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03/29/2004 Archived Entry: "Unspinning the Spinner"

First, the quote of the day: "When you're in the White House, you spin. I have no obligation any more to spin," says Richard Clarke, former White House counter-terrorism aide.

We expect executive spin. Sometimes it's kinda funny, like Clinton's, "It depends on what you mean by sexual relations..." Others are exquisitely tragic such was "I am not a crook" uttered by Nixon in 1973. I was told once by a former Canadian diplomat that in the context of politics, business, warfare and diplomacy there are no lies, only positions. Some outright fibbing is expected and I'm certain that every president since Washington has done it. Yes, even Honest Abe.

However, even the Office of Privilege must obey certain rules and the greatest among them is that you don't bungle spin and you aren’t caught in a lie. Bush has done both.

Let's get one thing straight, I never liked Dubiya and I never liked his dad, good ol' George "I'm Not In The Loop" Senior. But, before you go out and load up your flame-mail with ultra-conservative catechisms, I'm not a dead-in-the-head anti-Republican. In retrospect, I think that Reagan was a pretty good President (and a master spinner) and I've always liked Ike. What I find irksome is Bush's general clumsiness, which even conservative pundits like CNN's Robert Novak are finding it increasingly difficult to defend. I'd rather see Monica's dress paraded out on nightly news than listen to Bush's fables aired out by former aides.

While the White House wages an "unprecedented" spin battle to shake off Clarke, the latest salvo has backfired badly. Attempting character assassination and winding on about inconsistencies in Clarke's book and his latest testimonies, Republicans (obviously at the behest of the embattled President) are now threatening to declassify "certain parts" of Clarke's congressional testimony while he was still on the Bush payroll. Seizing on this massive error like a fast witted chessmaster, the competing side gleefully slapped down a call to release the entire Clarke library to ensure that his remarks are weighed in their proper context.

Until now, Bush’s spin machine has been pretty lucky. Former Treasury Secretary, Paul O'Neill, was easy prey for the spin-misters. They easily rolled over David Kay's parting remarks being most of them were far too technical for most Americans to comprehend. Of course, the whole issue of not finding WMDs in Iraq was counter-spun as a victory, being that we put an end to a regional tragedy and captured or killed its chief protagonists. But Clarke refuses to go quietly into the night. In fact, his unblinking and pernicious retorts threaten to unspin the entire Bush dynasty.

Meanwhile, the demand for Dr. Condoleezza Rice to publicly appear before the 9/11 Commission has grown uncomfortably shrill and American feelings about Bush’s handling of national security is shifting - however so slightly. The rapid succession of errors has some Republicans, even staunch backers of their president, spinning to save their own butts, just in case.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel - in my estimation - was embarrassingly honest during his recent appearance on CNN’s Inside Politics (March 15, 2004). Some of the remarks must have hit Karl Rove's bean like a thunderbolt.

Here's Hagel reacting to a question about Spain's radical shift in politics as a consequence of Bush's failure to get UN agreement for the Invasion of Iraq: "But what I'm saying is this... actions have consequences. When you do not put a lot of time into thinking through your actions, then there will be consequences." And this reaction to the short-lived row over Tony Raimando (another spin that unwound), "The White House was inept, incompetent. I was stunned by what happened. Not one Republican senator knew about this. I'm the senior Republican senator of Nebraska, co-chairman of the president's campaign. I didn't know about it until I saw the AP story that John Kerry had just put out defining Tony Raimando. This was gross incompetence on the White House's part."

Unlike O’Neill, Hagel is no overreaching bureaucrat; unlike Kay, his remarks are clear and unfettered by complicated descriptions; and unlike the nearly invisible Raimando fiasco, Clarke's question of Bush’s fitness as Commander in Chief is starting to resonate with the electorate - again, ever so slightly.

If you ask me, and of course you have, I'd say that unless things simmer down a bit for Mr. Bush (and of course it won't) it'll get pretty difficult for him to keep spinning up positive messages especially with tepid pals like Senator Hagel and staunch critics like Clarke hanging in the wings. Then again, truth has a funny way of doing that from time to time - no matter how well you spin. -HP

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