Monday, October 31, 2005

# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

MEA CULPAS ARE OVERRATED: Yesterday morning, Tim Russert brought together three former chiefs of staff to hash out the implications of Scooter Libby's indictment. The firm consensus among all three -- two Democrats and one Republican -- is that presidents should admit their mistakes before aggressive journalists expose them as liars.

I disagree. Not on ethical grounds of course. I think presidents should tell the truth, sooner rather than later. But I'm not sure whether doing so is all that smart. The problem here is that both Democrats and Republicans have an incentive to draw the wrong lessons from history.

Democrats would clearly relish an immediate admission of wrong-doing from Rove and/or Bush without having to pull it out of him. But the real lesson of the Lewinsky episode -- GOP denials to the contrary -- is that Americans may enjoy raking their president over the coals because of an errant blowjob, but they will also forgive him because loose lips don't sink ships when they belong to Monica Lewinsky.

Certain Republicans have an incentive to overvalue mea culpas because they want to believe that Reagan eventually decided to tell the truth to the American public, rather than persisting in his delusions of innocence. This was certainly the line taken on Meet the Press by Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein. Tim Russert and his Democratic guests all agreed, because I think they're hoping for a Bush confession. (To my surprise, Reagan's foremost biographer has taken this position as well.)

But in spite of his semi-confession that he traded arms for hostages (which was only one of the issues at stake in Iran-Contra), Reagan and his associates proved to be extraordinarily uncooperative when it came to revealing the truth. But Reagan's breakthroughs in his negotiations with Gorbachev were so dramatic that he was able to leave office as a champion.

So my cynical advice for Bush is this: Win the war in Iraq. History will only rememeber Scootergate if America fails in Baghdad.
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