“Argo” prompted a disturbing thought that has been haunting me since I saw the picture. I am sorry that I had the thought, and hoped that it had been successfully banished by time and hope. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition of “Argo” winning the Best Picture Oscar combined with the inappropriate and intrusive appearance of Michelle Obama to announce it, complete with a politics-tinged speech that was as gratuitous as it was manipulative, caused that thought to begin burning in my brain again. Alas, here it is.
At the conclusion of “Argo,” former President Carter is heard emphasizing the obvious, that in 1980 he would have loved to have taken credit for the audacious rescue of the six American Embassy workers from Iran that was engineered by his CIA. But, Carter says, do so would have endangered the remaining hostages, and though it would have helped his politically besieged Presidency (which was lost to Ronald Reagan that same year, in part because of Carter’s perceived weakness in handling the hostage crisis), giving all of the credit to Canada was the right and responsible thing to do.
I am no admirer of Jimmy Carter’s policies, personality, Presidency or leadership. He is, however, an ethical man. He was President before the hyper-partisanship that has rotted our politics, before the “perpetual campaign” style of leadership launched by Clinton, and before every act by every main stage player in Washington appeared to be dictated by the need to hold power, rather than by the needs of the people. My horrible thought is that I believe the current President and his Machiavellian political advisors would not have done as Carter did, if the “Argo” scenario played out in 2012, as that Presidential election approached. This White House, facing the prospect of defeat, would find a way to leak its participation in the successful rescue, judging its retention of power a higher goal than protecting the hostages that may well have died anyway.
I wish I didn’t have this thought, but I cannot banish it. The unseemly chest-thumping and credit-grabbing over the killing of Bin Laden, the leaking of details about the deliberations leading to it, the deceptive handling of the Benghazi disaster, and yes, the inability of the President’s political strategists to resist attaching the President or his wife to anything remotely positive—even the Academy Awards— while refusing to accept responsibility for any mistake, miscalculation or failure (See Bob Woodward on the disinformation campaign regarding the looming sequester, beginning with Obama’s outright lie in the third Presidential debate, “The sequester is not something that I’ve proposed.”), all have me convinced that the days when we can trust a President to risk his own grip on power for the good of the country are gone, perhaps forever.
As I said, it is a horrible thought, and I fervently wish I didn’t have it. I want to trust and admire our nation’s leaders, the President most of all. But the leaders of both parties have earned this level of distrust, and I see no signs that they are capable of making that horrible thought, and other too, go away.