Saturday, August 22, 2009

Further lessons in revolving-whore government.

Comes now Citizen Ridge, with his tale of behind-the-scenes shenanigans in the Bush White House. Short version of the juiciest allegation from Ridge's forthcoming memoir, The Test of Our Times: Bush's handlers tried to manipulate those screwball color-coded threat levels in order to gain political leverage. This is being treated in some quarters as if no one can even imagine that presidents might do such a thing. Was it really so long ago that we launched cruise-missiles at a Sudanese aspirin factory in order to take the spotlight off a president's fondness for getting fellated in various White House nooks and crannies?

To me, the most troubling aspect of the sigh-now, say-later Beltway culture epitomized in Ridge's book is the additional evidence it presents of the commodification of conscience (see under previous tell-all books by Richard Clarke, George Tenet, Scott McClellan, etc). Media analyst Howard Kurtz calls the Ridge book "smarmy," as if poor taste is its only problem. I think the rot runs much deeper and is more worrisome, for the lesson to current and future politicos is clear: Dissent doesn't pay...at least not till you're out of government, when it pays handsomely. So hold your tongue now and score a huge windfall later. Rather than raise a hand at some sensitive high-level meeting and blurt, "Mr. President, I believe that what you're proposing is terrible policy and I simply can't be a party to it," those with proximity to power wait for the meeting to end, race back to their offices, close the door, unlock a desk drawer, open a journal* and excitedly jot the events of the meeting (including the identities of all parties present and what was said by whom) while doing a rough mental calculation of the incremental worth of this latest "shocking" disclosure in an eventual memoir deal: "OK, I figure that adds another $700K in street-value to some publisher..." Does no one see how potentially dangerous this is?

Well let me be specific, then: It provides an actual disincentive for fair, honest, open governance.

A subordinate reaction here is that Tom Ridge himself should be colored yellow for cowardice. If Ridge had been faithful to his title
you'll recall that he was the inaugural director of Homeland Securityhis first duty to the homeland he'd pledged to secure was to be upfront with the American people. These allegations are not just fodder for the Sunday morning talk shows; they have profound and disturbing implications for the public interest. Ridge should've gone to the Washington Post then, not written it up as part of a seven-figure book deal now. How much terror did Tom Ridge himself create, or at least fail to assuage, by looking the other way at the time? Have we so quickly forgotten the nationwide paranoia post-9/11?

Perhaps what we need is something like a "Son of Uncle Sam" Law: You can't profit from the disclosure of anything that happened while you were working for the government, supposedly upholding the public trust.

* You probably don't want to put it in a computer file, where it can be hacked or inadvertently erased.

12 comments:

Cosmic Connie said...

I think this is one of your most important posts in recent memory, not only for what it says about the mercenary motives of those in sensitive positions, but for what it implies about the publishing industry. Well, it seems that industry is imploding, and the days of huge advances may be numbered.

This article from "New York" is nearly a year old, but has some eye-opening stuff:
http://nymag.com/news/media/50279/

While the end of monster advances may be bad news for many authors, it may have some good results anyway. Or maybe I'm just being overly optimistic.

RevRon's Rants said...

Had I been party to the kind of shenanigans some of these guys describe in their "tell-all" books - even by omission - I'd be ashamed to admit it publicly. Of course, a six-figure advance can salve over a lot of shame, and I suspect that many of these folks are sociopathic enough to bear very little shame in the first place.

At least Colin Powell seems to feel some genuine remorse for being a "good soldier," rather than fulfilling his oaths.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Steve. Too many of us look at things like this at face value and don't bother to think about the implications, which you nicely lay out here. Ridge and the other whistle blowers (if the money's right) should be ashamed of themselves.

Elizabeth said...

It provides an actual disincentive for fair, honest, open governance.

Well put, Steve.

I listened to an interview with Ron Suskind on the subject yesterday (on my way to McDonald's for my ever-favorite ice cream cone -- not that it matters :) and he had to say this, among other depressingly interesting things:

I think the ethos of sports still defines mostly a men-dominated environment in the executive branch and public life. The question is: Are you a team player or not? In fact, if they get on the wrong side of that, they may not be asked to join a team in the future. And I think that abides for very many of these senior officials.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Perhaps what we need is something like a "Son of Uncle Sam" Law: You can't profit from the disclosure of anything that happened while you were working for the government, supposedly upholding the public trust."

No new law is necessary, Steve. Publishing a tell-all wherein one documents complicity with actions that compromise the well-being of the citizens, or are contrary to the dictates of the Constitution and/or law of the land would be an admission that one subverted their oath of office. Seems like a motivated prosecutor could do something with that. Key word, of course, is "motivated."

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, It just occurred to my dementia-addled brain that there's a common thread running through several of your recent posts. Whether the topic be participation in sports, journalism, or governance, once it is viewed as a profit center, any semblance of integrity in the "pure" activity is, for all practical purposes, eliminated. Cronkite becomes Couric, sportsmanship is replaced with a cynical battle plan, and we get the best government *somebody's* money can buy. Pretty sad, IMO. At least the churches are staying above the fray. Oh, wait...

Anonymous said...

This whole "threat level" has been bugging me since day #1: it has the "Lake Woebegone Syndrome" - (where all the children are above average...) in that it has never been lowered to blue or green.

Why does it have to be yellow or orange? We are coming up on eight years - and in over 2,800 days we haven't been able to get by with "guarded" blue? Not even since Obama became president? Does yellow mean anything if it's always yellow? Can't we have a below-average week every once in a while? Like right now. Aren't all the terrorists partying over the release of the Lockerbie terrorist who served less than 12 days per victim? Isn't the threat level rather low right now until the party hangover wears off?

Anonymous said...

http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/08/26/why-tories-should-actually-watch-the-wire/

http://www.liberalconspiracy.org/2009/08/25/we-know-graylings-wire-argument-is-piffle/

Just thought you might enjoy these posts and I would love to have your views.

Londoner

Steve Salerno said...

Londoner: I'm in a seriously busy phase so I don't have much time for extra reading right now. I must say, however, that I scanned the second piece...and maybe it's just me, or my chaotic state of mind (or the codeine I'm relying on lately to dull the constant headaches), but I'm having one hell of a time trying to figure out what Katwala is saying. And I mean that quite literally: I don't understand his (her?) prose. To me, it reads like something that was translated from another language into a fractured version of English. Seriously. Or maybe you have to be following this whole thread for a while in order to "get it." Because I tell you honestly, I don't.

Elizabeth said...

Constant headaches and codeine? Oh-uh. Maybe it's time to see a doctor, Steve. I mean it.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz, your concern is appreciated, but I've been "enjoying" this on-again/off-again phenomenon for about 40 years--or ever since I signed up for college football (back in the era when the head-slap was still legal). If it was going to kill me, it would've done so a long time ago. Or maybe it's an aneurysm that gets close to popping at regular intervals, then changes its mind. Either way, such is life. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Its ok. I hope your head gets better. I am also in love with codeine and use it often to ease life's aches & pains.

As for not understanding the writing - maybe its the American English/British English thing but the second post is a follow on from the first so its understandable if you don't understand.

Londoner