Thursday, March 25, 2004

Two Words

As the author of two books, I'm painfully aware that the English language is a complicated animal. While I've been a lifelong student of the written and spoken word, I like to think I'm also a fairly good interpreter of what's best described as "delivery". Verbal delivery is a combination of raw words, tonal nuance, facial expression, and body language. We all know that individual words can have many meanings, but when you consider the other facets of communication, the potential meanings of individual words multiply exponentially.

Perhaps that's why Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission was so powerful. If you haven't actually watched the testimony (live or on tape), you should do so. The written transcript of his testimony simply can't convey the credibility and raw emotion he brought to the witness table. No one could have scripted the visual impact of his turning away from the panel to directly address the families of 9/11 victims in the room at the beginning of his testimony. A simple physical gesture such as that, particularly from someone of Clarke's stature, doesn't come from a script. It emotes from the heart.

There's no doubt in my mind that Richard Clarke is telling the absolute, unvarnished truth -- at least as he sees it. If "confession" is a means of cleansing the soul, no one watching Clarke's testimony yesterday could bring away anything other than the fact that Clarke has been - still is - hurting since 9/11. His 2 hour equivalent of a Washingtonian primal scream was best summed up in two words that resonate with everyone, because everyone has had to utter them at one time or another:

"I'm sorry."

And that's why today I can finally say, without reservation, that the Bush administration is in grave jeopardy of losing a presidential race that was clearly theirs to lose. As the New York Times editorialized today:

Despite attempts by a few commission members to paint Mr. Clarke as a disgruntled former employee trying to get publicity for his new book, the former counterterrorism chief was an impressive, reasonable witness. He has done the country a service in focusing attention on the failures leading up to 9/11. The only problem with his apology was that so few of those failures really seemed to be his.
It's clear that Richard Clarke is a principled man, probably to a personal fault. That's the part of Clarke for which any reasonable human being can feel empathy. The man, unlike most of his contemporaries in the Bush administration, appears to have a conscience. Richard Clarke accepted responsibility, where lesser men (and women) above and below him continue to play politics and shirk any modicum of responsibility for failure. Never mind "accepting responsibility", hell, for the most part they won't even acknowledge that there was failure.

The Lady MacBeth's of the Bush administration will not be as easily able to wash the blood from their hands as did Richard Clarke.