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  • Tuesday, January 16, 2007


    Digging Up Michael Kelly

    Yes, I am fully aware that Michael Kelly died in Iraq back when it was still a fledgling quagmire, but I thought four years after he wrote this, it would be instructive to revisit a column from one of the leading "centrists" of the era who assured us that those guys in the White House knew what they were doing and, had Kelly lived, might be making the same excuses as noted below.

    Before getting the column, keep this in mind from the linked Peggy Noonan column:
    She said, "He was brave. And he was a warrior. He would take on anything if he believed it was right."

    You mean he was willing to pay a price for where he stood? I asked.

    "Yes. He refused to be part of the conventional wisdom. He was never part of the pack." She paused. "That's what drove people crazy, that they couldn't classify him. But he was willing not to be liked."

    Good thing, as a life of honesty is a life of controversy, and Kelly seemed constitutionally an honest man.

    He showed that in many ways. Certainly in his columns on the coming war, and in his support for invasion. Certainly too in his work during the Clinton era, when he was a reporter for the New York Times and then the young editor of The New Republic. At the Times he was the author of the first and still definitive Hillary Clinton take-down, the brilliant "Saint Hillary," a Sunday magazine cover story. Do you remember it, with Mrs. Clinton posed all in white, ethereal and serene? Her people must have been sure it would be a Timesian puff. It was instead a hard-eyed look of the intersection of vanity and liberalism. No one denied it was brilliantly reported and written with sly spirit, but it was controversial in high end journalistic circles because it did not exactly reflect the reporting of a liberal mind at work.

    Kelly went to The New Republic, where he was no doubt hired for his independence and brilliance and then rather obviously canned for his independence and brilliance, in that case for showing disgust with Bill Clinton and Al Gore. He landed at National Journal and got a weekly column at the Washington Post.

    He summed up his final judgment on Bill Clinton in a column a few years later, when he responded to another journalist's assertion that Bill Clinton was "unique." Yes, said Kelly. "What comes across as the most important source of Clinton's uniqueness as president is the nearly unbelievable degree of his essential unfitness to be president -- his profound immaturity, his pathological selfishness, his cynicism, above all his relentless corruption."
    Now back to Kelly on the Bush White House Gang, 11/13/2002:
    Our Democratic story so far: George W. Bush is a usurper of power, an incompetent frat-boy fool and a radical extremist (or the incompetent frat-boy-fool pawn of the radical extremists who control him and his White House). In domestic governance, the fool-extremist Bush administration embraces anti-environmental, corporatist, plutocratic policies that must, if properly exposed, meet with mainstream rejection. In foreign policy, the administration is at once inept and menacing: a know-nothing president led by a cabal of neo-imperialists into an unwanted war, the prospect of which has alienated the world and the reality of which will be a corpse-rich quagmire (quagmire! quagmire! quagmire!).

    It follows that the mistake Democrats made -- the mistake that cost them last week's elections -- is only not to have pointed all this out enough. They weren't liberal enough, loud enough or angry enough. Thus, the party's core voters stayed home this year, and thus the debacle.

    The Democrats' only problem here is that pretty much all of this is wrong.

    Bush is not a stupid or incompetent president. In the ways that matter, he is smart and very competent. He possesses the first requirement of greatness in a president -- not the only, but the first -- a clear understanding of what he wants to achieve and the determination to achieve it, seemingly regardless of the risk of personal failure. He presides over an administration that is unusually intelligent -- and also cunning -- unusually experienced, unusually disciplined and unusually bold.
    Regardless of what Peggy Noonan's imaginary friend may have said about Kelly refusing to be "part of the conventional wisdom", this was the coventional wisdom of the time and Kelly swallowed it hook, line, and sinker only to regurgitate it back up for his readers.

    One may safely say that Michael Kelly was an uncommonly brave man who had the courage of his convictions that would eventually lead him to cover a war in Iraq where he would lose his life. But as a judge of people and a prognosticator of things to come, he could not have been more wrong.


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