It was an awful moment, and many Americans shared it on TV. During Michael Dukakis’ failed bid for the Presidency, an interviewer asked him whether he would still feel the same way about capital punishment if his own wife or family member were a victim of a rapist murderer. Dukakis’ reply, broadcast nationwide, helped to derail his 1988 campaign.
His reply was rational and dispassionate and averred the constancy of his opposition to capital punishment. But it gave no hint of a truly human response to such a rude question and the specter it raised. He did not say that his anger and sorrow would know no bounds. He did not say that his personal agony in such a circumstance was one thing, but that the action of the state and its officials in response to crime properly should be quite another.
Given time to reflect, and perhaps the assistance of spin-doctors and speechwriters, he would likely have left a different impression. But most Americans, regardless of their opinions on capital punishment, were uncomfortable and mistrusting of Michael’s remote and anemic reply. An irreverent, ambushing, intelligent and responsible press, and it’s regular, frequent access to political leaders is essential for effective investigation of important issues and to inform the public.
During the recent and extremely rare ‘Meet The Press’ interview of George W. Bush, Jr., the President was reminded that the reasons he and his administration gave prior to invading Iraq were that (1) Saddam Hussein was allied with and supported the hijackers who attacked America on 9/11, and that (2) Iraq possessed chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction which could be used on short notice to attack the United States.
But neither was true. Point one, Saddam and Osama were enemies of each other before the invasion, not allies. And none of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis. Point two, in the months prior to invading Iraq, the Administration repeatedly ridiculed the U.N. inspection team for ineptness in being unable to find any WMD’s, and ridiculed the Iraqi regime’s repeated denials of possession of any WMD’s. But one year after that invasion, the U.S. invasion and occupying force, and its teams of searchers have also been unable to find any such weapons, or systems capable of producing or delivering them.
Mr. Bush said that we are making history. Undoubtedly. It’s certainly historic when the world’s greatest democracy, one whose founding has inspired human aspirations worldwide, and which prides itself on being a government that adheres to the rule of law, unleashes a pre-emptive attack, invasion and occupation of a non-belligerent sovereign nation, using rationales that have proven to be absolutely false. If you acted so with a neighbor or stranger, you’d be arrested for conspiracy and aggravated battery or murder unless you owned the police department. And your lawyer would be risking a malpractice suit if he didn’t enter an insanity plea in your defense.
The interviewer asked the president whether it was worth the loss of life and the grievous injuries to remove Saddam Hussein even though the rationale given to Congress, the American people and the world prior to the invasion proved false. He stammered, he hesitated, he rambled in reply. “…Saddam Hussein was a dangerous man … He had the ability to make weapons at the very minimum … I’ve asked these young ones to sacrifice for that …” But he gave no hint he had a sense of the scale of human suffering in war. He did not say that the families of casualties of the invasion were not alone in their sorrow. He did not say that there were people, including important people such as himself, who had never met their loved ones, but who also grieved the tragic loss of promising life. He did not say that every military and political leader, especially himself, took every precaution to see that the decisions and actions taken were the best advised, most carefully considered ones for all the people of America and the world. He did not say that those who have died and those who will yet die will have given all they had to give, and that gift honors them more than our words and assurances and medals ever could. Nor did he say that in the final analysis it is up to each of us to ensure that their lives and deaths be not in vain by defending, with courage and in our own way, the freedom and democracy and human rights that represent the very best in American ideals and traditions.
He said none of this. He might have, had he been looking through a teleprompter into a TV camera lens, reading words composed by spin doctors and speechwriters. Instead, George was fidgeting with his feet, grinning oddly, and at a loss for words without a script at an immensely important moment of simple truth. Michael’s moment of truth arguably cost him the Presidency. George’s moment reveals deficiencies in his administration that warrant impeachment.