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Jewish World Review June 1, 2001 / 18 Sivan, 5761

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Is graciousness the culprit? -- THIS week's Associated Press headline may not say it all, but it comes close: "White House Vandalism Still Debated."

All those saying "aye"--the Bush administration--have finally come forward in the person of White House spokesman Ari Fleischer to offer a public accounting of the crude mess--the sabotaged phones, damaged computers, graffiti-covered walls, overturned desks and pornographic pictures--members of the outgoing Clinton administration left behind for members of the incoming Bush administration to dig their way out of. Only now, four and a half months after the fact, the Great Clintonista Trashing of the White House has emerged as a topic of "debate," a matter of one man's--or, rather, one administration's--opinion. Or even worse, as Democrats now clamor, it has suddenly been framed as an unfair, unfounded, outright lie.

How did this happen? It all started back in January, after the first juicy rush of vandalism reports from anonymous Bush sources dried up as word came from on high that it was "time to move on"--and stop rubbernecking at the carnage of the Clinton years. Not only were all those post-Clinton post-mortems sucking up political oxygen, they appeared to strike the new president as a matter of what used to known as--and this will sound quaint-- "bad form." As the White House edged itself away from the vandalism story, Mr. Fleischer told the Washington Post, "All the White House stories were aimed at moving forward. It was all in the context of drawing reporters back from the story because that's what the president wanted."

The president, naturally, got what he wanted. The White House may never have gone so far as to deny that any vandalism had taken place, but the story shut down at the source. Given that the White House decided not to document the damage--fear of "bad form" strikes again?--subsequent inquiries by the General Accounting Office (GAO), Congress's investigative arm, and the General Service Administration (GSA), which manages federal property, were inconclusive. As the Washington Post reported, the GSA "issued a letter saying it found no damage to White House real estate but said it was not addressing possible damage to furnishings or equipment. The GAO said it could reach no additional conclusions because of ' the lack of records ... reported by the White House."

Far from inspiring President Bush's Democratic opponents to give a cheer--pip, pip, Old Bean--for his innate sense of discretion and good cheer, the "lack of records" has convinced them to claim that no vandalism ever took place. As Joe Lockhart, one of Bill Clinton's press secretaries put it, "If there was anything there, they should have put it out at the time. Now, they're expecting us to just take their word for it."

(Spoken like a true Clintonista.) Rep. Anthony Weiner, New York Democrat, has gone farther still, demanding that the Bush administration apologize for having "deliberately misled the American people and smeared the names of public servants who were guilty of nothing." And the outrage only grows--as do the numbers of supposed victims. Jake Siewart, another Clinton press secretary, recently told the Kansas City Star, whose misinterpretation of the GSA's initial inquiry seems to have kickstarted this whole phase of the vandalism story, "The White House has been smearing a whole class of people without providing any evidence."

It is, of course, the White House that is now being smeared. "The White House's continuing campaign of disinformation and possible violation of federal law for noncompliance with a GAO investigation calls its credibility--and its list of damaged property--into question," Mr. Weiner's spokeswoman Serena Torrey none-too-serenely told the Washington Post.

All of which has left Ari Fleischer bemoaning the administration's strange predicament. "The White House bent over backward to make this issue go away, to be gracious to the previous administration" Mr. Fleischer told the AP. "We tried to be gracious, but the last administration would not take graciousness," he said to the Washington Post.

Is graciousness really the culprit here? Certainly, it would have been possible for the Bush administration to be gracious--and carry a big video camera. The problem seems to be one of maturity, which may come as a surprise given the relief of having a "grown-up" administration in place. But, as President Bush has said, there is today a profound need to restore a concrete sense of accountability in our government, and in our country. In averting its eyes from the calumnies of the Clinton era, both great and, in this case, puny, the Bush administration no doubt believed it was acting wisely--not to mention downright nobly.

In the end, though, there is something a little naive about believing that any administration could begin anew without facing up to the facts about the old.

JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


06/01/01: The bright side of the Jeffords defection
05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West