I will be surprised if President Bush pardons Scooter Libby. As Ezra says, Bush’s famous “loyalty” only goes one way —
It’s long been his M.O to cut loose even the most faithful of servants after they outlive their usefulness. And Scooter Libby has definitely outlived his usefulness. To pardon him would refocus the blame onto the presidency, make it clear the administration felt indebted to an underling doing their bidding. That’s all true, of course, save for the indebted part. Libby was doing their bidding and now it is done. End of transaction.
President Bush said yesterday that he is “pretty much going to stay out of” the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby until the legal process has run its course, deflecting pressure from supporters of the former White House aide to pardon him for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Scooter’s lawyers plan to seek a new trial. As long as there is even a possibility of more litigation, the White House can continue to use the “ongoing legal proceeding” excuse not to answer questions about Libby. That’s another reason I don’t believe we’ll see a pardon at least until after the 2008 elections.
Much is being made of Libby juror Ann Redington‘s desire to see Libby pardoned. I watched the Hardball segment in which she said this. My impression was that she was still thinking with Juror’s Mind, striving mightily to be fair and impartial. I’d be more interested in what she has to say about six months from now.
So Redington didn’t bother me nearly as much as Kate O’Beirne, sitting next to her, did. Kate thinks the jury tried its best but came up with the wrong verdict. Libby is, of course, innocent, no matter what the jury says. Just as Bill Clinton is guilty, even though Paula Jones lost her suit against him. See, courts are irrelevant. All you need to know to judge guilt or innocent are the political leanings of the accused. Anyone Kate judges to be one o’ hers must be innocent.
Hardball producers could save wear and tear on Kate if they just keep an inflatable Kate doll handy. Inflate it, stuff it into a chair, and play prerecorded talking points. ‘Twould be no better or worse than the real Kate. In fact, they might be doing that already.
At this point I don’t much care if Scooter sees jail time or not. If he were pardoned, it would not be like the pardons of Richard Nixon or Caspar Weinberger, whose pardons saw to it they were never tried. Avoiding those trials amounted to a cover up. But we’ve had Scooter’s trial; we know what happened. And Scooter’s just a factotum. It’s his masters I’m interested in.
Speaking of factotums (factoti?), David Brooks broods over the Libby trial today. He begins —
Three years ago I said some pessimistic things on TV about the war in Iraq. Scooter Libby called the next day. Methodically, though with a touch of wryness in his voice, he ran down a list of the hopeful developments he thought I was ignoring. Then as we were signing off, he interrupted himself and said: â€œAnyway, thatâ€™s the positive spin. I can do the negative spin just as well.â€
Of course, Brooks was content with the positive spin.
Over the years, we had two lunches and about a half-dozen phone interviews, and he was more discreet each time. I would sit there â€” learning nothing â€” and think, We know the Bushies are not like us Jews because theyâ€™re willing to appear less knowledgeable than they really are, but can Scooter Libby be like this, too? [emphasis added]
Is that or is that not a damn weird thing to have written?
Yet it was hard not to like the guy â€” for his intelligence, his loyalty and his meticulous attention to ethical niceties. (At lunch he wouldnâ€™t let me pick up the tab. Heâ€™d lay a $20 bill on the table to cover his half.)
Brooks goes around buying lunches for government officials? (I started to write “cheap lunches,” but I guess that shows I’ve lived in New York City too long.)
Yet that doesnâ€™t begin to cover the sadness that this trial arouses, for the proceedings have revealed the arc of what the administration was and could have been.
Cue the violin music.
When you think back to the White House of 2003, the period the trial explores, you will discover a White House consumed by a feverish sense of mission.
Staff members in those days went to work wondering whether this would be the day they would die. There was a sense that any day a bomb might wipe out downtown Washington.
Hold that thought.
Senior officials were greeted each morning by intense intelligence briefings. On June 14, 2003, for example, Libby received a briefing with 27 items and 11 pages of terrorist threats. Someone once told me that going from the presidentâ€™s daily briefing to the next event on Mr. Bushâ€™s schedule, which might be a photo-op with a sports team, was like leaving â€œ24â€ and stepping into â€œSesame Street.â€ No wonder administration officials were corporate on the outside but frantic within.
The White House culture was also defined by the staffâ€™s passionate devotion to the president. Bushâ€™s speeches after 9/11 inspired a sense of intense connection, and the emotional bonds were kept perpetually aroused by the onset of war, by the fierce rivalries with the State Department and the C.I.A., and by the administrationâ€™s core creed, that everything it does must be transformational.
It was a time, in short, of grand goals but also of discombobulating and repressed emotion. [emphasis added]
But those intense emotions, especially the fear, not to mention a stew of underlying character pathologies, were driving the “grand goals.”
Today, the White House culture is less intense. The staffâ€™s relationship to the president has simmered down, from devotion to mere admiration.
Today, the White House staff is less disciplined but more attractive. There is no party line in private conversations. The trick now is to figure out what administration policy really is, because you can now talk to three different people and get three different versions on any topic. Thereâ€™s more conversation and more modesty. The vice president has less gravitational pull, and there has been a talent upgrade in post after post: Josh Bolten as chief of staff, Henry Paulson at Treasury. If Bob Gates had been the first defense secretary, the world would be a much better place today. [emphasis added]
Then in the next paragraph, Brooks writes,
The administration has also lost its transformational mind-set. After cruel experience, thereâ€™s a greater tendency to match ends to means, and to actually think about executing a policy before you embark upon it.
Wow, thinking. Just imagine anyone in the White House actually thinking. But they can’t be thinking real hard, since no one has any idea in hell what Bush’s policies actually are.
Thereâ€™s much more tolerance for serious freethinkers â€” the Johns Hopkins scholar Eliot Cohen was just hired at State.
In his book Fiasco, Thomas Ricks identified Eliot Cohen as a supporter of Paul Wolfowitz. (See p. 16.) He was one of the military experts assembled in December for the purpose of telling Bush the Iraq War is still “winnable” and that it was OK to ignore the Iraq Study Group recommendations. So much for serious freethinking. The Bushies are drawing the same tainted water from the same old well.
In short, this administrationâ€™s capacities have waxed as its power has waned. And you canâ€™t help but feel that todayâ€™s White House would have been much better at handling the first stages of the war on terror. But thatâ€™s the perpetual tragedy of life: the owl of Minerva flies at dusk. Wisdom comes from suffering and error, and when the passions die down and observation begins.
I picture Brooks with a three-day beard, crying into a gin bottle in some seedy Washington watering hole. How tragic it is — the Bush White House, after six years of bleeping up the planet, is finally getting its act together, even though no two of them can agree on what the act is. If only they’d done it sooner. Like six years ago. But now that they have embarked on the serious mission of governing — thinking about it, even — it’s too late, and the owl of Minerva has flown off with the mouse of accomplishment in its beak. And Brooks has the sorry task of having to write a column about it. Where be your gibes now? your gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?
Yes, so tragic. Pass the gin.