April 19, 2006

Carl Bernstein: Kicking and Screaming

Carl Bernstein longs to be relevant again.

His recent piece in Vanity Fair will not provide that relevance, painting him instead as a man whose drive for past glory has reduced him to parroting almost shriek-for-shriek tenants of the far left long proven false or misleading. He has grown intellectually lazy and lethargic, producing a column unworthy of a front page diary at the Daily Kos—or perhaps worse, provides a column that is specifically what one would expect at Kos or the rabid message boards of the Democratic Underground.

It begins:

Worse than Watergate? High crimes and misdemeanors justifying the impeachment of George W. Bush, as increasing numbers of Democrats in Washington hope, and, sotto voce, increasing numbers of Republicans—including some of the president's top lieutenants—now fear? Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans—nearing 50 percent in some polls—who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq.

John Dean, the Watergate conspirator who ultimately shattered the Watergate conspiracy, rendered his precipitous (or perhaps prescient) impeachment verdict on Bush two years ago in the affirmative, without so much as a question mark in choosing the title of his book Worse than Watergate. On March 31, some three decades after he testified at the seminal hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean reiterated his dark view of Bush's presidency in a congressional hearing that shed more noise than light, and more partisan rancor than genuine inquiry. The ostensible subject: whether Bush should be censured for unconstitutional conduct in ordering electronic surveillance of Americans without a warrant.

Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown Washington.

In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

Ignoring the incoherent first sentence that never should have made it past an editor's desk, Bernstein calls for a Bush Administration investigation based upon polling data and the words of a convicted felon shilling a book, and his call for an vague, wide-ranging inquisition "of the conduct of the presidency" is a hopeful wail from a partisan hoping for a witch hunt, based upon... well what, exactly?

How much evidence is there to justify such action?

Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era.

"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on April 9. "The President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did." Specter was speaking specifically about a special prosecutor's assertion that Bush selectively declassified information (of dubious accuracy) and instructed the vice president to leak it to reporters to undermine criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the senator's comments would be even more appropriately directed at far more pervasive and darker questions that must be answered if the American political system is to acquit itself in the Bush era, as it did in Nixon's.

Oh, the tiredness of it all! Dredging up the one-hit wonder of "what they knew and when they knew it," Bernstein in no way attempts to apply that broad charge to a specific, credible allegation that the law requires. Instead, he hangs it out there, as untended gill net, furtively hoping to ensnare anything and everything that drifts past.

Bernstein, unable or unwilling to bring into focus charges of his own, attempts to make Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter his whipping boy, selectively quoting and rearranging the order Specter's to make it appear that Bush did something illegal and not within his power. But what did Specter say, and how did he say it?

Via the transcript of Fox News Sunday, the actual conversation between host Brit Hume and Senator Specter:

HUME: ...Is it your view that what the president and the vice president, as well, did in that matter constituted a leak?

SPECTER: I don't know, because all of the facts aren't out, and I think that it is necessary for the president and the vice president to tell the American people exactly what happened.

Brit, I think too often we jump to conclusions before we know what all of the facts are, and I'm not about to condemn or criticize anybody, but I do say that there's been enough of a showing here with what's been filed of record in court that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people.

HUME: About the release of this information or what?

SPECTER: Well, about exactly what he did. The president has the authority to declassify information. So in a technical sense, if he looked at it, he could say this is declassified, and make a disclosure of it.

There have been a number of reports, most recently — I heard just this morning — that the president didn't tell the vice president specifically what to do but just said get it out. And we don't know precisely what the vice president did.

And as usual, Brit, the devil is in the details. And I think that there has to be a detailed explanation precisely as to what Vice President Cheney did, what the president said to him, and an explanation from the president as to what he said so that it can be evaluated.

The president may be entirely in the clear, and it may turn out that he had the authority to make the disclosures which were made, but that it was not the right way to go about it, because we ought not to have leaks in government. We ought not to have them.

And the president has justifiably criticized the Congress for leaking and, of course, the White House has leaked. But we ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people.

