Washington — Is that Maureen Dowd over there snickering into her hankie about the ineffectual oaf we have in the White House? Ha, ha, ha, Miss Dowd is wrong again. The President’s public diplomacy last week has changed the atmosphere in Washington more rapidly than apparently she knows or than I would have anticipated. Republicans who were wavering about a regime change are now resolute. Even the reluctant, such as Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft, are demonstrating a change of mind. Even hand-wringing Democrats are rethinking their quibbles, as they recall the disrepute they suffered when they opposed Bush I’s entry into the Gulf War.
Bush II’s supposed fecklessness is an idée fixe with la Dowd, and the regularity with which she is wrong about him only emphasizes her obsessiveness. Remember a little while back when she advanced the preposterous notion that criticism of the President’s Iraq policy by former aides of Bush I was evidence of the father’s disapproval of his son’s policy? Apparently she thought that the former president was incapable of calling his son on the telephone. Well, of course, Bush I dismissed her thesis as balderdash in a widely reported news story, and on “Meet the Press” his former Secretary of State Larry Eagleburger did likewise.
Dowd’s thesis will, however, probably remain credible to her readers, notwithstanding its easy refutation. So presumably will her continued claims that Bush II is an ineffectual oaf even as the astuteness and resolve of his leadership grows more obvious. Error becomes fact in newspapers if the source of that error is obsessive enough, and the error masked as fact is agreeable to liberal opinion.
Consider this flawed fact deposited in the New York Times last Saturday. Governor Bill Clinton was among the prescient few Democrats who “endorsed” the Gulf War. Quoth the Times: “Party strategists say it is lost on no one that of the three Democrats who have been on the national ticket since then, Bill Clinton endorsed the war.” He did not. This is one of the many things Clinton was caught lying about during his first presidential campaign. The lie was easily refuted, thus prompting the candidate to tender yet another lie, which was even more convincingly refuted. Now eleven years later Clinton’s lie stands as fact and the refutations are forgotten. Perhaps eleven years from now history will remember that Clinton told the truth before the Grand Jury, and Kenneth Starr was jailed for attempting to assassinate the President.
Here are the facts. At a September 16, 1991 breakfast for journalists in Washington Clinton described himself as a supporter of the war. No one thought to question his claim until an Evans and Novak column the following March cited an Associated Press story published in Arkansas two days after Congress authorized hostilities against Iraq. In it Clinton is quoted as saying, “I would agree with the arguments of the people [Democratic members of Congress] in the minority….” In response to Evans and Novak, Clinton’s campaign dismissed the Associated Press story as “inaccurate” and suggested the press turn to a January 15, 1991 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Evans and Novak did and found Clinton saying that he “agreed” with Arkansas’ two Democratic senators — both of whom voted against the war. Two statements of fact about Clinton elicited two lies by Clinton, and the lies now stand as fact in the New York Times.
The above paragraph is why some of us write, to set the record straight. Of course, we can only set the record straight with those who will read us. I lapidified the above facts about Clinton’s record on the Gulf War and his lies about it in my biography of him, Boy Clinton: The Political Biography. Like stone they stand there for all to see. Apparently my liberal friends will not read the facts and did not read the Evans and Novak column. So they pass on error.
Today they probably share Dowd’s delusion that President Bush is a lightweight. This is the delusion they held about Ronald Reagan and probably still hold. Yet facts are facts. Last week Bush II moved the country closer to “regime change,” as he said. The atmosphere has changed remarkably. Sources I recognize as reliable even talk of action against Iraq before the November elections. Mid-November brings on the wet season in Iraq, which will make our action more difficult. I am not prophesying a pre-election attack, but I would not rule it out. Bush II has been a very effective leader.