It is fitting that the indictment coming out of Patrick Fitzgerald’s two year investigation is about lies not the outing Valerie Plame Wilson -- a real metaphor for our times. After all, the Iraq invasion, whose rationale her husband had questioned, was initiated on a lie. But before we get too sanctimonious, let’s remember this wasn’t the first time that America has fallen victim to misinformation. More than forty years ago, Lyndon Johnson manipulated Congress into endorsing his escalation of the Viet Nam conflict with the notorious Gulf of Tonkin lie. And there is a real connection between the two. Not that quagmire one that is so often talked about. Viet Nam was a war that came out of intellectual ideology (at the time from Democrats) waged in a conceptual framework of the domino theory. If Viet Nam would fall to the Communists so too would all of Asia (and perhaps ultimately the world). The Wiz kids like McNamara and the Bundy brothers, intellects who were driven by this idea convinced Johnson (and Kennedy before him) of its absolute “truth.” The mirror image is Iraq a war driven this time by Republican neocon intellectuals obsessed with the notion that bringing democracy there will have what amounts a domino effect in reverse for the unwashed masses in the despotic Middle East . Beware of (self proclaimed) super smart people of any kind espousing absolute truths and of absolute truths altogether.
We have not been the same since Viet Nam. The lies of Johnson begot the lies of Nixon which begot the truthful but hapless Carter presidency and so on. Viet Nam didn’t simply demoralize and confuse the military it decimated the spirit of the country and I would argue until this day, the Democratic Party. Viet Nam, albeit with the brief and flawed interruptions brought life to the Republican Party led by its modern high priest Ronald Reagan. It also damaged liberalism (the L word) and strengthened conservatism. Liberals, and make no mistake about it (wiggling notwithstanding) that means Democrats, are distinguished by certain social values and by placing a high premium on tolerance. They see and in fact embrace diversity and multiple truths. But most of all liberals, who are the children of the Depression and World War II, believe in government. Viet Nam severely undermined that belief. Government failed in a very big way and liberals, for the first time since FDR, became unsure of themselves.
Demoralized and confused, vulnerable to criticism, liberals lost their passion something which they have failed to recapture. That, more than anything else, is why Democrats lose so many elections. It is passion and a real belief in self that makes for victory, which has brought Republicans to power more than the “ideas” claimed by neocons. Victory also requires charismatic leadership and no one testifies more to that than Reagan. You can’t pull the lever for a decent but disappointing (lesser of two evils) candidate and expect to win. The Republican reaction to Viet Nam was just the opposite of the Democrats. Government failed which was fine with them. That doesn’t mean they were not behind that war (which they were) but that its aftermath fit right into their ideological disdain for government which they passionately want to make smaller and significantly less pervasive. They look at Viet Nam, beat their breasts about patriotism and how Democrats let down the troops and the country, but mostly they say “we told you so.” They don’t like government but do hunger for the power which permits them, at least theoretically, to dismantle it. Katrina wasn’t simply the result of a dedicated vacationer in the White House (or in this instance out of it) but of a failed agency that had been gutted both of its professional leadership and its resources. Less government also explains in part the muck up in Iraq (whether you are for or against that conflict). Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and company conducted a slimmed down offensive using less troops than were recommended by the professionals, consistent (though they would vigorously deny it) with their smaller government ideology.
Who knows where the Libby thing will go and whether or not Karl Rove will join him. Some of the pundits are already downplaying his impact by suggesting it was a one person corruption just like Abu Ghraib was an isolated rogue incident. That myth, thanks to a silent opposition, flew so why shouldn’t this? In a larger sense, the particular doesn’t much matter because these men are ultimately minor players, one a neocon ideologue and the second a political technocrat, albeit a talented one. I stress the word “ultimately”. Lies caught up with the Johnson administration, with Nixon and, while in a very different class, with Bill Clinton (victims Al Gore and the country) and I have every reason to believe they will again. The challenge for many of us, liberals who have been disillusioned and thus functionally on the sidelines and for the few leaders who still remain in national or state office, is finally get back to our basics. Government is a good thing. It can and should be an instrument to make for a better society. Lesser government with smaller funding for things that make a difference in people’s lives, perhaps most disastrously for education that will ultimately dictate whether or not we can remain competitive, may take this great power under. I knew the Viet Nam war, the Viet Nam war was an enemy of mine, but it’s time to let it go and move on. Fellow liberals, fellow Democrats get over it! It’s been killing us and, if we let it fester one day longer, it may well kill the country. That’s the message we should take from the lies in Washington. It’s a call to arms not to make hay of Mr. Bush’s vulnerability, but to make haste on an agenda of renewal and to finally do so with passion not with compromise.