Rove, McClellan, and the truth

John Podhoretz is a pretty sharp political analyst and a moral idiot.

Podhoretz is surely right to say that today’s Washington Post story about Rove and McClellan was promoted by McClellan and his friends. Podhoretz is also right to say that, in promoting that story, McClellan & Co. did the President no favor. As an avowed opponent of the Bushocracy, I’m delighted to see its internal squabbles hitting the newspapers. If I were Mr. Bush, I’d have some fairly sharp words for my spokesman, tempered only by the fact that he might now know where too many of the bodies are buried to be safely fired.

But Podhoretz goes on to say that, if an at-best-moderately-competent McClellan can’t get along with a political genius like Rove, it’s obviously McClellan who ought to go. That’s the assertion that strikes me as morally idiotic.

McClellan is angry at Rove because Rove flat-out lied to McClellan and sent him out to retail that lie, with his personal credibility behind it, to the White House press corps and, through them, the American people. Rove had no obligation to tell McClellan the truth about what he must have suspected might be felonious activity, but he could have said, “Scott, I don’t know about you, but I’ve got more important things to talk about than who did or didn’t leak the name of someone whose employment might or might not have been classified.” Rove chose, instead, to lie, and to do McClellan enormous professional damage in the process.

So to discuss the quarrel between Rove and McClellan as if it were merely a personal spat, to be resolved by dumping whichever of the disputants is less valuable to the organization, is to leave out entirely the difference between right and wrong.

Footnote The sources for the story suggested to the reporters that Rove deceived the President as well as to the press spokesman. If so, it’s clear that Mr. Bush doesn’t mind being lied to. But then Mr. Bush, in addition to the difficulty he has in distinguishing between right and wrong, clearly has a truly post-modern indifference to the distinction between true and false.

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: