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
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.
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
From Under the Rubble archives
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.
Email Dr. Manion
See a complete biographical sketch.
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