading through the White House.

Thirty-two years later, Patrick Fitzgerald has just completed a 22-month investigation of the Bush presidency. One thing is clear: there is no cancer on this presidency. Fitzgerald, who seems to be a model prosecutor, enjoyed what he called full cooperation from all federal agencies. He found enough evidence to indict one man, Scooter Libby, on serious charges.

But he did not find evidence to prove that there was a broad conspiracy to out a covert agent for political gain. He did not find evidence of wide-ranging criminal behavior. He did not even indict the media's ordained villain, Karl Rove. And as the former prosecutors Robert Ray and Richard Ben-Veniste said on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," he gave little indication he was going to do that in the future.

Fitzgerald went as far as the evidence led him. In so doing, he momentarily punctured the wave of hysteria that had been building around the case. Over the past few weeks, oceans of ink and an infinity of airtime have been devoted to theorizing about Rove's conspiratorial genius and general culpability - almost all of it hokum. Leading Democratic politicians filled the air with grand conspiracy theories that would be at home in the John Birch Society.

Senator Frank Lautenberg assented that Rove was guilty of treason. Howard Dean talked about a "huge cover-up." Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York said: "The C.I.A. leak issue is only the tip of the iceberg. This is looking increasingly like a White House conspiracy aimed at misleading our country into war.

"There is mounting evidence," Nadler continued, "that there may have been a well-orchestrated effort by the president, the vice president and other top White House officials to lie to Congress in order to get its support for the Iraq war."

One may wish it, but that doesn't make it so. We do know that the White House lied about who was involved in calling reporters. But as for traitorous behavior, huge cover-ups and well-orchestrated conspiracies - that's swamp gas.

As it turned out, Fitzgerald's careful and forceful presentation of the evidence was but a brief respite from the tide of hysterical accusations. Fitzgerald may have pointed out that this case is not about supporting or opposing the war; it's about possible perjury and obstruction of justice. But the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid immediately ran out with some amorphous argument intended to show that this indictment indeed is all about the war. Ted Kennedy, likening Fitzgerald's findings to Watergate, insisted, "This is far more than an indictment of an individual," before casting his net far and wide. And Howard Dean, who doesn't fly off the handle but lives off it, grandly asserted that Fitzgerald's findings indicate that "a group of senior White House officials" ignored the rule of law.

The question is, why are these people so compulsively overheated? One of the president's top advisers is indicted on serious charges. Why are they incapable of leaving it at that? Why do they have to slather on wild, unsupported charges that do little more than make them look unhinged?

The answer is found in an essay written about 40 years ago by Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Hofstadter argues that sometimes people who are dispossessed, who feel their country has been taken away from them and their kind, develop an angry, suspicious and conspiratorial frame of mind. It is never enough to believe their opponents have committed honest mistakes or have legitimate purposes; they insist on believing in malicious conspiracies.

"The paranoid spokesman," Hofstadter writes, "sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms - he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization." Because his opponents are so evil, the conspiracy monger is never content with anything but their total destruction. Failure to achieve this unattainable goal "constantly heightens the paranoid's sense of frustration." Thus, "even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes."

So some Democrats were not content with Libby's indictment, but had to stretch, distort and exaggerate. The tragic thing is that at the exact moment when the Republican Party is staggering under the weight of its own mistakes, the Democratic Party's loudest voices are in the grip of passions that render them untrustworthy.

On Friday we saw a man, Patrick Fitzgerald, who seemed like an honest and credible public servant. What an unusual sight that was.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company


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