October 9, 2007

The Chastening

By Mary Lyon

They're all smiles in the photograph. Like so many spoiled, half-drunken frat party attendees, they sit there looking as though they're in the midst of sharing a really good joke, or at the very least, a nice, balmy day picnicking in the park. From left to right, Tony Snow, Dana Perino, Dan Bartlett, Karl Rove, and Nicolle Wallace - pretty maids (and butlers) all in a row. And you wonder, in good conscience, how they can look so jovial.

I've been kicking around ideas for days - what to write about, regarding the utter mess our country is in - ironically enough, at the hands of many of these same people and the boss most of them used to work for (the unfortunate, pathetic cheerleader Perino excepted). The many cave-ins of the Democrats also come to mind as subject matter. And I'm so frustrated and nearly overwhelmed by the disgrace of it all that it frequently leaves me emotionally and mentally constipated. There's just too much that's too wrong.

And then I looked into the faces in the photo that accompanied a Washington Post front-page story called "An Exit Toward Soul-Searching" and - boom! Political Ex-Lax!

The story focuses on various former Bush Administration staffers and their rear-view impressions of the depths of the Hell from which they recently just barely crawled. God love 'em, they're all quite busy "questioning their 'legacy'" these days! They could be Cirque du Soleil performers for all the extreme gymnastics they're doing in their own minds, as far as justifications and rationalizations for the wreckage they've wrought and/or enabled. Then again, it's a lot easier to dance around your big pile of hot coals than it is to step into the very midst of them and remain standing there in the heat to claim the resultant burning that you helped to ignite.

We start with a presumably benign young woman named Meghan O'Sullivan. Sounds like she runs the local Girl Scout cookie drive, but she's described as the once "top Iraq advisor while the war sank into an abyss." Man, does SHE leave a proud legacy behind! She's one of many, in the article, said to be "exhausted, sometimes discouraged, and wrestling" with the public record they hand off to history. This particular lass finds herself still tossing and turning under the weight of literal nightmares - every night - of an endless "war movie, filled with violence and menace." "All-consuming," she reflects from the safety and detachment of her departure from the White House. Ya THINK??? I'd have nightmares every night, too, if I had as much blood on my hands as you have on yours, Meghan. That is, of course, assuming I could even get any sleep at all.

It's most instructional to consider what O'Sullivan and others like her are saying in hindsight. Their attempts to defend and explain themselves would be funny if they weren't so real - and so really tragic.

Consider one former presidential counselor Dan Bartlett, described as relieved that he's "shed the burden of worrying that any day could bring another terrorist attack." How nice for him, now that he's gotten himself safely outta Dodge. The policies (and politics of sheer fear) that he helped to sell to and push on the American people have most of us scared out of our socks about unseen and unanticipated terrorist boogeymen hiding under every pebble, ready to jump out and get us. So he can now leave all that behind? Yes indeed. Easy for him to say, now. Thanks for NOTHING, Danny dear.

How about this fellow Peter H. Wehner, elsewhere in the article? He regrets the friendships left to rot on a steaming sun-baked dump site as casualties of war - the war in Iraq that he so ardently promoted that his friends wisely understood was a ticket straight to damnation. They don't like you anymore, Peter? You're not on speaking terms with them any longer? Do you have ANY clue as to why? Do you have any understanding about this - AT ALL? Do you realize what you did and what you helped cause, and how horribly wrong it was - and why those who dissented only to be bullied, shouted down, condemned, or ignored won't take your phone calls anymore?

And then, there's our pal Karl Rove. Glad he can take advantage of that old fall-back excuse about "spending more time with his family." His wife struggled with cancer twice. At least he still has a family relatively intact. Nice he can finally work her in, now that he's scaled back his ongoing scorched-earth campaign of character assassination, lies, and politicizing everything. He also says, hilariously enough, that he wants to "reinvent himself as more than simply 'the Bush guy.'" Good luck, pal. You're not going to make a quick, clean getaway from any of this. You're branded. Permanently. In the eyes of all the world. Branded with a latter-day Mark of Cain. You're doomed to carry that black mark on your soul FOREVER. NOTHING you EVER do again will supercede this nonstop criminality of which you will always be labeled "the architect." That's ALL YOURS, my friend, and will be til the end of time.

