Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Clinton vs. Bush: Which Lies Matter More?

My column ran this week on Tuesday, not Sunday. You think the headline might raise some hackles? (Newspaper version available here.)

East Valley Tribune, May 18, 2004

Liberals never had to work as hard as conservatives did this past week. We only had to excuse a tawdry affair with an intern. Conservatives have had to excuse abuse, torture, and complete mismanagement of the Iraq war.

Sure, Clinton besmirched the Oval Office, but not nearly as badly as Bush has screwed up Iraq, our standing in the world, and our military. Conservatives were absolutely outraged about stains on a dress, but they’re accepting calmly stains on our national honor.

Donald Rumsfeld tried to distinguish between “mistreatment” and “abuse” and “torture,” and how the Bush administration always follows the Geneva Conventions -- except when it doesn’t. Rumsfeld did something I didn’t think possible. He was more pathetic than when Bill Clinton distinguished between what was “sex” and what wasn’t.

The nation has recovered from Clinton’s infidelities. Older married men, Democrats and Republicans alike, had tawdry affairs with younger women before, and will continue having them -- even so far in the future, that if the guy tries to blame Bill Clinton, of course the ingĂ©nue will say, “You mean President Clinton’s husband?”

But it’s not clear how we’ll recover from Bush’s terrible policy choices -- to fight a “war of choice” on borrowed money, and with too few resources, personnel, and allies to accomplish anything worth a mere fraction of the cost.

It’s no justification to say that whatever our faults, our enemies are worse. Somebody always is. Last week, Sen. Jon Kyl -- he of the two Vietnam War draft deferments -- said that while abusing Iraqi prisoners was wrong, at least we weren’t beheading them. Yes, let’s certainly keep that prisoner abuse “in perspective,” while hoping that our enemies don’t start justifying their own brutality by noting that unlike those really terrible terrorists in Papau New Guinea, at least they’re not cannibals.

Of course it’s an outrage. But if a brutal murder shows that some Iraqis, or all Iraqis, or all Arabs, or all Muslims deserve exactly whatever they’ve got coming to them, why did we decide to spend billions and sacrifice our military to liberate them? Maybe war supporters should stop changing the subject and explain exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, for whom, and why.

The people who should be absolutely outraged aren’t liberals; we never expected much from this administration (but we’re still flabbergasted by how bad they’ve been). It’s you libertarians. You used to mistrust the government, and now you’re slavishly accepting whatever they tell you.

The Bush administration refuses to allow any oversight of its actions, by either the courts or the Red Cross -- because we’re at war! The Deputy Solicitor General tells the Supreme Court that the executive would never torture anyone -- the same week CBS airs the first prisoner-abuse pictures.

Sen. Kyl says people shouldn’t call for Rumsfeld’s resignation because they’ll give comfort to our enemies. Never mind that the military screwed up and Rumsfeld is in charge, you can’t hold him accountable -- because we’re at war!

Republicans now claim any criticism of the government is unpatriotic -- because we’re at war! That’s their tactic now, because it’s not like they have any answers to the criticism.

Conservatives once knew that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The Bush administration is occupying Iraq without oversight and outside of both military regulations and international law, and gave poorly-trained and poorly-supervised amateurs absolute power over enemy prisoners. But instead of being outraged, conservatives complain only that Bush wasn’t “manly” enough to brag about how powerful we are.

You right-wingers thought we liberals sold our principles too cheaply in supporting Clinton? You guys make us look like Warren Buffett.

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