Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Aesthetic (?) crimes

You expect a certain amount of lying from everyone in politics, but even without ethical constraints there ought to be aesthetic ones on insulting one's readers' intelligence. Bushites are pretty lax about this principal, however. (Relativism at work??)
In the Bolton confirmation battle, several other bloggers, such as Matt Yglesias, have rightly flogged William Kristol for his ludicrous assertion that Bolton is being challenged on the ground that he "disagreed with--he even disliked!--a couple of bureaucrats." To the contrary, Yglesias notes: "The relevant point here isn't that Bolton was brusque with some lower-tier officials. It's that the behavior -- however you want to characterize it -- was aimed distorting the intelligence assessments received by the American people and by the President of the United States."
Apparently, the centralized directive that must go out from Rove headquarters or some such place (otherwise, how could all pro-Bush commentators repeatedly turn on cue like a flock of birds) is saying to take this line. As I am an American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar (believe it or not - but the fact is that AEI activities include serious analysis, not just flackery), I was tipped off to David Frum's publicly available AEI piece, entitled "The War Against Bolton." Here we learn that Colin Powell's publicly acknowledged intervention against Bolton means that Powell is "playing for the very grandest of stakes," and that "his true antagonist is the President himself." If Bolton goes down, supposedly, "nominees to foreign-policy positions will be on notice that Powell's endorsement or veto could make or break their careers," ostensibly aiding Powell financially as well as reputationally.
An aside - if you don't deliberately distort intelligence assessments and lie to direct superiors, you probably have less need than Frum suggests to "stop by Powell's office for a session of forelock-tugging before [your] Senate hearings." But that is a mere detail.
Sliming of Powell was only to be expected once he acted against Bolton. And, hey, we can't all be as ethical as Tom DeLay (I mean, exactly as ethical, neither more nor less). Frum does at least get originality points for inaugurating this angle of attack, unless others in the flock of birds have already been doing so as well.
But the laugh line for me is Frum's throwaway insistence at the end (presumably to prop up his character assassination) that "the arguments against the Bolton nomination are so flimsy and absurd that they don't even ask to be believed." After all, Frum continues, Bolton is not among the 500 worst bosses in Washington, and is charged at most with "alleged lapses in etiquette."
I guess one should expect Bush and Bolton supporters to regard distorting intelligence assessments and trying to destroy the independence and integrity of the analytical process as an etiquette violation at worst. But what about Frum's breach of etiquette in so insulting his readers' intelligence?

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