These lunatics who've broken out of the asylum have taken away with them mixed feelings at best. The article delicately refers to "a profound sense of ambivalence" about the job they did, the "accomplishments" they achieved, and how history will judge them. As the article says - "One former senior official said nearly everyone who has left the administration is angry in some way or another -- at the president for making bad decisions, at his staff for misguiding him, at events that have spiraled out of control." Once again - Ya THINK???

These are people who are and will always remain crippled by their so-called "legacy." They're thus left hobbling around on feet whose toes are crossed, groping with hands in which all fingers are crossed, hoping against hope that somehow, some day, history's verdict will be merciful. "We MEANT well!" they'll cry. "Judge us on our 'good intentions' - not our results!" Things didn't turn out the way they planned (assuming they did any legitimate, objective planning at all). They'll have to live with that. And several of them cited in the article say that's precisely what they now do. "You move on." "You live with it."

In the case of one of them, former White House director of strategic initiatives Wehner, it's "something you struggle with." And, oh yes! There's that new fave-rave spin-phrase - "mistakes were made." How nice and easy and passive that wording is! It's the key incomplete sentence of the decade, leaving off the most important and essential part: by WHOM? The best these pathetic individuals can ever say is that "mistakes were made" - but it's never their mistakes. Those oft-referenced "mistakes" still just hang in the air, alone, orphaned, unclaimed, existing but not ever attached to anyone in particular. When these people once gushed about an "ownership society," they never meant owning any personal responsibility or accountability for any blunder or deception carrying their fingerprints. No muss, no fuss. No runs, drips, OR errors here!

Sadly, in the case of the war in Iraq , this fellow and his former coworkers CAN at least live with or struggle with these mistakes made by They Who Must Not Be Named. There are almost four thousand Americans who will never be able to say that again. What a shame so many of these former White House minions lost friends. At least those friends still walk the earth, rather than being buried within it. What a pity these people wrestle with fitful sleep. They've left many more behind who will sleep for all eternity, and many legions more who won't sleep because they're beset with sorrow and anguish, and/or fear and trepidation, whether it's about terror, crime, homelessness, bankruptcy, illness (because they can't afford insurance), or legions of other grave, real-life concerns.

Hard to say what was most ridiculous in this article about these shameless Bushco refugees, but one particular element that amused me was the variety of assertions that "you can't second-guess every decision you made," and "one of the reasons I don't think I'm depressed is that I'm always looking forward." Nobody wants to dwell on the past. Nobody wants to revisit much, if any, sins her or she committed. The best Dan Bartlett can offer is a brief mention of a single banner stretched atop an aircraft carrier. I guess if I'd done what they did to our country, our system of justice, our Constitution, our military, our treasury, and our standing in the world, and if I had to answer St. Peter at the Pearly Gates for any of that someday, I'd want to ignore or avoid it, too. It wouldn't be the first time they'd covered something up or pawned off the blame in every direction.

The most discouraging part of all, however, is that this is the closest we'll ever get to receiving any hint of a mea culpa from any of them. This is the best we can hope for as far as an attempt at contrition, an embrace of humility, a full chastening. These people got awfully comfy with the idea of outsourcing. So, here, too, they earnestly foist off the personal acceptance of incompetence and failure to some other time and passive verb tense to be named later. "Mistakes were made" by some unidentified non-entity. You'll never hear from these White House escapees the kind of brutally honest confession and sincere, heartfelt appeal for public forgiveness like the one we've now heard, for example, from disgraced athlete Marion Jones. Nor will we see them attempt to make serious reparations as she's now done. She'll ultimately find redemption. They will not.


Mary Lyon is a veteran broadcaster and five-time Golden Mike Award winner who has anchored, reported, and written for the Associated Press Radio Network, NBC Radio "The Source," and many Los Angeles-area stations including KRTH-FM/AM, KLOS-FM, KFWB-AM, and KTLA-TV, and occasional media analyst for ABC Radio News.  Mary began her career as a liberal activist with the Student Coalition for Humphrey / Muskie in 1968 and helped spearhead a regional campaign, The Power 18, to win the right to vote for 18-year-olds. She remains an advocate for liberal causes, responsibility and accountability in media, environmental education and support of the arts for children, and green living. Mary writes for,, World News Trust, and's We! Magazine. Mary is also a parenting expert, having written and illustrated the book "The Frazzled Working Woman's Practical Guide to Motherhood."

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