Paul Begala Bio
The False Moral Superiority of the Bush White House
As a former Clinton aide, the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby and the announcement that Karl Rove remains in the prosecutorial hot-seat gives me no schadenfreude. First because many of my fellow Texans in the Bush White House are friends of mine; others are acquaintances I've known for years. I feel their pain.
The plain fact is that after a seven year non-stop investigato-rama, no senior Clinton White House official was ever even charged with wrongdoing. Much less indicted. Much less convicted. In fact, the highest-ranking Clinton official to be convicted of wrongdoing in connection with his public duties was the chief of staff to the Agriculture Secretary. Betcha five bucks you can't even name the Clinton Agriculture Secretary in question, much less his chief of staff. Unlike Nixon (whose Watergate crimes were manifest), unlike Reagan (whose White House was corrupted by the Iran-Contra crimes), unlike Bush 41 (who pardoned White House aides and Cabinet officers before they could testify against him), Bill Clinton presided over the most ethical White House staff in decades.
And yet George W. Bush campaigned on a pledge to "restore honor and decency to the Oval Office." He spoke of moms and dads on the campaign trail who showed him photos of their children and asked him to give them a president their kids could be proud of.
We all knew what he meant. With a wink and a nod he told us he wouldn't cheat on Laura. And after he took office Mr. Bush and his henchmen smeared the Clintonistas, falsely accusing them of vandalism and theft. They told the press that in this Oval Office the gentlemen would wear suits, the ladies, skirts. And no more paper coffee cups. Nothing but the finest bone china. The Bushies even claimed moral superiority because of their punctuality. Everything was designed and marketed to stress the virtue of the Bushies and the vice of the Clintonians. And it worked. In the first year of George W. Bush's presidency, one major media figure told my wife and me to our faces that the difference between the Clinton crowd and the Bush team was that, "They're just better people than you are. They're more loyal to their President, more patriotic, less self-interested and ambitious. They're just better people."
Now we learn that these Better People have turned the White House into a criminal enterprise. And that the purpose of that enterprise was to mislead the country into going to war. 2,000 Americans killed. 15,000 horribly wounded. $200 billion gone. And a Muslim world -- and a non-Muslim world, for that matter -- that hates our guts. Al Qaeda is recruiting terrorists faster than we can kill them. And there is no end in sight.
But thank God there were no blow jobs. They really are Better People.
That is why this prosecution is important. No one is criminalizing policy differences. Rather, the Bush White House stands accused of hijacking the public policy process in service of a criminal conspiracy to smear, lie and obstruct justice.
The Fitzgerald probe, it should be noted, is the first independent investigation into alleged wrongdoing in the Bush White House. And it has hit paydirt. Contrast that with the dry holes of Whitewater, Filegate, the billing records, Vince Foster's suicide, the cattle futures, the Buddhist temple, and all the rest. Good Lord, Congress even spent two years investigating Clinton's Christmas card list. Just to list the trumped-up Clinton "scandals" is to recall how trivial -- and yet how destructive -- they were. Innocent people were impoverished, reputations were damaged, careers derailed. But at least history can give the Clinton team a clean bill of ethical health. No White House was more thoroughly investigated -- and more thoroughly exonerated. But it's telling that the first time anyone had the courage to scratch the surface of Bush, Inc., he found corruption.
It is not boilerplate to state that those accused are entitled to the presumption of innocence. But that is a legal matter. As a matter of morality, the Bushies are already guilty. Guilty of smearing the Wilson family. Guilty of twisting intelligence. Guilty of lying about the role of White House aides in outing Mrs. Wilson. Guilty of sanctimony and hypocrisy and hubris. Most of all, they are guilty of misleading us into this God-awful war.
So, yes, I feel sorry for those indicted and those under investigation, and especially for their families. They are going through hell. But it's nothing compared to the pain of 2,000 families who've lost a loved one in Iraq, or 15,000 families whose loved one has shed blood or lost limbs in the war Mr. Bush and his "better people" have started.