Vail Daily column: Can we believe any president?
May 18, 2013
What did Obama know about Benghazi when he suggested a protest over a video was to blame? What did W. Bush know when he said we'd invade Iraq to recover weapons of mass destruction?
We know what Nixon knew about Watergate, and that Clinton indeed knew about "that woman."
We can be sure that Reagan really couldn't recall much about Iran-Contra, as Alzheimer's allegedly was settling in before he left office.
H.W. Bush clearly forgot his "read my lips" pledge, and Carter apparently didn't know anything at all.
We know that much.
Depending on our partisan bent, we also know about outrage at the egregious acts of the other guy's president, and about defending our party's commander in chief from the unscrupulous assaults on his character.
We exaggerate, we deflect. We associate way too much to things we don't know enough about to our belief in the rightness of our ideology, extended to our party, imagining our side as the good one against those dirty rotten devils.
And, as Kurt Vonnegut liked to say with a shrug: So it goes.
How can you not be deeply cynical about a people who claim they want statesmen but only pay attention to the most pejorative of politics?
There's little taste here for truth and best decisions. We're perverted by our alliances and inclinations. We've past the point of arguing points from our principled ideologies and gone to just blabbing our team's talking points, however silly, and heedless of reasoning that had its roots with thinkers among those evil ones in the other party. Take the cornerstone of Obamacare, for instance. That originated with conservatives as they savage it now, with perfectly straight faces.
Our political class climbs its natural ladder by its talent, wit, experience and commitment to these perversions. And then we dummies trumpet the cream of this crop as statesmen and women worthy of Aristotle's ideal. And, alternately, we wail at the "surprising" low undersides of the people we elect, generally when the elected one is from the wrong side.
Surprise, surprise. Presidents spin with the best of 'em.
I'm not persuaded that a venal Obama knew all about his ambassador's murder and callously plotted to turn it into a talking point. Nor am I one to blame Bush in the belief he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction but went to war anyway. Our presidents are flawed humans, not monsters.
While we're quick to attribute malice to the other party's president, I'd say we're also slow to grasp the complexities and inherent confusions in that job. The perpetually early graying of our commanders in chief doesn't seem to penetrate our rather dense skulls as a telltale clue.
Personally, I think we get rather better than we deserve.
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