Thursday, January 27, 2005


Marginalization and Its Discontents

The current L.A. Weekly has a couple of punchy commentaries on the Boxer-Rice dustup. Judith Lewis, working from the assumption that "To impugn [Rice's] integrity should have been uncontroversial," called Boxer's office to ask why the senator didn't come right out and use the word "lie." The answer she got sheds some light on the process by which our Republican betters "have silenced dissent among the people they can't fire: not by fairly disputing their views, but by pretending to sneer at their bad-mannered ways - by branding them 'obstructionist' and 'unconstructive'":
Even by the accounts of people inclined to hate her, Senator Barbara Boxer delivered a fierce argument on January 18 against Condoleezza Rice's nomination for secretary of state. But if all the news you caught the next morning was in the headlines on National Public Radio, you wouldn't have known that. In the distilled world of audio broadcast, the only reference to the Rice-Boxer exchange was a 10-second clip, with Rice telling Boxer, "I would ask you to refrain from impugning my integrity," and Boxer responding, "I'm not" . . . . It represented Boxer at her worst, Woman at her worst, and whatever else Boxer had accomplished earlier in the day, what millions of listeners took away was this: Scrappy Boxer had launched a scud that landed inert at her opponent's pedicured feet.

That the text and context of Boxer's speech in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that day was much, much different was something you'd only find out had you stayed glued to CNN or C-SPAN during the hearing, or flipped channels after Morning Edition and heard the highlights of the day's dissent on Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! In the longer version, Boxer had asked Rice for "a candid discussion," to account for discrepancies between her words and the president's, her words and her other words, her words and the facts as documented in reports by Charles Duelfer and the 9/11 commission. Such an accounting would have required Rice to admit that many of the administration's reasons for invading Iraq were bunk. Rice would never do this, of course - she reaffirms repeatedly that Bush and she speak with one voice - and Boxer knew it. And so Boxer's request that Rice account for these discrepancies served only one purpose: To establish for the committee, and for the world, that Rice is a liar. In other words, to impugn her integrity.

As well it deserved to be impugned: In the words of Hans Blix, "It took much twisted evidence, including a forged uranium contract, to conjure up a revived Iraqi nuclear threat, even one that was somewhat distant," and yet there was Rice in the run-up to the war, talking about mushroom clouds. Or as returned-to the-chambers Senator John Kerry observed in the January 18 hearing, despite Rice's justification for the war as a pre-emptive attack on a country readying WMD, U.S. troops had not even bothered to guard a large cache of ammunition that was later used against them . . . .

As the Senate wrapped up its last full day of debate on the matter this week, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama took the floor to gripe in an exasperated drawl how "inappropriate" it was that "those people on the ‘hard left' had to express all their views"; Senator John Cornyn of Texas shook his head and called last week's grilling and the day's questions "a crying shame." Neither man addressed any of the the very real questions their fellow senators on both sides of the aisle had raised about the integrity of the well-coifed woman destined to be our next secretary of state - the woman who played piano at 3, who never missed an opportunity to remind the committee of her cultural superiority ("You'll provoke me to respond in Russian," she told Dodd when he welcomed her to the committee in Spanish), and yet could not bring herself to categorically condemn the practice of interrogating a human prisoner by forcing him into a tank of water until he panics on the verge of drowning. That, and not the responsible expression of political speech in the Senate chamber, for which no one should apologize, is the more horrifying, crying shame.
And Nation columnist David Corn (whose own website we are pleased to recommend) could not help but notice that one senator from California politely declined to mention the phony case for war or its disastrous consequences, devoting her remarks instead to the pianistic virtuosity Ms. Rice displayed at the age of three. In fact, Dianne Feinstein "spoke more about what Rice did at Stanford - Feinstein's alma mater - than what she had done at the White House these past four years":
On one morning, in one Capitol Hill hearing room, two senators from one state displayed starkly different approaches to handling the powerful of Washington. The occasion was the confirmation hearing of Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush's pick to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state. Senator Barbara Boxer confronted her; Senator Dianne Feinstein coddled her. The respective performances of California's two U.S. senators - both Democrats - illuminated a divide in Washington. There are those in town who participate in and preside over the clubby atmosphere of a Washington establishment that fosters a we're-all-honorable-men-and-women conceit. And there are those who realize that governments don't make bad policies, people do, and that such officials - especially when they engage in dishonest policymaking - do not deserve respect or hors d'oeuvres . . . .

{A}fter all, what's wrong with impugning the credibility of someone who you believe misled the nation into war? If a legislator holds such a belief, isn't it his or her responsibility to pursue the matter? On Fox News, Feinstein was asked if Boxer went too far. "I'm not going to comment on that," she said. "Each one of us, you know, marches to the sound of our own drummer. And each one of us has strong feelings on various issues from time to time, and sometimes all the time." This is indeed a difference. Feinstein was listening to a drumbeat (perhaps the rhythm of the Stanford fight song). Boxer was creating a drumbeat. Democrats ought to be able to figure out who set the better example.

This is an interesting point. This is an issue that is so often buried: The implicitness of the press in crafting the language of an issue.

The Bush Administration has been all to skillful at controlling them.
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