Friday, May 21, 2004


At Altercation:

In the course of working on the John Kerry profile for Esquire, I spent a lot of time wading through the various tributaries of the Iran-Contra era. The more I read, the more I realized what a pivotal moment-- and missed opportunity -- that was for anyone who believes in accountable democratic government, which some of you geezers in the audience may recall as having once been an important thing. It's not just that so many of that period's Undead walk again among us, instead of being in pre-release programs at Leavenworth where they belong. It's that Iran-Contra serves now as the template for Getting Away With Stuff that the Avignon Presidency has used ever since Uncle Nino picked the locks to the executive mansion.

Do it in secret. Avoid accountability, all accountability. Leave it to low level incompetents to make the blunders and commit the crimes. Depend always on crooked locals --Manuchar Ghorbanifar, shake hands with Ahmad Chalabi (Count your fingers afterwards, though.)-- to sell you a bag of magic beans. (Given what we now know, I'm shocked that Oliver North isn't walking around D.C. wearing a barrel.) Then, when the con breaks down, you can plead being a rube as a defense against being called a crook. Rely on a compliant press, and on the efforts of Blue-Ribbon Important People to keep the investigations from running out of control. And, most of all, make sure you sell very hard the story that the whole mess is just...too...complex for ordinary folks to understand.

Oh, and just for the purposes of set decoration, make sure Colin Powell is standing nearby, probably with pigeons landing on his head.

The greatest price we paid for not throwing the lot of them into the federal sneezer (and in not running a bill of particulars against Uncle Ronnie, for that matter) is that we publicly consented to -- and thereby empowered -- unaccountable secret government, which is pretty bad on its best days, but unfathomably worse when it's run by a collection of manifest incompetents. Plus ca change, plus ca bagmen, I guess.