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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/7/08

The Continuing Rule Of Fear In Washington

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Message Dan Fejes

Scott McClellan's book has started some extremely interesting conversations. His allegations are not especially important by themselves, mainly because it is easy to suspect ulterior motives. A number of critics have noted he has no natural allies in Washington and could not expect a soft landing at a lobbying firm or think tank; the only way for him to cash in is with blockbuster sales. Another reason could be self-justification, which may well be one of the few high growth areas created by the current administration. The broad contours of this Presidency are clearly visible now, and even the most blinkered partisans know the judgment of history will be extraordinarily harsh. As an amusing consequence there is already a budding industry of entertaining attempts to show how successful it has been (or will be). For example, Ross Douthat floated a trial balloon suggesting that if Iraq is not a complete hellhole thirty years from now the conventional wisdom will be to credit the forty third President. It was almost immediately swatted down and then essentially retracted (via). All I can add to the discussion is to refer you to John Maynard Keynes.

In any event, McClellan is not a very persuasive messenger. His argument that being caught up in the "permanent campaign" attitude in the White House does not hold up very well considering that he will not now admit to any wrongdoing. Dan Froomkin pointed back to a very ugly press briefing where McClellan defended an administration claim of authority to torture. When pressed he implied those opposed to it were against the administration "doing all [they] can to protect the American people". Those are not the words of a stooge or a useful idiot, they are the words of an enthusiastic and dutiful propagandist. He now writes how senior officials "allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie". He claims they used him to launder their untruth, and he was nothing more than the ventriloquist's dummy through which their disguised voices passed. He himself had no agency; all he could do is uncritically repeat the breezy assurances he was given.

His unconvincing rationalizations point to an important truth, though. And that truth is, fear dominates our nation's capitol. Press coverage has noted his reversal on criticism in hindsight. As press secretary he said of Richard Clarke's book, "[i]f he had such grave concerns, why didn't he come out with them sooner?" Now people are asking the same of him, and his answers do not have the ring of truth. He was no unwitting dupe - he knew the concerted effort to push certain parts of the case for war, ignore inconvenient aspects of it and present dramatic claims from dubious sources like Chalabi and Curveball amounted to a propaganda campaign designed to deceive the American people. His knowingly restricting his scope does not absolve him of what he did out of (at best) pure ignorance. No, he knew what he was doing, and he kept on doing it for a very different reason. Thankfully some have started to notice.

The administration has successfully intimidated the most important parts of the Washington D.C. establishment. Those who work in the chain of command in the executive branch know that if they do not follow the party line they will be dismissed. Those who are uncomfortable being apparatchiks eventually leave, but they know speaking out will provoke a fierce response (as McClellan is now finding out). The Democrats control Congress but have shown no willingness to force a showdown over any of the administration's broad claims of authority, and with all due respect to Marcy Wheeler I don't see Henry Waxman gearing up for a game of Constitutional hardball. Even though they could forcefully push back against an unpopular lame duck President, they are afraid to.

Major media outlets spiked stories critical of the White House and admitted a reluctance to even try because "it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there". Knight Ridder (now McClatchy) was an admirable exception to the trend and is the only outlet to credibly argue it was not ruled by timidity. And last week we saw the latest example of what happens when someone resigns and speaks out. Within the administration, throughout the executive and legislative branches, in the press - the word is out. Speak up and your job, reputation and employment prospects may be ruined. There is no bubble, no Constitutional roadblock, no lack of solid evidence. There is just pure, unvarnished fear.

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Dan Fejes lives in northeast Ohio.
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