by Henry Farrell on September 28, 2003

Like most everybody else in the blogosphere this morning, I’ve been reading about the “Plame affair”: It’s potentially an enormous story – if the facts are as they “appear to be”:, there are at least two senior White House officials who deserve to be hauled off to jail. But I’m disturbed by the tone of triumphalism coming from a few left blogs and their commenters. It’s understandable that some see this as an opportunity to stick it to the warbloggers. It’s still a mistake. This story is too important to be turned into a cheap gotcha. There’s a growing groundswell of outrage on the right as well as the left. People should be building on this, rather than using the affair to score short-term ‘told you so’ points. If nothing else, a more constructive attitude will make it more likely that the story will stick around, and receive the sustained public attention that it obviously deserves.

Update: See also Kevin Drum’s “plea to conservatives”: – angry, but carefully worded and targetted.

Update 2: But of course, some will never be convinced … for a sampling, see “Belle Waring”:



Robert Frost 09.28.03 at 9:26 pm

A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.


chuck 09.28.03 at 9:53 pm

I’ll agree that some degree of caution is needed here. Mere triumphalism isn’t going to help matters, but I do think a healthy dose of righteous indignation might be in order. It’s clearly a very serious offense, and it’s important to find effective ways of demonstrating that to people across the political spectrum.

I’m also not sure I agree with Kevin Drum’s suggestion that the Bush “doesn’t believe in anything.” He’s clearly a very political human being, capable of charming certain audiences (although I really don’t like him), but I think he has a clear vision of himself as a world leader. The fact that his vision might be at odds with certain principles doesn’t negate that vision.


Keith M Ellis 09.28.03 at 10:06 pm

Triumphalism is bad political juju, agreed. However, today, around the house, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.


Henry Farrell 09.28.03 at 10:12 pm

Chuck – righteous indignation is something that I’m all over. I’m also in favour of people calling individual bloggers (Instapundit anyone?) to account for shifty or evasive responses. But what I’d like to see is some coalition building. There’s plenty of righteous indignation to go around on both sides of the political spectrum. Take a look at Dan Drezner’s “post”: for example. This isn’t – or it shouldn’t be – an issue for the left wing alone. And if it becomes one, it becomes much easier for interested parties to dismiss it as irrelevant whining. I hope we can avoid that trap.


Jeff Leyser 09.28.03 at 10:26 pm

Yes, those lefty bloggers should be careful. If they spend all their “triumphalism” now, when the administration does something so unimportant as outing an under-cover CIA agent, what will they have left when a really important issue comes along, like someone having an extra-martial affair?


chuck 09.28.03 at 11:07 pm

I probably should have phrased that more carefully. What I meant to imply is that if the White House officials *are* guilty, then the appeal to justice should be pretty clear and would hopefully register regardless of political affiliation.


Jon H 09.29.03 at 1:15 am

I think the lefty triumphalism is not nearly as bad as the people (blog commenters) who have basically implied that it wasn’t so bad because Plame couldn’t have been that important.


Atrios 09.29.03 at 2:12 am

This isn’t glee at the fact that the administration got caught with its pants down, it’s glee about the fact that the administration dropped its pants 2 months ago, and the media finally started paying attention.


brayden 09.29.03 at 2:22 am

What is Novak’s responsibility in all of this? He’s a politically-savvy man. He must have known that a law was being broken when he wrote his piece. Why would he purposefully put the Bush administration at risk? After all, he is a Bush man.

Also, why did it take so long for people to recognize that a law was broken? This story was written in July, if I’m not mistaken.


Otis Noman 09.29.03 at 2:27 am

e must have known that a law was being broken when he wrote his piece. Why would he purposefully put the Bush administration at risk? After all, he is a Bush man.

Based on previous history, why wouldn’t Novak write the piece? No one in this posse, or associated with it, has ever had to play by the rules.

Novak simply assumed that that state of affairs bid fair to go on forever.

His position on the war has been all over the map — he may have wanted, despite his passionate attachment Bush’s tax policies, to take them down a peg on the war.


Jon H 09.29.03 at 4:44 am

brayden writes: “Also, why did it take so long for people to recognize that a law was broken? This story was written in July, if I’m not mistaken.”

It was recognized at the time, at least on blogs if not so much in the media.

I think it’s getting more attention now because the CIA asked DOJ to investigate the White House, which is a strong hint that there’s something there.

