Saturday, October 29, 2005

New Scandal, Old Mistakes


FOR those of us who lived through the Clinton White House, it's déjà vu all over again.

The indictment against Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, by the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald presents a challenge in political-crisis management not just for the White House, but for the Democrats as well. And based on recent evidence, both are falling into the same old mistakes.

First, each side seems unable to resist applying a double standard, doing and saying exactly what only recently it criticized the other side for doing and saying.

Even before yesterday's indictments, Howard Dean and the Democratic National Committee were accusing the Republicans of being responsible for a "culture of corruption." But I remember the outrage within the Democratic Party when Republicans rushed to the microphones to accuse the Clintons of "corruption" over Whitewater, the F.B.I. files, the travel office, campaign finance and so on - all issues that turned out to be rabbit holes without any findings of guilt, much less indictments. In the end, using an isolated scandal to tie up an entire administration only hurts the nation (and tends to come back to haunt the scandal-mongering party).

Equally remarkable, some Republicans are now suggesting that perjury is not such a big deal. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said last weekend that perjury before a grand jury is only a "technicality," comparing Mr. Fitzgerald's investigation to that of Martha Stewart, "where they couldn't find a crime and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn't a crime." (To their credit, the editorialists at The Wall Street Journal had the intellectual honesty this week of admitting that perjury is perjury.)

Second, both sides seem too quick to attack the motives of their adversaries rather than dealing with the facts. Already we hear Republican leaders suggesting that Mr. Fitzgerald has "lost his way" or is "criminalizing" ordinary politics. I often wonder whether those of us in the Clinton White House who attacked the motives of Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater special prosecutor, and tried to demonize him personally would have been better off if we had focused solely on his professional misjudgments and his disproportionate expenditure of time, effort and money.

Similarly, the Democrats are playing up the idea that White House officials may have endangered national security in playing hardball politics. Well, I can remember all the times I picked up the phone and talked "on background" to reporters, "pushing back" against rumors damaging to President Clinton and citing information that I thought was "out there." I don't remember ever worrying about whether the facts that I felt were public knowledge might have been classified. But even if I had, I would probably have rationalized that anything I had heard on the grapevine couldn't possibly be a state secret. If every political aide was prosecuted for those kinds of conversations with the press corps, I'm afraid there wouldn't be enough jails to hold us.

Third, both sides seem to believe that deny-deny-deny is the only option - rather than dealing with the facts as they are, accepting responsibility as quickly as possible, and moving on. Certainly, in retrospect, most of us who remain great believers in the Clinton presidency wish that the Monica Lewinsky matter could have been concluded much earlier, so that the last two years of the administration could have been more productive and fulfilling for President Clinton and the country.

Now President Bush must do something that for him, it seems, is the most difficult task: admit a mistake. First, he must send his press secretary, Scott McClellan, into the White House press room to apologize for his misleading the American people - probably based on incomplete or inaccurate information he was given - when he denied involvement by White House officials in the disclosure that Valerie Wilson was a C.I.A. officer.

More important, President Bush should follow the ultimate rule of White House damage control: the buck stops here. He should admit that this entire mess could have been avoided had the White House, including the vice president, criticized Ambassador Joseph Wilson openly and directly, rather than whispering "on background" into the ears of certain reporters that his wife was responsible for sending him to investigate possible Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger.

And then, after reminding everyone that Mr. Libby is entitled to the presumption of innocence, Mr. Bush should focus on the people's business and the far more serious problems facing America.

The best result of this latest scandal, and the hypocrisy and finger-pointing exhibited on both sides, would be for voters to say, "A pox on both your houses," reject the scandal culture and gotcha politics of both parties and seek new politics of common cause, collegiality and the public interest. The alternative is that most people will conclude that in American politics today the only standard is the double standard, and the cycles of conflict and rancor will continue.

Lanny J. Davis, aspecial counsel to President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998, is the author of "Truth to Tell: Tell It Early, Tell It All, Tell It Yourself: Notes From My White House Education."

Glad to see that Lanny is still such a nice, philosophical guy, but he's wrong, in many ways.
I am an an Independent and damn proud of it. It is a family tradition. I don't particularly care for political parties. The Nazis were a political party, before they grabbed absolute power, declared war on the world and began slaughtering Jews and a whole bunch of other people they didn't like, or who resisted their evil.
I am also not a big Clinton fan, though, right now, I wish we had him back. We might not have lost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in a war no one wanted, until BushCo began painting visions of mushroom clouds and small pox epidemics in America. We might not all have the blood of innocents in our hands, either. (Although, I must say that I hate the fact that DU was used in Kosovo, and in my world, that is a war crime.)
The biggest mistake Clinton made, other than cavorting near the Oval office with an intern, who had admitted to friends in California, that she wanted nothing more than sex with a president, was telling the nation that he had not done so. He should have said, it is none of your business and moved on. Because, it was none of our business. None of our young people died as a result of Clinton's behavior or his lies. The only reason it cost us millions was because Clinton was investigated for years for everything from a failed land deal to adultery. As I said then, "I don't give a damn who Clinton has sex with as long as it isn't me. Let Hillary deal with him on that issue."
Yes, perjury is perjury. Obstruction of Justice is obstruction of justice.
Funny thing about lying to a grand jury or FBI agents. People usually don't put themselves in that kind of legal jeopardy unless a bigger crime has been committed or unless they are very ashamed of their behavior and would just as soon the whole world not know about it.
Most Americans can identify with someone who has been hounded and investigated for years and finally gets caught with his pants down, literally or figuratively, in a shameful act. That is why Clinton remained popular, even at the height of impeachment; that and the fact that he and his team were doing a pretty good job of taking care of the national interests.
Committing adultery in the Oval office was, I admit, disgusting. But it was not treason. It did not, in and of itself, threaten the national interests. Still, constant investigations of a sitting president are not in the national interests either.
It is telling that most Americans had no idea who Osama bin Laden was or what his problem was, until 9/11, even though Clinton and his White House had been obsessed with the man for years. They didn't even know that this multi-millionaire had formally declared war on America, until after 9/11. Why didn't they know that?
Why didn't we know that this same man wanted nothing more than to attack us on our own soil?
Well, it seems to me that while the Clinton White House was obsessed with Osama, the Republicans and the news media were obsessed with Clinton's sex life and how to go about setting a perjury trap for him.
The crimes of Bush and company are about nothing less than a conspiracy to deceive this nation into a war of aggression, against a starving and crippled nation that could not have harmed us if they had wanted to. Not only that, but they used fear to do it.
Scaring people with horror stories made to seem real should be outlawed, because it is the worst thing that can be done to another human being, other than torture ( of which BushCo is also guilty). It always brings out the very worst in people.
George Bush and Company must be held accountable. We cannot allow Libby to be the only one of these thugs that is indicted for something, so that Bush can pardon him on Christmas eve 2008.
We, the people, cannot count on a single prosecutor, no matter how smart or tough or fair he is, or the Democrats, as they have no power to do anything other than talk, which seems to always make things worse, to save us from this criminal administration. It will be up to us to decide if this is the kind of nation we want. If we want to live with this administration and their enablers in Congress for another  three years, or if we want to demand that they all be held accountable for their myriad, serious crimes.
I can say this; I do not want to be a party to what has gone on in this administration. If we are not going to hold these people accountable, we, the people, will continue to have the blood of innocents on our hands and criminals running the country.


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