Boats against the current



Whatever alleged insights I harbored about this week's political developments were delivered verbally on Philadelphia NPR this morning; the hour-long program is already archived here. In this space today, I'll simply confine myself to a rumination about Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary for the Bush White House.

Yeah, I know: the guy is so six years ago. But he surfaced the other night on Hardball to enlighten us anew about his former boss' stellar legacy, and it's fascinating the way these Bush dead-enders keep trying to fool Americans who have long since rightly judged them to be fools.

Does Fleischer really believe what he's saying, or is it just an act? You decide:

I first met him in Iowa, in late 1999, when he was the spokesman for Elizabeth Dole's ill-starred presidential campaign. The Dole camp had set up shop in an abandoned car dealership in downtown Des Moines. I walked in, and Fleischer bounded across the room with a broad grin and a meaty pumping handshake, behaving as if he and I had known each other all our lives. (He had never met me before.) Now fast forward seven months, to the GOP national convention. By this point he was ensconced as Bush's spokesman, and it was as if he had underdone a personality transplant. When I greeted him this time, he was cold, distant, and robotic. Which was fine by me, since we journalists are accustomed to that behavioral model anyway, and tend to view unctuous glad-handers with suspicion.

But which Fleischer was the real one? Probably both. It's a Washington thing. Liddy Dole was an underdog who needed to make some friends in the press corps, so Fleischer calibrated himself accordingly. Bush and his circle were wary of the press corps, so Fleischer re-calibrated himself accordingly. And since he served Bush for so long as a loyalist, defending the president's brilliant record from the podium, and in a subsequent book, and as the front man for the Bush White House front group Freedom's Watch, he feels honor bound to stay in that mode.

Which brings us to a remark about 9/11 and Iraq that Fleischer tossed off during the closing seconds of his Wednesday night appearance on Hardball. The italics are mine. Addressing Chris Matthews, he said: "The issue was, and I believe this still today, and of course you and I disagree with it, but after Sept. 11, having been hit once, how can we take a chance that Saddam might not strike again? And that's the threat that has been removed. And I think we're all safer with that threat being removed."

Even now, after the Republicans have been reduced to their sorry state thanks in part to the Bush team's track record of half-truths and deceptions, someone like Fleischer is still recycling those half-truths and deceptions. He didn't quite say, literally, that Saddam had mapped the 9/11 attack (something that has long been proven false by multiple commissions), but, yet again, his phrasing definitely leaves that impression - just as the Freedom's Watch TV ads used to do, and just as Bush himself used to do.

The Republicans are having enough problems these days trying to find leaders who can woo the public and guide the party into the future. The last thing they need are Bush loyalists, such as Fleischer, who still persist in delivering the discredited talking points. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, these people are like "boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past."