The sad specter of deception that is haunting my alma mater, Notre Dame, these days brings to mind another hoax, more disastrous by far than a college football hero’s “imaginary girlfriend.” The nation is about to celebrate (or not) the tenth anniversary of Colin Powell’s infamous testimony before the United Nations Security Council, delivered on February 5, 2003. Powell later called it “the worst day of my life,” and with good reason: his testimony placed his full faith and credit behind a passel of lies fed to him by folks whose names we’ve almost forgotten — George “Slam Dunk” Tenet, Ahmed Chalabi, Curveball, “Richer” Perle, and a host of con men who would profit and prosper from the coming war.
Alas, there was serious “collateral damage”; but war is, after all, Hell. So the Iraq war came, and launched the decade that saw the destruction of the American economy, the collapse of the Republican Party, the dissolution of the conservative movement, and the utter ruin of millions of American lives.
Mr. Powell is in no mood to celebrate, and who can blame him? He lost a lot of “cred” ten years ago, and he has been trying to regain it ever since. This month he surfaced once more, availing himself of Obama’s second inaugural to grasp another opportunity for self-redemption. To be sure, Mr. Powell’s career had flourished under Republicans for years, but the shame of that fateful February day abides. So, when he appeared on Meet The Press this past January 12, Powell struck out at the party that first made him, and then betrayed him. “There’s also a … dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the [Republican] Party. What I do mean by that? I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities,” he told a fawning admirer posing as an interviewer. He then went on to repeat his charge on MSNBC on the morning of Obama’s second inaugural, which was held on the Martin Luther King federal holiday.
Curiously, Powell did not level the one charge that would stick. He could easily have pointed out that the same GOP faction that had fed him those lies in 2003 had gone on to prosper off of the subsequent wars. Moreover, he could have marveled that they were still in charge of Washington’s GOP establishment. He might then have observed, with a wry smile, that Obama has embraced the same policies with a vengeance.
To point out that irony, however, would be inconvenient for the aspiring Elder Statesman. Attacking Republican “racism” is a much easier media sell, especially in Obamaland, which encompasses virtually all of the Old Media.
One wonders: given his deep-seated disdain for the GOP, how could Powell ever have dreamed of running for president as a Republican? After all, when he had performed a media-driven dance in that direction some time back, he quickly discovered that that the party was unlikely to nominate a pro-choice candidate.
OK, wrong party. Powell, like Obama, is pro-choice. Case closed. So why blame “racism”?
Happy Talk From Has-Beens
In Washington as in Hollywood, countless over-the-hill types like Colin Powell struggle to overstay their time in the spotlight. To succeed, however, they must follow a tight script, lest they be banished into obscurity. Eventually, one might chalk it up to simple narcissism, which does not mix well with gratitude. Case in point: had Colin Powell made a public point of thanking the GOP for making him what he is today, he would long ago have been exiled down the well-worn path that leads to Dick Cheney’s “undisclosed location.”
In order better to illustrate the condition, I propose the “Has-Been Curve,” a parallel to the Laffer Curve — the bell curve where, if you’re to the right of the apex, you’re taxing more but getting less, remember? Well, according to the “Has-Been Curve,” celebrities of all sorts start coasting downhill long before they had planned (fame is fleeting indeed). As time smartly moves along, the one-minute wonder is speeding towards anonymity. Adulation has a tendency, in Karl Marx’s memorable phrase, to “wither away.”
To reverse this decline, an overpaid media flak might advise his sinking client to propound ever more strident, outrageous, and PC-friendly public statements that might garner the attention of the Old Media, which are always willing to resuscitate Has-Beens if they will obediently spout the Party Line. Of course, the Has-Been sees this attention merely as a confirmation of his belief that he is indeed indispensable to his countless fans. So the ruse works for everybody.
The Silence of the Shams
Back to Colin Powell. In 2008, statistics from the the Guttmacher Institute indicated that black babies are aborted at a rate of five times the rate of white babies. That horrific figure prompted Washington Auxiliary Bishop Martin D. Holley to exclaim, “As an African American, I am saddened by evidence that black women continue to be targeted by the abortion industry.”
You have heard of Colin Powell, yes? Have you heard of Bishop Holley? No? Do you wonder why?
Imagine Colin Powell announcing on Meet The Press that he’s no longer pro-choice, that he’s pro-life, and that he embraced that conviction because he had discovered that abortion clinics concentrate on minority urban neighborhoods, and had concluded that Bishop Holley was right. He might add that he has chosen to make this announcement on the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, because countless millions of black babies in America had been aborted since 1973, and enough is enough.
Consider: would pro-lifer Powell be touted as a media star on Martin Luther King Day? Or would he be firmly shoved off the cliff of the Has-Been Curve, and crammed down the Old Media Memory Hole?
Fame, Flaws, and the Founders
Civilized man has known for ages that the inordinate desire for fame tempts those in all walks of life. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). The Founding Fathers recognized this temptation clearly: John Adams constantly fretted about it, well aware that the lust for fame can easily appear in the disguise of a sincere desire to serve the common good.
Why doesn’t this fundamental flaw trouble politicians of our own age? Perhaps the reader will recall None Dare Call It Treason, the 1964 best-seller. The title comes from a seventeenth-century epigram by Sir John Harrington:
Treason doth never prosper: what’s the reason?
Why, if it prosper, none dare call it treason.
Today, one might say the same regarding other ancient vices, the lust for fame and glory (superbia vitae) and the lust for power (libido dominandi). If these acknowledged lusts – big-time, deadly, and lethal sins – are indeed widespread, who would dare to say that they’re vices at all? Who but a child would dare to say that the power-lusting emperor has no shame?
Some folks understand it well. My favorite is Bishop Fulton Sheen, whose national network TV show outclassed everything and everybody in the 1950’s. Long after his program was off the air, Bishop Sheen candidly explained how it works. How (if he cared to) might he regain his former celebrity status? He shared his insight during a religious retreat that he gave forty years ago in Gary, Indiana.
“If I attacked the Church today,” he said, “I’d be on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow.”
Ah… so that’s it! Now let’s fill in the blanks – with Colin Powell: “If I attacked the GOP, I’d be on Meet The Press tomorrow.”