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April 09, 2004
That's all I'm sayin'

This is the sort of thing you get when you have a CEO instead of a leader.

I heard on NPR last night that one of the things Richard Clark was told, when he was trying to get time on Bush's schedule to brief him, was that he'd get time with the president after the staff had had time to decide what the Administration's position on terrorism was.

Think about that. Bush isn't guiding his Administration's position on issues. They're choosing their own positions and taking them to Bush to rubber-stamp them.

It's very much the way a CEO operates.

It's not at all how a leader should act.

Also, in the past when people have shouted that the Bush Administration had told an out-and-out lie about something, analysis usually showed that it was possible to check the semantics and see that the Bush Administration hadn't, quite, been saying what we were hearing.* I don't know if that's going to happen with Rice's testimony.

* I wonder if that's why Bush's speeches strike me as being so clumsy and inept? Because they're making such a focused attempt to imply one thing while not actually saying it? A task like that doesn't leave much room for choosing your words based on making the speaker sound intelligent. Or even convincing.


Eric Rauchway, my favorite Alterman Alternate, is subbing today and he's talking about Rice. He's interested in her syntax.

This conspicuously careful language raises a question. Dr. Rice and I have one experience in common: responsibility for teaching undergraduates. I know that at Stanford, where Rice was Provost, they teach students not to begin sentences with "there was," because it makes for poor communication -- it allows you to assert something about the existence or non-existence of an action but it makes it unclear who did what, where and when. The National Security Adviser is not using this impenetrable locution by accident. What is she being vague about?

Also note the quoted bit of Rice's testimony where she's defending the Administration's failure to take the pre-9/11 warnings seriously by saying that no one told them to take action against the threats.

That, too, can play two ways. If the memo in question was that solid, should the intelligence agency have included a specific, "do something, dammit" notation?

But even more interestingly, let's sit here for a moment and think about what kind of Administration can't figure out for itself when it should act…or at least demand immediate follow-up data when the course of action is unclear?

The answer, of course, is obvious. An Administration headed by a CEO and not "led" by a leader.

Moving on, Eric also quotes for us, Rice's careful disclaimer: "There was nothing in this memo that suggested that an attack was coming on New York or Washington, D.C." and I'm left wondering if the memo suggested, for instance, that an attack was coming on LA or San Francisco and the Administration figured there was no big rush to save either of those places?

I pick on that specific statement of hers because it's obviously one she rehearsed in advance. She's saying exactly what she wants to say there. What are we not being told?

Anyhow. I'm feeling fair and balanced today, but really and not in the way FOX others mean it, so let me point out something else:

Kerrey picked up on this question of what had been done by mentioning the president's much-quoted "I'm tired of swatting flies" line, which he wanted to "disabuse" Rice of further using: "What fly had he swatted?" Kerrey asked. Rice wanted to give context to the question, and Kerrey came back: "No, no, he hadn't swatted.... We only swatted a fly once on the 20th of August 1998. We didn't swat any flies afterwards. How the hell could he be tired?"

Much as I like dissing Bush, I have to say that this is a bit silly.

I can easily imagine Bush making this statement and actually thinking of everything this country had or had not done about terrorism over the last ten or twelve years. In that context, to someone infatuated with the picture of himself as a 'war president' it could well have seemed that our bombing raids, sanctions and discoveries of small-scale terrorist cells was "swatting flies." In fact, almost any president might have made a similar statement. "I'm tired of [this country] swatting flies." Like I said, I'm no Bush-booster, but that's certainly the read I would have given that statement.

More broadly, let's just admit that he's not the only person in this country who secretly thought all you had to do to make the world a better place was to kill everyone you thought was evil. He's just the only one we handed an army to and an invitation to give it a try.

And now I'm all distracted from Rice's testimony because I'm wondering if any of the people who shared that secret view are learning anything from watching our failures in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Posted by AnneZook at 11:38 AM


Seeing the thought processes of think administration exposed is rather unsettling. They really believe that somewhere there is one, and only one, solution for every problem.

I'm a computer programmer, which most would consider a rather concrete environment, but every problem has multiple solutions with different advantages to each.

Waiting for the Lone Ranger to show up with a Silver Bullet is not an option I have ever considered.

Posted by: Bryan at April 9, 2004 11:47 AM

Unfortunately, the idea that CEOs can run states or countries better than politicians has become endemic. It's like nobody's pointed out to the general electorate that it's a bad idea to treat a service like a business. Businesses exist for the bottom line; services like government are supposed to exist to help people, not to make money.

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at April 9, 2004 12:26 PM

Bush is failing on both accounts. Heh.

And, Bryan, I understand that "silver bullet" line played well on tv the first time they used it, and that's why Rice was repeating it in front of the Commission.

Posted by: Anne at April 9, 2004 08:26 PM