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From Under The Rubble
November 18, 2012

The Coverup Kid
by Christopher Manion
fitzgerald griffin foundation

FRONT ROYAL, VA — The unfolding Petraeus scandal is raining on Obama’s victory parade. The administration successfully covered up the truth about the disaster at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi and the unauthorized “liaisons” at CIA headquarters in Langley until after the election, but, as usual in Washington, the cover-up is greater than the crime. Republicans are crying “foul,” and good for them — the stench does seem to grow. But perhaps there is a silver lining.

In peace as well as war, timing is everything. Undoubtedly the cover-ups saved Obama’s reelection. But that won’t help Obama now. In fact, this double-barreled scandal threatens to slap a ball and chain on his second term before it starts. And its timing offers unanticipated opportunities.

The GOP now enters its post-Romney era. We should be grateful. Romney was the least conservative Republican presidential nominee in half a century, and he lost. His legion of Bush retread-advisors are losers once more, while the Tea Party and social conservatives — both decidedly reluctant to support Romney — survive, indispensable to future Republican majorities. But to get to those majorities, conservatives must first confront an entrenched, failed establishment. It will not go quietly. That crowd would rather be in charge and out of power than see the GOP win with new leaders in charge.

As C.S. Lewis puts it in The Last Battle, “the dwarfs are for the dwarfs.”

Of course, the Obama administration has long featured scandals of the constitutional variety — countless instances of the abuse of power. So far, the Republican congress has downplayed most of them. Will they change their tune? Obama has made his move: it’s all about envy. He’s a resurrected Sol Alinsky, demanding $1.6 trillion from “the rich.” Envy got him reelected, and envy is the horse he’s going to ride straight through the next four years. With a bow toward the Deadly Sins, he will blast Republican greed while stoking proletarian envy. All the while, his administration is fraying, discredited and in disarray.

In dealing with this, Americans might actually come to appreciate divided government during Obama’s second term, if the Congress starts doing its job. After all, the Founders considered the House to be the most important constitutional body in the nation. With Petraeus and Zippergate, memories of Sam Ervin, Howard Baker, The Watergate Committee, and “expletive deleted” come to mind. What did Obama know and when did he know it? In all this, a Republican House is much more valuable than a Republican Senate for a simple reason: impeachment proceedings must begin in the House.

Every scandal has its backstory. General Vernon Walters, who served Presidents Reagan and Bush 41 with historic distinction, had served as a translator and advisor to several presidents since the 1950s. Richard Nixon was so impressed with Walters’s photographic memory that he asked Walters to sit in on sensitive meetings, and then write up his notes with the help of a White House secretarial pool. “No thanks, Mr. President,” Walters said. “I don’t want to be a stenographer.”

Nixon shrugged. Without Walters, he was stumped. So he installed the tape recorders. The rest is history.

Media Motives
Obama has an intriguing backstory as well. He has been called a “confidence man” (to use Melville’s term). He is clearly a confident man. And why not? The Old Media have served him as dependable lapdogs, tails a-wag with willful ignorance and hero-worship. But another media motive looms on the horizon, primitive but powerful: the instinct for self-preservation. The country’s dire economic prospects cast a dark shadow on the Old Media’s survival as well. After all, they live and die on advertising, which tanks in hard times as businesses tighten their belts or close. And inside the Old Media, as millions turn to the Web for their news, jobs are shrinking fast. Of course, most “journalists these days are lazy, living on leaks, rather than old-fashioned shoe leather. They wait by their phones for the call from the disgruntled bureaucratic whistleblower with the tidbit that will make their career.

Can they do that by sowing envy? Hardly. That’s Obama’s monopoly. No, the media pack feeds on red meat. The smell of blood conjures up visions of fame, fortune, and — for the chosen few — fat book contracts. Tom Wolfe once told NPR that the vast majority of journalists of his acquaintance really want to write fiction. Well, your humble Rubbler inquires, haven’t they been writing fiction for years? Just today, The Washington Post headline reads, “Obama untouched by Petraeus scandal .”

That can change. Even now, some smell opportunity. The swirling pool of prurience, power, and privilege that permeates the Petraeus affair resonates the violence, lies, and blood oozing from Benghazi. The scent of blood drives the enterprising journalist towards the chance of a lifetime. When the story breaks, all loyalties — personal, political, and ideological — will evaporate: it’s the Survival Show, in real-time.

What comes next? Here I must rely on Charles Burton Marshall’s insight: “There’s no such thing as the foreseeable future.”

“Shame, Come Back!”

The Petraeus mess is just one of many, of course. It invites cynicism, but can also be distracting, like the O.J. trial. Apart from it all, those driven by faith and principle now have the opportunity to work below the radar and rebuild confidence and conviction in their communities and their politics. In doing so, they will have to hold their collective nose and confront the GOP’s Old Guard, which suffers from a bipartisan disease that infects the nation’s capital when they fail: they never apologize, they always blame somebody else, and they know no shame.

Remember little Joey Starrett, tearfully stumbling across the prairie chasing Alan Ladd, who is riding off into the sunset? “Shane! Come back!” Can we bring back shame? Our generation has been buried in an avalanche of swill that has suffocated shame. Pathetic politicians no longer leave the stage in disgrace after giving scandal. A veritable flock of scoundrels flourish in Washington, parading around as though they were indispensable. Old unfaithfuls like Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and John Edwards have a lot of company — but no shame.

Will General Petraeus join them? There is an alternative. A similarly situated British politician, John Profumo, chose a road much less traveled. Profumo, Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War, had an affair with Christine Keeler, whose dalliances with Soviet spies led to Profumo’s resignation in 1963. When Profumo died in 2006, columnist Mark Steyn described what happened after he resigned:  “[Profumo] contacted Toynbee Hall, a charitable mission in the East End of London, and asked whether they needed any help. He started washing dishes and helping with the children’s playgroup, and he stayed for forty years. He disappeared amid the grimy tenements of east London and did good works till he died. And, with the exception of one newspaper article to mark Toynbee Hall’s centenary, he never said another word in public again.” Profumo’s wife, movie actress Valerie Hobson, stayed by his side, cleaning toilets at Toynbee Hall until her death in 1998.
“Shame, come back!”

The Bishops Reflect
As the Rubble goes to press, Catholic dissidents are dismayed that American bishops meeting in Baltimore failed to adopt a document on the economy. Several liberal bishops complained that the document wasn’t liberal enough, while younger bishops suggested that the bishops should focus on the faith, and not political agendas, for a while. The document text focuses on personal virtues and church teaching, rather than political particulars, and is thus far superior to the bishops’ earlier output, advocating government programs as the primary source of charity. Nonetheless, its rejection is probably a promising sign. After all, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference, admits that the bishops haven’t taught the Church’s essential moral teachings for some fifty years. Perhaps that task deserves more attention in this Year of Faith. Strong morals make for strong economies.

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From Under the Rubble is copyright © 2012 by Christopher Manion. All rights reserved.

Christopher Manion, Ph.D., served as a staff director on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for many years. He has taught in the departments of politics, religion, and international relations at Boston University, the Catholic University of America, and Christendom College, and is the director of the Campaign for Humanae Vitae, a project of the Bellarmine Forum. He is a Knight of Malta.

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