Mr. Bush, Meet Mr. Taft

Watching and reading George W. Bush's Veterans' Day speech last Friday confirmed my belief that it's a good thing Karl Rove wasn't indicted. If this is the best these people can do, Rove is doing Bush a lot more damage from his White House office than he would as an indictee.

The speech was humiliating to Bush and the United States of America on so many levels that I don't even know where to begin. OK, actually, I do. I'll begin with the outright lie.

My critics, Bush whimpered, "are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community's judgments related to Iraq's weapons programs."

No such thing ever happened. That bipartisan investigation -- the so-called "Phase II" probe into administration manipulation of pre-war intelligence -- is ongoing right now. It's taken this long to start because, as Laura Rozen reported in our October print issue, Senate intelligence committee chairman Pat Roberts dragged his feet; and, as Murray Waas reported in The National Journal online, once Roberts did haltingly begin the probe, Dick Cheney and his staff refused to turn over crucial documentation. The delays and stonewalls, of course, are exactly what led the Democrats to call the closed session of the Senate. The probe is finally proceeding -- but it sure hasn't "found" anything.

There is no other way to interpret Bush's sentence: It is a direct, unmediated, Nixonian lie. What kind of pathetic man would utter such a lie on Veterans' Day, when over 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died?

But what may be even more embarrassing is the old dissent-is-disloyalty saw: "These baseless attacks," Bush said, "send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." In other words, criticizing my case for the war is giving comfort to the enemy.

Comfort to the enemy. Interesting phrase. It's been used before -- by a Republican; in fact, by "Mr. Republican," Robert A. Taft, who was speaking against the Roosevelt administration.

I wrote this up for Salon in 2002. But back then, before the Iraq War had even started and long before Democrats started growing a spine, no one paid attention. I'm not in the habit of recycling my hits, but this one is worth reintroducing -- not for what I wrote, but for the material I quoted.

Taft, the conservative Ohio senator who is a hero to many of today's conservatives, gave a speech at the Executive Club of Chicago in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. There are a number of paragraphs that are just grand, but here's the best one, which is worth quoting in full:

As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government ... too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think that it will give some comfort to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur.

Drink in those words. That's not William Fulbright two years into the Vietnam War. It's not Ted Kennedy last week. It's Mr. Republican, speaking -- when? Not mid-1943, or even March 1942. Taft delivered this speech ... on December 19, 1941!

That's right: Twelve days after the worst attack on American soil in the country's history, perhaps with bodies still floating in the harbor, the leader of the congressional opposition said to the president, we will question, we will probe, we will debate.

And he was right to do so. In fact, when I was researching this, I came across no evidence that Taft's assertion was even controversial. As I wrote in Salon: "Taft's speech hardly caused a ripple. If The New York Times covered it at all, it did so in a small enough way to escape my notice as I looked through newspapers from that time. The Washington Post did mention the speech, but only at the tail end of a larger story that was mostly about [Secretary of State Cordell] Hull. In the American political system that existed then, Taft's right to speak his mind on policy was a given, and no high-ranking Roosevelt official launched a major public attack."

Taft said much more in that speech. (The full speech doesn't seem to exist online; if you Google it, you get my piece and blogs linking to my piece. Some Democrat staffer ought to shoot over to the Madison Building and dig up the original.) And every word of it demolishes the Bush administration's horrendously un-American posture.

There is a carillon on the Capitol Hill grounds, 100 feet high, on the Senate side, named for Taft. Senators see it every day. Democratic senators might point it out to their Republican colleagues, and remind them of a time when their party was led by people who, whatever their ideology, understood the principles on which the United States was founded and honored them.

Michael Tomasky is the Prospect's executive editor.

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