The Bush candor gamble

Reader Duane Oyen offers these thoughts about the Bush team’s response to the controversy over African uranium, and the likely outcome of that controversy:
“1) “Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it”- Yes, the Bush staff response to the silly questions has been almost amateurish when compared with the well-coordinated Dem-BigMedia assaults. What it brings to mind is the previous example of exactly how not to handle such an issue, a lesson that one would think history-nut Karl Rove might have actually absorbed- that is, the Newt Gingrich-GOPAC debacle. By way of reminder, after Gingrich had dispatched Jim Wright into outer darkness for an egregious violation of House Ethics Rules where he circumvented the gratuities clause with the transparently phony book deal, followed by the Republican House takeover in 1994, Mr. “Sweetness” Bonior filed about a hundred revenge ethics charges against Newt, alleging that he had funneled illegal campaign soft money into tax-exempt foundations which then were applied to partisan political purposes. All of this was a set of lies- the foundation was directly equivalent to the leftist think tank, Progressive Policy Institute; the college course at Georgia State University on ‘Renewing American Civilization’ was only poltical if you believe that pointing out the benefits of capitalism and discussing Alvin Toffler constitutes politics (I saw several of the lectures on my sat dish- the segment on “QualIty” could have been scripted by Lane Kirkland, for example; this was about as political as Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”), and so on.
But the daily steady pounding by Bonior and his stooges, aided and abetted by the usual suspects (ABC, CBS, NBC, NYT, WaPo, WSJ news pages, etc.), caused Gingrich and company to be concerned that their ‘revolution’ message was being drowned out, just as Carville, Begala, Dick Morris, and Chris LeHane had planned. Always at that particular disadvantage, our side blinked, and Gingrich decided to shut them up by paying off the expenses of the “ethics investigation” and admitting that there had been exactly one place where he might not have been as forthcoming as possible explaining the GOPAC organization’s structure in his disclosure.
Naturally, this had the opposite of the intended effect, and didn’t shut anyone up. On the contrary, it immediately was re-characterized as a guilty plea and a fine, morphing then, with no truth-telling by the media buddies, into a broad-based confession of improprieties which were forever after used to excuse Algore’s clearly illegal campaign fundraising in 1996.
The current White House squad ignored all of this obvious precedent, figuring that if they lanced the boil now, the pressure would subside. Bad idea- that only works when the NYT and ABC decide that they WANT to let go of the story, which only happens on behalf of one political party. So we now have the full frenzy at slow news season, with a confessed error. And the topic is absolutely nothing new- Powell said nothing about Niger at the UN, and al Baradei settled the forgeries within days of that discussion to the near-yawns of all. The only thing new now is that Fleischer acknowledged that, yes, the reference might have been unwise. Presto, chum in the water near bored media sharks tired of being outfoxed by the idiot Bush.
But:
2) The story still will not last, for two very good reasons. a) There is no substance- sooner, rather than later, the media will grow bored unless we throw them fresh meat, like the Tenet hara kiri (another dumb decision). But, and here is the key- b) the only remaining available scapegoats are Condi Rice and Colin Powell. Even the Dems recognize that they can’t push Bush into a corner with those two. Cheney is a popular target for the DU and moveon.org, but still not at the epicenter. Bush is obviously personally innocent- no attempt to make him the researcher for his own speech can hold up. And, GW is stubborn; he will not toss Condi or Powell to the wolves, because they are his people and he won’t let them get chewed up. That means that BigMedia will have to dismember Rice and Powell to get to Bush, and they simply do not dare, because the collateral damage is likely to drive middle class blacks into the Republican camp. Rice and Powell are not reliable lefties like Julian Bond, but they are also not demonizable like Clarence Thomas; they have a following, are actually liked by many of those media persons, and there would be racial implications to destroying two such respectable, visible, and high-ranking African-American role models.
That guarantees that the story is eventually self-limiting. If the Dems had the sense to shut up, they might get some mileage out of the ‘incompetent’ argument, as John Podhoretz said in his Post column. But McAuliffe, Carville, and Bob Shrum can’t help themselves, so they may well end up giving Bush more support than he has already, especially after David Kay meticulously assembles the cases for the WMD prosecution and releases the full report a la Powell’s comprehensive UNSC speech.
But somebody teach those staffers that you can never admit anything around Dems, because it doesn’t relieve pressure, it pumps it up, and becomes a murder confession. The interesting element of all this is that the only reason nukes were ever mentioned was not to justify war in Iraq, but to stop pacifists from using the ‘deal with North Korea first’ angle to prevent all responses to all aggressors by noting that it was important to address Saddam to prevent another North Korea from arising.”
I agree with most of this. However, I’m not sure that Bush’s staff thought the confession of error would cause the Democrats and their media allies to let the matter fade away. The staffers may have believed that the Dems/media would keep the drum-beat going regardless, but that, in the long run, the public would be more favorably disposed to Bush if he were up-front about the issue. Bush’s appeal, in part, stems from the view that he is a different, more honest kind of president. His willingness to admit a mistake that should ultimately be regarded as minor, and not really the president’s fault, should reinforce that image, if developments in Iraq are otherwise favorable.

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