[bold mine - ed]

Bernstein reorders and selectively quotes Specter's statements, conveniently leaving out that while Specter would like to know the details of the inner workings of the White House (wouldn't we all?), Specter acknowledges that Bush does have the specific authority to declassify information. Furthermore, on March 25, 2003 Bush amended President Bill Clinton's Executive Order 12958 to extend that power to the office of the vice president when acting "in the performance of executive duties." How forgetful of Mr. Bernstein to omit these inconvenient details.

Long on generalities and short on facts, Bernstein attempts to press an already weak attack:

Perhaps there are facts or mitigating circumstances, given the extraordinary nature of conceiving and fighting a war on terror, that justify some of the more questionable policies and conduct of this presidency, even those that turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into a catastrophe of incompetence and neglect. But the truth is we have no trustworthy official record of what has occurred in almost any aspect of this administration, how decisions were reached, and even what the actual policies promulgated and approved by the president are. Nor will we, until the subpoena powers of the Congress are used (as in Watergate) to find out the facts—not just about the war in Iraq, almost every aspect of it, beginning with the road to war, but other essential elements of Bush's presidency, particularly the routine disregard for truthfulness in the dissemination of information to the American people and Congress.

The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed.

Once again, the formerly great writer calls for a congressional inquisition into every aspect of the Bush Presidency, but cannot provide a single, specific reason why it should occur. Citing everything from warfighting to domestic disaster response, Bernstein asks for the unprecedented: an apparent play-by-play stenographic record of every decision ever made in an attempt to second-guess and undermine a sitting President, ostensibly expanding congressional and media powers with an impossibly broad investigative self-mandate to usurp those powers afforded to the Executive Branch by the Constitution. It is a coward's call for insurrection that no American President in this nation's history has ever had to endure.

From this fevered cry, Bernstein plunges headlong into a litany of charges made up of theories long debunked and ideas half-baked, made by the anonymous and the vengeful:

Most of what we have learned about the reality of this administration—and the disconcerting mind-set and decision-making process of President Bush himself—has come not from the White House or the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security or the Treasury Department, but from insider accounts by disaffected members of the administration after their departure, and from distinguished journalists, and, in the case of a skeletal but hugely significant body of information, from a special prosecutor. And also, of late, from an aide-de-camp to the British prime minister. Almost invariably, their accounts have revealed what the president and those serving him have deliberately concealed—torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and its apparent authorization by presidential fiat; wholesale N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in contravention of specific prohibitive law; brutal interrogations of prisoners shipped secretly by the C.I.A. and U.S. military to Third World gulags; the nonexistence of W.M.D. in Iraq; the role of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of staff in divulging the name of an undercover C.I.A. employee; the non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the events of 9/11; the death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman (whose mother, Mary Tillman, told journalist Robert Scheer, "The administration tried to attach themselves to his virtue and then they wiped their feet with him"); the lack of a coherent post-invasion strategy for Iraq, with all its consequent tragedy and loss and destabilizing global implications; the failure to coordinate economic policies for America's long-term financial health (including the misguided tax cuts) with funding a war that will drive the national debt above a trillion dollars; the assurance of Wolfowitz (since rewarded by Bush with the presidency of the World Bank) that Iraq's oil reserves would pay for the war within two to three years after the invasion; and Bush's like-minded confidence, expressed to Blair, that serious internecine strife in Iraq would be unlikely after the invasion.

Insider accounts from which disaffected members of the administration, and which distinguished journalists? Bernstein can't be troubled to provide those essential details, and instead dives into a sea of conspiracies unprovable or disproven.

Bernstein will not say that the "aide-de-camp to the British prime minister" he ostensibly cites in reference to the so-called "Downing Street Memos" were composed almost exclusively of high-level summaries composed by British diplomats of conversations had by British intelligence officers and diplomats who were relating what they remembered of conversations they had with their American counterparts about what the Americans thought about what they thought the President said. Why didn't Bernstein go the final step, and connect them all to Kevin Bacon?

