Stale absurdities in the Bush White House.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Why should I sleep in my own bed if I don’t want to? There’s always the floor."
— Somerset Maugham, The Circle
Mr. Bush, who is in the midst of a campaign for re-election, said last Sunday that none of the warnings gave any hint of the time, place or date of an assault. "Had I known there was going to be an attack on America I would have moved mountains to stop the attack," he said.
— New York Times, April 18
"Is this what we meant by a smoking gun? Do you think? Oh well. Bombs away."
— Barnabas, Two months before the shock and awe campaign
Emerson’s famous line must be some comfort to the White House right now, as long as they remember that it does not mean that inconsistency is always wise. Both consistency and inconsistency can be very foolish indeed. It was foolishly consistent to launch a major war on evidence that was either tenuous or false, and foolishly inconsistent for the President to assert that he needed detailed evidence before responding to the Al Qaida threat in August 2001. This White House loves evidence when it confirms what they want to do, and discounts evidence when it points in another direction. As I wrote two months before "shock and awe" began, almost any pretext will justify what you want to do. And it did. And it still does, as in We’ll define what we mean by "smoking gun" as soon as we’re ready to do what we were going to do anyway.
The standard of evidence required for anti-terrorist action was much higher than the standard required to wage all-out war. The disparity illustrates what I want to address today.
My role in this magazine is to alert its readers to absurdities and ethical conundrums that surface in the news. I planned never to run out of material because in public life there are always fresh absurdities and ethical screwups. They are par for everyone in public life, including my own small role in it
The Bush administration, however, is not creative in the absurdity and screwup departments. They are into repetition and appear to learn nothing even the third or fourth time around. Their mantra seems to be, "However disastrous its outcome, it was by definition the right thing to do because we do not do wrong things."
So I find myself writing about the same problems I was addressing eighteen months ago. Stale absurdities provoke stale responses. In most of life’s situations, it doesn’t matter much. The people who repeat the same absurdities over and over are considered bores. We put up with them or manage to stay out of their way.
But this is the White House! This is the Presidency of the most powerful nation on earth! We can’t stay out of its way, and putting up with it tars us with its brush. Above all other positions, it is required of the President that he and his associates learn from their absurdities and screwups and find more effective ways to communicate and act. When this doesn’t happen, we are all embarrassed – Republicans and Democrats, supporters and critics. Embarrassment is an equal-opportunity condition.
Am I being fair? Consider the President’s own take on his behavior. At his press conference last week, he was asked what mistakes he had made in the War on Terror. He couldn’t remember any. Most people in his place wouldn't forget any.
I know this is difficult for the President’s supporters to fathom, considering some letters in our daily paper, but some of the President’s critics are not looking for excuses to "bash Bush." We do not want the President to be absurd or to screw up so we can criticize him. He is, after all, our President too, and the stakes are too high for Americans to want their President to fail in order to give temporary political advantage to someone else. Some of us actually want the President, of either party, to know his job and to fulfill his responsibilities with intelligence and competence.