In July, there were a lot of questions – is Plame really in CIA? was she covert? – which nobody but CIA could answer. Without knowing the answers to those questions, it’s impossible to say whether the law was actually violated.


Jon H 09.29.03 at 4:46 am

Another ugly trend I’m seeing from some right-leaning commenters in blog threads: suggestions that Plame was outed because *Plame* did something wrong, or was agitating against the administration, which is utterly unsupported by *any* information thus far available.


r 09.29.03 at 4:47 am

What is Novak’s responsibility in all of this? He’s a politically-savvy man. He must have known that a law was being broken when he wrote his piece. Why would he purposefully put the Bush administration at risk? After all, he is a Bush man.

The law wasn’t being broken when Novak wrote his piece, it had already been broken, when the leakers leaked to him (and several other journalists). He may be a Bush man, but he was publishing this at the behest of members of the Bush administration, who were apparently confident that they would get away with breaking the law (or were unaware that they were doing so, which hardly seems credible). If he’s a Bush man, why shouldn’t he oblige?


David Yaseen 09.29.03 at 4:59 am

This “triumphalism” isn’t just about the Plame affair. Lefty bloggers have been, admittedly with the aid of animus, putting together the puzzle pieces of Bush administration bloody-mindedness and malfeasance together since long before the 2000 election. We’re just elated that, finally, even one of these “appearance(s) of impropriety” is going to be officially borne out.

The administration’s clumsiness and heavy-handedness need no further elucidation–look at the hash it’s made of US international relations. This time, “at least two…administration officials” got caught in an unambiguous felony.

To us, these reckless ideologues are finally going to be called to account on something. They even got away with no-bid contracts being given to the company of which the current Vice President was formerly CEO. I should restrict my jubilation at this particular crime, but I can’t help that it spills over from all the stinks-to-high-heaven things the administration does that aren’t explicitly felonies.


Paul Gottlieb 09.29.03 at 5:00 am

I think what some bloggers feel triumphant about is that their assessments of the character of Bush’s White House has been dramatically vindicated. Some of us, Paul Krugman for one, my modest self for another, have felt all along that Bush’s piety, patriotism, and air of bluff honesty were a total fraud. That behind that faux-populist facade was the complete absence of any moral center–an absence of anything other then the desire to win. If the allegations in the Plame affair prove to be true–and it seems ever more likely that the will–then the Bush White House is staffed by pepole who don’t hesitate to destroy the career of an American CIA office, endanger the life of her contacts, and commit major felonies, all for the sake of a little political vindictiveness.


David Yaseen 09.29.03 at 5:18 am

I should be clear–lefty bloggers were following the Bush organization’s bloody-mindedness and malfeasance before the election, and the bloody-mindedness and malfeasance of the administration thereafter.


Keith M Ellis 09.29.03 at 8:40 am

I’m still undecided on the question of Bush’s characters. Er, in regards to him being as dishonest and venal as his administration has been. (There are other aspects of his character of which I am quite certain.) I still intuit that he’s easily led. However, there are a number of people in this administration that I think are completely unprincipled, venal, dishonest, and, to use a word lefties avoid, evil. Those people include Cheney and Rove. And this crime reeks of them. It reeks of whatever dead, maggot-ridden agent of darkness lurks in the corridors of the White House.


JoeF 09.29.03 at 1:25 pm

I completely agree, on one level. It’s important that the liberal side of the spectrum play this one off well, so we can look like the real “adults”.

That said, anyone on the right who dismiss or ignore this should be attacked by some of the more attack-dogish blogs (read: Hesiod, plus mention at Atrios and maybe a few others). These guys claim to be all about national security. Well, the facts as reported state that two senior White House folks blew the cover of a CIA agent for minor (if any) political gain. It don’t get much worse than that, and if they’re going to pull the Instapundit “It’s too complex for me” deal…well then, you’ve just lost any chance you had at being considered non-partisan.


Zizka 09.29.03 at 2:52 pm

Since I started my own site in June 2002 I’ve had the attack-dog policy of never giving Bush the benefit of the doubt, but always putting the worst construction I was reasonably able to on everything he did. This doesn’t mean that I relayed every rumor that I heard, but if there was a case to be made against him I made it immediately.

By and large this strategy has served me well. I haven’t had to backtrack much, and a lot of people who were speaking temperately a year ago are starting to sound like me.

