Does George Bush prefer Halliburton to victory?

Kevin Drum catches Jay Nordlinger at NRO with his rhetorical pants down: Nordlinger says that one of Clark’s comments ought to disqualify him from consideration for the Presidency, and Kevin finds a precisely parallel quote from George W. Bush.

That brought a grin to my face, but only for a moment. After all, speaking no more dishonestly than George W. Bush isn’t a very high standard to which to hold your own candidate.

Nordlinger is right to criticize Clark, as Kevin, I, and others were right to criticize Bush, for rhetorical overkill: eliding from “X acted in a way politically beneficial to himself and, in my view, damaging to the national security” to “X betrayed national security for political advantage.”

The first is a claim about facts, the second about motives. The claim about motives is, I think, very rarely true at a subjective level.

Now there is a distinction between Clark’s remarks and Bush’s. Clark was right to say that the evident decision to let Halliburton and others make out like bandits on war contracts placed politics ahead of national security, while Bush had no basis whatever for the parallel charge aimed at Senate Democrats who didn’t want to let him turn the Department of Homeland Security into a patronage dump for Karl Rove.

But right or wrong on the facts, suggesting that one’s opponents lack patriotism is almost always a bad thing to do, and I’m sorry that Clark did it. I think that the slogan invented by one of Clark’s supporters — “Wesley Clark: All patriot, no act” — is fairly accurate, and it’s natural for soldiers to hate war profiteers. But I hope Clark doesn’t say it again. I might even dare to hope — because I think Clark to be a person of integrity — that he will restate factual charge while retracting the slur on Bush’s devotion to the country.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com