In what has become a tradition over the last few years, the Bush Admin normally saves its most unpopular statements for release after 3pm on Friday when no one is paying any attention. Karl Rove has proved, without question, that democracy doesn’t operate between 3pm Friday and 7am Monday because US citizens stop caring about it between 3pm Friday and 7am Monday. Friday afternoon press releases are reserved for announcing the BA’s most fascist, least popular, and most undemocratic initiatives, policies, and statements of intent because they will be completely ignored by citizens vacationing from their citizenship, and by Monday everyone has moved on to something else.
eRobin has pointed out that Rove isn’t the genius a lot of people claim he is, and she’s right. He’s not. What he is is a crafty political animal with low cunning, a bagful of sleezy tricks he isn’t afraid to use, and no illusions about Americans’ real attitudes toward their patriotism and responsibilities of citizenship. He knows that we like our patriotism to come without the pain of too much thought and our citizenship duties restricted to watching network tv news, preferably with the sound off. We don’t want to spend more than an hour a day on it; we want it pre-digested and fed to us with a spoon; and above all, in a complex world where nothing is what it appears to be, allies on one issue are enemies on others, and all the truth is in the nuances, we don’t want to hear, read, or be forced to learn anything that can’t be summarized in a 5-sec soundbite because we can’t handle nuance. We’re afraid of gray areas; we tremble before anything that has more than one level of meaning and believe that if something isn’t simple to understand it’s probably a trick; we prefer to deny uncomfortable realities rather than face up to difficult solutions, and the illusions of a ‘morning in America’ to the warnings of dark clouds on the horizon; we’d rather trust our leaders than keep an eye on them because the first we can do from our barcalounger and the second might require movement unrelated to a gym or a snowboard. We prefer war to peace if peace would be confusing. And we prefer being to afraid to facing our fears–we want somebody else to do that for us.
Nothing about this is particularly much less exclusively American. It’s human, it’s the way we operate and have for centuries. We are neither uniquely ignorant nor ingenious in our willful blindness. We are simply better able to allow ourselves to indulge in both as a result of our riches: we don’t have to deal with reality if we don’t want to; we can turn on the tv and watch other humans we can look down on swallow cockroaches and cheat on their lovers. We don’t have to work 7 days a week because four guys got hanged in Haymarket Square to win the 40-hr work week for us. We have a Consitution to protect our domestic liberty and oceans on both sides to protect us from foreign invasion. We’ve been extraordinarily lucky in both our geography and our progenitors because they did all the work for us and we can have our weekends off.
Which explains Fab Friday. Rove’s view of us is the view I’ve just expressed. It’s who he thinks–knows–we are, or would prefer to be. He panders to it, strokes it, encourages it every chance he gets, and one of his favorite tricks is to drop his bombshells just as we have dropped our attention as citizens to focus on the only two days we have in which we get to act like ordinary humans.
Which is why I find it so disturbing that he would save the announcement of the BA’s disagreement with the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission for a Friday afternoon.
WASHINGTON — The Bush administration warned Friday that the two central reforms proposed by the Sept. 11 commission — creating a powerful intelligence chief and establishing a new counterterrorism center — may remove barriers protecting intelligence from political influence and undermine civil liberties.The president and his senior advisors are drafting initial orders on some of the commission’s recommendations that could be issued as soon as next week. But action on the centerpiece reforms deserves more consideration, a senior White House official said.
“We need to, in considering each of these recommendations, place a premium and real attention on how to protect civil liberties while better safeguarding our homeland,” the official said.
Similar concerns were expressed by senators Friday during the first congressional hearing on the Sept. 11 commission’s recommendations. The question of how to protect the independence of the intelligence community has become perhaps the most difficult dilemma for policymakers who are otherwise eager to embrace reform.
Many questions arise from the waves like a school of dolphins: Why would an Administration that for three years has been assiduous about gathering every possible power it can to itself suddenly refuse one? Why would an administration previously contemptuous of anyone else’s privacy while obsessing over its own suddenly be concerned about protecting ours at its own expense? And if it’s an election-year ploy, why announce it on Fab Friday when they know it will be ignored?
Part of my discomfort no doubt comes from the painful discovery that I actually agree with them. My experience over the past 3 1/2 years of the BA has been that when I approve some decision they’ve made, either I’m wrong or they’re lying. Usually it turns out they had a plan to twist that seemingly intelligent and citizen-friendly decision into a pretzel that makes it its own opposite, and I’m wary of that but I don’t see how it applies here. The 9/11CR plops power right into their waiting laps, and even Kerry is stumping hard for it. Why would they reject it? It codifies and encapsulates in law–potentially–exactly what they’ve been roundly criticized for doing: politicizing intelligence. Why turn away from the very development that would legitimize what has been illegitimate up to now? The possibility that they’re genuinely concerned about citizen rights is laughable given the PATRIOT Act and all their other blithe intrusions on civil liberties, so I dismiss that out of hand. What other reasons could there be? A few come to mind.
1) Rove wants to take the opportunity for Junior to act ‘presidential’ by appearing to ‘think it over’ and ‘have doubts’–BA spinmeisters are already out there making a big deal about how Bush is ‘reading the whole report all the way through; he will finish it’ (NPR), apparently unaware that their breathless surprise at his uncharacteristic behaviour is showing–over something there is no real danger will not be passed with or without him.
2) He wants to set Junior’s reluctance smack up against Kerry’s unvarnished enthusiasm, making Kerry look like a callow opportunist and Junior like a seasoned statesman by comparison, cautious and thoughtful–traits noticeably lacking in Shrub’s palette over the past 3 years.
3) He wants the Pubs to be able to disclaim responsibility down the line when the re-organization blows up in everybody’s face.
4) He thinks Junior might lose the election and doesn’t want that kind of power put into Democratic hands.
But the first two are positive for him and don’t explain why he would do it on Fab Friday, and the second two are exercises in projecting farther into the future than the next election–a skill conspicuous by its absence from Karl’s portfolio.
In fact everything about this announcement is uncharacteristic of Rove, Bush, and the whole BA. It doesn’t fit with anything else they’ve done since the day they took office. So what the hell is going on?