The other night I was on "Hardball
" with conservative bad-boy Pat Buchanan. Michael Smerconish, the guest host, asked about a column
I had written noting that George W. Bush, in his new book, had disingenuously airbrushed Karl Rove out of his (superficial) accounting of the Plamegate affair
. The reason was obvious: Bush wanted to avoid dealing with the dishonesty his White House had relied upon during one of the darker moments of his presidency. Buchanan guffawed, calling the CIA leak case a "silly episode" and a "trivial" matter.
Now imagine this scenario: David Axelrod, President Obama's top political adviser, leaking to two reporters the name of an undercover CIA officer because doing so helps the White House beat back criticism of a major national security decision. And add to that the White House covering up Axelrod's deed and
Vice President Joe Biden's chief of staff being indicted (and eventually convicted) for lying to FBI agents about his own role in this affair. Conservatives would be going ape, accusing the Obama gang of helping the terrorists and endangering the safety of the nation. Republicans on the Hill would be talking of treason and calling for multiple investigations, some, no doubt, raising the prospect of impeachment. Fox News would be covering the story 24/7, as if it were the apocalypse. Rush Limbaugh would be in hog heaven. And Sarah Palin would be tweeting. (I'm sorry, my imagination is not sufficient to conjure up how Glenn Beck would respond.)
Is my point that conservatives can be hypocrites? Yes. There's also another point: They often fight harder and more underhandedly than liberals.
Conservatives and Republicans like Buchanan have spent years dismissing the CIA leak case. Some of them are now ticked off that a new movie, "Fair Game" (starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn) has reprised the scandal, capturing in many respects the essence of the controversy and countering the many rightwing distortions. The film does use dramatic license when depicting the specific operations Valerie Plame Wilson engaged in as a CIA officer assigned the all-important task of uncovering information about WMDs in Iraq and elsewhere. But the film does hit the key point: when Rove and other administration officials leaked her name and CIA connection to reporters -- as part of a campaign to undermine her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson, who had charged that the Bush-Cheney administration had misled the nation into the Iraq war -- they potentially imperiled significant CIA operations aimed at protecting the United States from the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.
Yet for years, the right-wing noise machine did all it could to drown out this fact in the public discourse. And to an extent, it succeeded. Bush largely dodges the matter in his memoirs, and it's no biggie. But if anything similar were to happen on Obama's watch, conservatives-gone-wild would make it the equivalent of Watergate.
Jon Stewart might say that there's hypocrisy on the right and left and that each side irresponsibly turns serious issues into political fodder for our national shout-fest. But I do believe the right is more guilty than the left. See the conservative attacks on the president for being a socialist, secret, Kenya-born Muslim who pals around with terrorists, who is trying to set up "death panels," and who is plotting the destruction of America.
It really isn't a fair fight. Obama has attempted to work with Republicans on the Hill -- even if GOPers dispute that. (I suppose devoting one-third of the stimulus bill to tax cuts on their behalf wasn't bipartisan enough.) Yet House Republicans held a rally on the grounds of the Capitol during the health care debate where tea party protesters shouted "Nazis, Nazis" in reference to Obama and the Democrats. Not one House Republican -- not John Boehner, Eric Cantor, or Michele Bachmann, who were all there -- publicly complained.
Here's another ripped-from-the-headlines example of the left-right imbalance. In an interview
with Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast this week, Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, referred to the executives of NPR as -- there's that word again -- "Nazis":
They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view. They don't even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda.
Nazis? Because they canned Juan Williams? That was a boneheaded move, but it ain't the same as murdering millions of people. (On Thursday, House Democrats defeated
a GOP effort to cut federal funds for NPR, which says it receives only 1 to 2 percent of its revenues from sources related to the federal government.)
So let's engage in another thought exercise: What would have happened had an NPR host referred to Fox News as the "Nazi network"? Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity would have howled. Conservatives from coast to coast would have called for that person to be tossed off the air -- before being drawn and quartered. House GOPers would have announced hearings and try again to defund NPR. And Sarah Palin would have tweeted. Most likely, that NPR host would have been disciplined, if not fired. But Ailes' outburst prompted no such outrage from these people. And he will suffer no consequences. Remember that the next time the right goes nuts over some perceived misdeed on the left.
(For the record, Ailes apologized
to the head of the Ant-Defamation League on Thursday, saying in a letter that he "should not have chosen that word.")
Hurling the N-word, condoning White House skullduggery and deceit -- it's tough to have a solid, good-for-the-country, let's-find-the-best-solution policy debate with folks who play by such rules.
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