Not a single credible witness has come forward to tie the Administration to abuse at Abu Graib, and those who did commit the abuses there were tried and convicted in a court of law. Charges leveled against Marines performing their duties at Guantanamo Bay have turned out to be baseless, and in many cases were made by those who had never set foot on the island.

Bernstein goes as far as to blatantly lie to his readers, stating that the Administration engaged in "wholesale N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in contravention of specific prohibitive law," when not a single credible person connected to the program in any way has ever provided the first shred of evidence that this program was anything other than the specific, targeted intercepts of international communications affiliated with suspected terrorists. I charge Bernstein to provide any evidence of this charge. He cannot, relying instead upon insinuation, hyperbole, and unsubstantiated claims, which not coincidentally, make up the overwhelming majority of his spurious, politically motivated charges.

Carl Bernstein, once a journalist credited with taking down a clearly corrupt President for specific criminal charges, has pissed away his credibility and goodwill American citizens may retain for him in an article that could have been scripted by Hugo Chavez and Michael Moore. It is sad to see a once great man futility tilting at windmills, trying to regain glories and respect long past, but it is even more repulsive when Carl Bernstein would undermine our very system of government with an open-ended inquisition of one branch by another in his pursuit of past glories.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 19, 2006 11:32 AM | TrackBack

it's a bleeting sheep shame you incorrigible right wing hawk writers put your politics above your duty to your country..what has george w bush done to improve the complexion of this country on any front? can bully-pulpit free speech all you like, but you and your ilk are losing the war on credibility, daily..i say hooray for guys like bernstein to speak up, that is the media's job, afterall..the right wing hates criticism because it's too painful to consider the facts..this president has this country in serious trouble, and it's time americans exercise their right to dissent, a noble ideal, that obviously escapes you..

Posted by: billy c bowden at April 24, 2006 04:33 PM

What has Bush done for this country?

Lemme see... he presided over historically low interest rates, enabling one of the larger housing booms ever, and he sits on top of a stellar economy with a phenominally low unemployment rate and a booming stock market, while cutting taxes for the middle class and those of us with families, even while fighting two wars that are seeing 100%+ reenlistment rates among veteran combat soldiers.

But hey, I covered more than one front... is that unfair?

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 24, 2006 10:20 PM

presiding over low rates is not a policy..the low rate interest environment was created to overcome a mean bear market..and that is artificially controlled, anyway..that's good, bush presides over low interest rates, same as what happened in Japan during their crash, laughable, since you completely ignore the out of control deficit, a bill, that will come due for future generations..

Posted by: billy c bowden at April 25, 2006 10:14 AM

You mean the deficit that fell last year because of tax revenues spurred by Bush's economic plans?

The deficit as measured as a percentage of the GDP, is lower now than it was during the 1980s boom.

Come on, Billy Boy, you're going to have to do better than that...

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 25, 2006 10:25 AM

one thing about you, you never let the facts interfere with your "stories"..i admire your naivete, it must be fun to wake up every morning wrapped in ignorant, uninformed, can just click your heels, and tell yourself you're not in kansas anymore, katrina clean-up is real, plamegate is a non-event, the housing bubble's last act is unwritten, though foreclosures are rising precipitously..we are winning the war in iraq at a clip of 10 billion a month..bin laden is sitting in a jailcell in guantanamo..jack abrahoff is just a harmless influence peddler..tom delay simply retired, to pursue other interests..and bush cut the deficit, though snow had to rush emerency relief bills through congres or the fed gov't ment shut down/blacked out..because we hit spending record ceilings..on and on..while nero fiddles!

Posted by: billy c bowden at April 25, 2006 11:30 AM

In other words, you have no actual rebuttal.

I didn't think so.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at April 25, 2006 11:44 AM

i like the way you censor your critics, much the same they do it in other fascist regimes..that way you absolutely guarantee, you get the last word, those it is intellectually dishonest..are you really that afraid of dialogue, are you that unsure of your self?..

Posted by: billy c bowden at May 9, 2006 04:57 PM