« The Economic Policy Institute on Social Security | Main | The Soft Landing Scenario »

December 23, 2004

Is This Some Kind of a Joke?

Henry over at Crooked Timber finds John DiIulio attacking liberals for their political cowardice. On this, at least, I am the anti-Voltaire: I may agree with what he says, but I will fight to the death against his right to say it:

Crooked Timber: Sinful Inequalities : John DiIulio of ‘Mayberry Machiavellis’ fame has a short article on ‘Attacking “Sinful Inequalities”’ in the current issue of Perspectives on Politics: "Bible-believing Christians are supposed to heed the call to “be not afraid” of any worldly challenge..."

This is, I presume, the same John DiIulio who wrote the letter to Ron Suskind:

For/On the Record.... Clinton was "the natural," a leader with a genuine interest in the policy process who encouraged information-rich decision-making. Clinton was the policy-wonk-in-chief. The Clinton administration drowned in policy intellectuals and teemed with knowledgeable people interested in making government work.... The Bush West Wing is very nearly at the other end of this Clinton policy-making continuum.... the administration has not done much, either in absolute terms or in comparison to previous administrations at this stage, on domestic policy.... In eight months, I heard many, many staff discussions, but not three meaningful, substantive policy discussions. There were no actual policy white papers on domestic issues. There were, truth be told, only a couple of people in the West Wing who worried at all about policy substance and analysis... the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and the only casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking -- discussions by fairly senior people who meant Medicaid but were talking Medicare.... This gave rise to what you might call Mayberry Machiavellis -- staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption, then steering legislative initiatives or policy proposals as far right as possible.... As one senior staff member chided me at a meeting at which many junior staff were present and all ears, "John, get a faith bill, any faith bill." Like college students who fall for the colorful, opinionated, but intellectually third-rate professor, you could see these 20- and 30-something junior White House staff falling for the Mayberry Machiavellis. It was all very disheartening to this old, Madison-minded American government professor... the relative lack of substantive concern for policy and administration. I had to beg to get a provision written into the executive orders that would require us to conduct an actual information-gathering effort related to the president's interest in the policy....

And then immediately became afraid, very afraid:

John DiIulio on National Review Online: DiIulio went into full retreat. "My criticisms were groundless and baseless due to poorly chosen words and examples," he said in a statement. "I sincerely apologize and I am deeply remorseful. I will not be offering any further comment, or speaking or writing further on any aspect of my limited and unrepresentative White House experience or any matters or persons related thereto. I regret any and all misimpressions. In this season of fellowship and forgiveness, I pray the same." DiIulio even apologized for statements he maintains he didn't make. The [Esquire] article quotes him taking a shot at White House policy aide Margaret LaMontagne, saying that what she "knows about domestic policy could fit in a thimble." In his apology, DiIulio said that, "I did not write, and I do not recall making, the statement quoted regarding Ms. LaMontagne. I humbly and sincerely apologize to her just the same."

Posted by DeLong at December 23, 2004 12:57 PM


Why are the Bush people so loyal to his administration? It seems that with so many dirty things going on in the White House and with apparently insane leadership, there would be a larger number of reasonable people within the administration who would be willing to break with their bosses and blow some whistles. What kind of magic drug has Karl Rove found, which compels such loyalty?
It seems all we have to go on are the books of Woodward and Suskind. The only actual Republican (i.e., not Wilson or Clarke) who has defected is Paul O'Neill

Posted by: N. Singh at December 23, 2004 02:20 PM

Hmm. I wonder just what form the horse's head in his bed took ....

Posted by: lightning at December 23, 2004 02:25 PM

True believers of any kind should not be afraid of a worldly challenge.

Posted by: cloquet at December 23, 2004 02:56 PM

Does anyone care what DiUlio says? I know I sure don't.

Posted by: The Dude at December 23, 2004 04:22 PM

Look for jokes wherever you can find them. It is highly recommended by me, as well as the Ancient Ones.

Posted by: cloquet at December 23, 2004 05:10 PM

John DiIulio calling liberals cowards is like Zinoviev criticizing the other Old Bolsheviks for sucking up to Stalin at THEIR show trials...

Posted by: billmon at December 23, 2004 05:23 PM

Despite the whole pot-kettle-black business, the fact remains that whether Congressional Democrats are willing to consistently fight for what the party believes in is far more critical to the nation's political well-being than whether DiIulio has the courage to stand up to whatever it was that Rove threatened him with.

Until those who visibly represent the Democratic Party - its Congressional caucus - find some high ground to fight for, year in and year out, people will be able to say things like this about both Democrats and liberals, and everyone will nod their heads in agreement.

It's time for the Democrats in Congress to stop figuring out how to please people, and decide what few things must be fought for if one is a Democrat.

Posted by: RT at December 23, 2004 05:32 PM

As a messenger, Mr. DiUlio is a coward, fool and hypocrite. But the message isn't too off-base.

The Dems don't stand up loud and proud the way they should. They waffle, hedge and equovocate way too often. It is not healthy and leaves voters uninspired and untrusting.

It seems sometimes we operate on a fear of alienating voters, rather than energizing them. Kerry is a great example: a good man who seemed reluctant to defend his true beliefs. That isn't good enough. Rove zeroed in on this--but the "waffle" issue wasn't just about Kerry. It was about defining this exact party-wide phenomenon: Democrats who seem reluctant to stand up, speak plainly about what they will fight for, who is first on their list and why the GOP has got it all wrong.

It's sort of like going to Church, and the preacher doesn't want to talk openly about God. What the hell? Of course we're losing. Voters need something to belive in.

If you try to be everything to everyone, you're end up being nothing to everyone. Dems need to figure out what and who they truly represent. And then get a candidate who doesn't leave voters cold.

(And ain't it funny how Iowa and New Hampshire are great at picking weak Dems for the rest of the country to ultimately reject?).

Posted by: Tim B. at December 24, 2004 04:09 AM

You know, some people just lose all their integrity when they wake up to find a horse's head in their bed....

Posted by: Curtiss Leung at December 25, 2004 12:19 AM