Sunday, April 4, 2004

Does Clarke Help Bush?

David Corn thinks Richard Clarke’s testimony to the 9/11 commission and the tales he tells in his book Against All Enemies are devastating to the White House. But he also thinks that in doing so, Clarke becomes the target, not the messenger.

Richard Clarke did George W. Bush a big favor. That may not be how it looks to most people. But with his bestselling book, Against All Enemies, his high-profile media appearances and his bravura performance before the 9/11 commission, Clarke not only made a strong case against Bush (claiming Bush had neglected Al Qaeda before 9/11 and then undermined the effort against Osama bin Laden by invading Iraq); he provided the Bush clan a much-needed distraction: himself. Clarke, a larger-than-life career bureaucrat, presented such a sharp-edged critique of the Bush administration that he, as much as his message, became the issue. The message was difficult for the Bush administration to refute, but Bush officials and their comrades found it easy to attack the fellow carrying it. And the mudfight that ensued—whether it succeeded in discrediting Clarke or not —had a benefit for the White House: it made Clarke’s charges seem like just another round in the never-ending partisan tussles of Washington. And that helps Bush.


For all the trouble Clarke caused Team Bush, the Bush crew might be happy to have a messenger to shoot. It’s easier than answering the 9/11 questions that remain. And if this ugly brawl over Clarke ends up causing people to view 9/11—and the work of the 9/11 commission, which supposedly is examining those summer 2001 warnings and Bush’s response to them—as just another Washington slugfest, Bush, Rice, Karl Rove and their pals will be able to smile and say (among themselves), mission accomplished. []

The basis of Mr. Corn’s theory is that the public is more interested in the characters than the plot. And while that may work well in a play, it is not the issue here. And while I agree with Mr. Corn that the White House Hit Squad – something that comes with every administration (vis the trash job the Clinton pros did on Monica) – is doing unprecedent dissing on Mr. Clarke, knowing full well that Primetime Live, Dateline, Larry King, and every B-list pundit (and I’m including Wolf Blitzer) will focus on the personalities (“Just what does Condi Rice think of Dick Clarke? Dr. Phil is up next to discuss that, and later, Miss Cleo will be by to cleanse their auras”), the core issue is how badly did our government fuck up and who did it? The assumption is that the electorate has too short an attention span or is too shallow to grasp that. God help us if we really are.