A friend and I were having lunch the other day when the topic of our most recently discredited politician joined us in conversation. I suggested – and still believe – that President Obama will marginalize the issue of whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knew the CIA was using techniques labeled “enhanced interrogation.” Digging through past events will benefit neither his administration nor the Democratic Congress, and he has controversy in the present that requires his attention. My friend took my point, but to it added his circumspect two-cents:
“It is a grave mischance for the individual that indentifies in his opponent 20 flaws, 19 of which are true, for though they will have shown their opponent to be deeply flawed; to an audience, accuser and accused will appear on equal terms.” (It is possible that given a period of interlude this quote waxed eloquent in my memory. Still, it must be noted that only one of us treated the issue of Nancy Pelosi and her dalliances with untruth with proper distance that afternoon. I shall have to invite my friend to lunch again and thank him.)
For those readers unclear on the details, the AP provides a useful timeline of events concerning Pelosi, the CIA, and the memos in between (it can be found here). The debate has centered on whether Pelosi, in her position on the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed on the CIA’s use of methods now considered to be torture. If she was, she lied this year in April when she stated “we were not — I repeat, were not — told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.” The CIA, in what can only be interpreted as a half-hearted response to her statement, released documents that show they did brief Pelosi, or a member of her staff, on those methods – maybe. According to C.I.A Director Leon Panetta, he cannot verify “whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened.”
So what are engrossed supporters and opponents of Pelosi – that dwindling lot – left with? It is the possibility that a politician deceived the public about how much she knew, and did so to make herself seem morally clean. Whether or not Pelosi actually lied will never be resolved provided she sticks to her story and keeps any potential leaks on her staff stoppered. Critics may continue to pretend the case against her is open and shut, that Pelosi lied and the question is only how we should react, but clearly they overplay their hand. The House Speaker has not yet been caught contradicting herself, contradictory evidence has yet to be conclusive, and thus an actual lie cannot be shown. Unless, Hannity, Limbaugh, and kind wish to consider interrogating Pelosi with – shall we say – enhanced enthusiasm, they will continue to utter nonsense remarks regarding this point (though, Newt Grinch put hopes to rest; assuring The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart the GOP would not use torture on Pelosi).
This debate on Pelosi’s ignorance of the Bush Administrations’ torturing of detainees has likely advanced to its final stage. No new facts are due to be disclosed and all relevant parties have given their reports. But suppose this was not case and, instead, Pelosi having lied was fait accompli. As was intimated earlier, a politician lying is surely by now a banality. Could the babbling class on television and in print really be surprised by this uninteresting revelation? Neither party stands to gain from drawing a spotlight on the Speaker’s record.
Democrats, quite obviously, have important items on their agenda and, as they have a majority in both houses, would be very foolish to squander precious legislating days on a defensive effort for their speaker – they should bite the reign, lower their heads, and ignore any and all calls to do otherwise.
Republicans may, in the short term, be attracted to making a fuss over Pelosi and arguably they would stand to gain a little. If they could draw Democratic attention away from their agenda, then a small victory is won. However, it should by now be apparent to everyone that Republicans are ideologically and strategically awry. Pundits will often suggest that the GOP is in the process of “soul searching,” which seems off-the mark (and a little too close to the language one uses when describing the supposed activity the one weird kid from school would be doing when people told him to leave them alone). I prefer to imagine Republicans as a steam engine that has exhausted its fuel. That said, all they need to once more make political headway is new fuel and a talented conductor. But the Pelosi lie is not new fuel. Even if Republicans did not care about reconstructing (or reverting to) a Party ideology and simply wanted an issue that would hurt Democrats and help Republicans they should look beyond Pelosi. To attack her record on torture would be to invite Americans to consider yet again their dislike of controversial Bush policy and Republican quiescence toward it.
To put it plainly, the Pelosi jibber jabber is the aftershock of a really violent earthquake. It is bad, and sometimes newsworthy, when a politician lies to the people. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” as President Clinton will now attest, was a sentence one-word too long. But so what? The annunciation of this quickly repudiated claim did not alter Clinton’s direction or ability as a politician. If it is true that Pelosi lied about knowing whether enhanced interrogation techniques were used in 2003, her political priorities and abilities will nevertheless remain static. This is because the only test of a politician will be in their actions. The words and utterances of any political figure are as meaningless as the clothes they wear from one day to the next.