Sometimes I think that the “Left” is fighting the previous war. Everyone cites Orwell and is scrupulous not to sound Stalinist, but excessive accomodation to the Right is really a bigger problem in the US.

In England you do have a hefty ultra-Left and I can see the problems with that; but when the tiny US ultra-left (“the Chomskyites”) became completely marginalized, a lot of the center-left became excessively timid. That finally seems to be changing, though.

Incidentally, the harshest attack-dog sites (Bartcop, Media Whores Online, and probably Hesiod and Atrios) are mostly quite centrist in their politics. Cockburn and Chomsky really aren’t in the picture for them, by and large.


pj 09.29.03 at 5:55 pm

F___ that! Right wing vitriol that spread bogus “scandals” helped elect Bush president, and bogus right wing outrage about people mourning a fallen Senator helped the GOP pick up seats in 2002, so no, I don’t think you’re advice is very good. It’s pathetic, weak, idiotic advice. This drum should be pounded till it breaks, and then we should find an even bigger drum. No more unilateral disarmament to serve the ends of nonexistant “civility.”


Ratherworried 09.29.03 at 6:41 pm

If someone breaks the law they should be punished. Even if they are President. Even if they are a popular Democratic President (perjury, sexual assault, sexual harassment).

That said, I think a little perspective is in order here. The lefty blogs have been desperately searching for a scandal when perhaps a good candidate would be better way to replace Bush. (10 and counting and still waiting…) The scandals that were going to bring down Bush are many in number. Remember?

Enron, Energy Task Force, Pre 9/11 Intelligence, Bush LIED!, etc…

This looks like it could be a criminal act committed by someone with detailed knowledge within the Administration. It could also be ‘common knowledge’ within the beltway who actually was leaking this information (and it probably is). The fact that a scandal has completely failed to errupt may have more to do with that.

The only way Bush is going to leave office is if a candidate with integrity, the ability to say what he/she would have done in Bush’s place (and defend it), defeats him at the polls. Anything else is just wishful thinking and political posturing.

Go Dean.


Ben 09.30.03 at 3:57 am

My suggestion: Let’s get the facts on the table before we draw our conclusions. Much of the commentary on this matter reminds me of the quote attributed to Judge Roy Bean: “First we’ll give him a fair trial, then we’ll hang him.” So far, there is nothing but conjecture based upon finely parsed statements by people who may or may not have any idea what they are talking about; it is not clear at this point what Plame’s position was at the CIA or where the leak originated. I have even heard suggestions that her affiliation was common knowledge around Washington.

In any event, like most political stories, this one seems to be taking on a life of its own which is entirely independent of the state of actual knowledge about the events in question. If this ultimately confirms the fondest dreams of liberals, heads should roll; if it confirms everything conservatives hate about the media, heads should be hung in shame.

My best guess: the narrative which ultimately emerges will be a far cry from what really happened, and the truth is most likely that somebody made a mistake. Never assume a conspiracy when the possibility of a screw up exists.


pj 09.30.03 at 12:20 pm


If you’re objective is to make absolutely sure that the truth never comes out, then your approach is best. There is absolutely no way to get the alleged wrongdoers to testify about these events without placing excessive pressure on the administration. Bush has to investigate Bush for this to go anywhere, and he won’t do that unless he absolutely has to.

We don’t want this to be another Harken investigation, in which the matter is cleared and the file is closed without even an interview being conducted.


Robert Schwartz 09.30.03 at 2:42 pm


Robert Schwartz 09.30.03 at 4:16 pm


Brian Weatherson 09.30.03 at 5:11 pm

If that’s the best the right can do then we may as well start writing out the resignation letters now. All Taranto can come up with is that there’s little motivation here (true, but there’s no accounting for pettiness) that she may not be undercover (not what Gonzales is saying) and that it’s all the CIA’s fault (because not running a full-court press to stop Novak running with this is the real crime here, obviously). Either get better excuses, or get ready for the resignations.


Robert Schwartz 10.01.03 at 6:25 am


Randolph Fritz 10.01.03 at 7:12 pm

The criminal hubby has finally been caught in the act–or at least may have been–and is looking a little contrite…ought wifey just forgive him and take him back?

Hell, no! At the very least, insist on some changes. And she’s not going to get them if she lets him off the hook too easily.

Now, if only we had an international marriage counselor…

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