November 3, 2005
In Washington, A Reappearance of Adult Virtues
From the accounts of friends, associates and assorted admirers of
Samuel Alito Jr., some of the Supreme Court nominee's personal attributes
stand out. It's universally agreed that he's modest, careful, thoroughly
professional and firmly committed to a clear set of principles.
Which raises the question: How often do you hear those qualities
associated with anyone connected to the Bush administration?
week, someone with similar traits was announcing the indictment
of the vice president's chief of staff for an alleged coverup
that was almost comically inept. Patrick Fitzgerald, often demonized
as a rabid inquisitor trampling the Constitution to make a name
for himself, turned out to be a model of painstaking precision
and restraint, motivated only by the belief that even the powerful
should obey the law.
between the special counsel's conscientious presentation and the
behavior that prompted his investigation was the difference between
Morgan Freeman and Jim Carrey. Alito's record, meanwhile, demonstrates
that conservatism is not incompatible with humility and intellectual
and Fitzgerald are Bush appointees, and excellent ones. The wonder
is that their most admirable character traits didn't disqualify
them from consideration by a White House that, as a general matter,
neither practices nor respects such virtues.
worked for Dick Cheney, who was once taken as proof of Bush's
seriousness. When the inexperienced governor of Texas chose the
levelheaded Washington veteran as his running mate, most experts
though it showed Bush's willingness to rely on competent people
with a sober grasp of the world's realities. Once in office, though,
Cheney helped lead the president into a disastrous war in Iraq.
president, more than anyone else, should have known better. As
defense secretary under George H.W. Bush, he directed the first
Gulf War, which went much better than the second one.
asked why the United States was content to evict Iraq from Kuwait
while leaving Saddam Hussein in power, Cheney replied: "Once
we had rounded him up and gotten rid of his government, then the
question is what do you put in its place. You know, you then have
accepted the responsibility for governing Iraq." He asked,
"How many additional American casualties is Saddam worth?
And the answer is not very damn many."
the Cheney the nation thought it was getting five years ago. But
we might all identify with Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush's national
security adviser, who said recently, "Dick Cheney I don't
know anymore." It's the new Cheney who apparently thought
it was a fine idea to unmask a CIA operative for political reasons,
heedless of the damage to national security.
one of many administration officials who have distinguished themselves
by hubris, recklessness or simple incompetence. There was John
Ashcroft, who said critics concerned about civil liberties "only
aid terrorists." There was Donald Rumsfeld, who scoffed at
warnings that a larger force might be needed to occupy Iraq.
Michael Brown, whose inexperience in disaster relief didn't keep
him from becoming head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
There was Karen Hughes, who doesn't speak Arabic and has no background
in Middle Eastern affairs, yet was put in charge of improving
America's image in the Arab world. There was Harriet Miers.
wise heads were found in administration councils -- such as economic
adviser Lawrence Lindsey, who predicted the Iraq war could cost
$200 billion, and Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki, who said
several hundred thousand troops might be needed to reconstruct
the country. Lindsey was soon fired, while Shinseki was publicly
problem starts at the top. Bush, who criticized President Clinton
for overextending the military and intervening too much abroad,
did an about-face on foreign policy after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
After deriding Al Gore as a spendthrift who trusted government
more than he trusted the people, Bush embarked on a massive expansion
of the federal budget. The Bush who in 2000 said the United States
should be a "humble nation" affected a pugnacious swagger
that alienated even our allies.
Careful? Intellectually honest? Not this president or his subordinates.
and law are separate spheres, which attract different sorts of
people and reward different personal traits. But the qualities
on display in Alito and Fitzgerald happen to be admirable and
valuable in any field. To see how well their virtues have served
the country is to wonder how much more successful this administration
might have been with grownups in charge.
2005 Creators Syndicate