We here at Combat! blog are big fans of Paul Begala, in large part because he once made Meghan McCain feel sad on TV. Like a lot of political strategists, Begala has an incisive mind. Unlike a lot of political strategists—especially certain childlike, doughy political strategists we could name—some portion of that mind seems devoted to discernment of the truth, as opposed to truth’s active obfuscation. I’m sure he’s only tricked me into believing this, but Paul Begala seems to be the anti-Karl Rove. When he responded to Me-Mac’s bitchy assertion that she wouldn’t know about the Carter-Reagan transition because she hadn’t been born yet by saying, “I wasn’t born during the French Revolution, but I know about it,” I felt like I was watching a man who succeeded in politics by attacking the flaws in arguments, not by exploiting them. He’s the debate team to Rove’s student council, and that makes him a great choice to review Karl Rove’s new memoir. Spoiler alert: he did not like it. Under the headline, “Karl Rove’s Book of Lies,” Begala describes the former Bush advisor’s memoir as “a brief and compelling personal narrative, followed by 500 pages of dishonesty and deception.” But on the plus side, it contains a great recipe for bean dip.
The recipe specifies several ingredients that, once you actually make it, turn out not to be in the dip. Also, it takes seven years to eat. Begala’s main criticism of the the Rove memoir—whose title, Courage and Consequence, he strangely mentions nowhere in the review—is that it behaves as if the myriad proofs of Bush administration malfeasance in selling the Iraq war never emerged. “Rove should sue Burger King,” Begala writes. “His book, not their fast-food chain, is the true home of the Whopper.” That’s the difference between Paul Begala and Combat! blog, right there: he’s got a perfectly good fat joke going, and he lets it slip through his fingers. Begala splits a fine hair when he alleges that everyone knew Saddam Hussein had WMD, but that Bush and his cronies deliberately led the world to believe he was seeking nuclear weapons. Still, he reminds us of an impressive number of documented lies, many of them masterminded by Rove, and bolsters them with a list of factual inaccuracies in Rove’s book itself. To read these excerpts is to be reminded of the awesome power afforded to a person who is wiling to simply repeat the same lies again and again—especially in the realm of history, where demonstrable facts are quickly replaced by their recollection.
If you’d like proof of that unsubstantiated statement, I encourage you to read Ross Douthat’s column in today’s Times. Douthat begins with the specious assertion that Americans have no problem believing in evil, but somehow resist accepting the well-intentioned villains of tragedy. “The idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around,” he writes, and the decent, well-intentioned human beings to which he is referring are the architects of the Iraq war.
Using the movie “Green Zone” as his departure point, Douthat paints the rush to invade Iraq as a tragedy of misplaced emotions and woeful public ignorance. He rightly points out the country was longing for bold action after the September 11th attacks, and acknowledges the difficulties faced by an inexperienced George W. Bush. In his attempt to cast the invasion of Iraq as a tragedy of human fallibility, however, he completely ignores the fact that the Bush administration’s stated reason for war—there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear bomb—turned out to be completely untrue. He manages to say that the dream of a democratic Middle East inspired “a swath of liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the cause for war,” yet does not once mention how that cause was sold. Douthat’s tragedy of well-intentioned human beings does not include the cherry-picking of questionable intelligence, the outing of Valerie Plame, the “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” and “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” There was no smoking gun. There was no nuclear program, nor even any mustard gas. There was only a broken Treasury, seven years of objectiveless war, and four thousand dead Virginia farm boys. To call this the tragic outcome of good intentions, as Douthat does, is to ignore that one of those intentions was to trick the American people into supporting a war whose architects believed we would not support on its own merits. There’s a term for Douthat’s reasoning, and it’s intellectual dishonesty.
So what do you do with dishonesty? What do you do with a Karl Rove, who has been publicly outed as a liar again and again yet calls his memoir “Courage and Conviction?” You can’t shut him up; that’s not how we do things in America, where a free press guarantees both that government cannot manufacture its own truth and that certain shameless assholes can repeat the same lies again and again. Perhaps the key to beating men like Rove lies in the repetition. Postmodern theory notwithstanding, the truth abides whether we talk about it or not. A lie, on the other hand, has to be reiterated to maintain its existence. When Karl Rove says that the President claimed that “Obamacare would not add to the deficit…evidence shows just the opposite,” MediaMatters can link to the Congressional Budget Office assessment and prove him wrong. In fact, Karl, evidence shows just the opposite of what you said. The evidence remains, calmly and independently refuting Rove’s lie, whereas if Rove wants to make his lie live again he has to go to the trouble of repeating it. The truth does not get tired. It is a real thing in the world, that exists despite the energetic lies of people like Karl Rove, and we need only see its face once to be converted. There’s that, at least.