The what-did-Bush-know-when pile-on has now

The what-did-Bush-know-when pile-on has now officially reached hysterical levels, as History News Network’s P.M. Carpenter’s call to the administration’s opponents to “Grab a Louisville Slugger” shows (found via Atrios).

I’m not thrilled at all with the spin emmanating from 1600 Pennsylvania on this issue, as I think my current page header makes clear. But I believe it’s damned important to keep in mind that these are not normal times, and as much fun as it may be to beat up on idiots (especially idiots holding public office with whom you hold substantive disagreements), we’d better remember what our priority should be right about now: to win this war.

Carpenter gleefully paints the what-if scenario of where we’d be had Clinton or Gore been in office last September: “Presidential initiatives would be halted cold in their tracks–and permanently. For the remainder of his term, a Clinton or Gore would experience imposed paralyzation, plagued eight days a week by ever-mounting Republican investigations.” And concludes: “Turnabout is but fair.”

Perhaps. Probably, in fact. But frankly I don’t give two shakes about what’s “fair” at the moment — what I care about is ensuring that our government does the absolute best job possible of ensuring the safety of this country. And while I can’t know for sure whether Carpenter really does hope that Bush gets his “turnabout” and ends up with an administration in “imposed paralyzation”, I would hope it’s obvious to anyone that this would be an extraordinarily bad thing right about now.

Does this mean Bush and the administration should get a free pass? Absolutely not. What it means is that any intelligent criticism of the administration must be focused not on simply discrediting Bush or making his appointees look incompetent. It has to be focused on actual constructive criticism of the current course of the government, and on bringing every available intelligent mind to focus on the issue of how we can make it function better. Because we’re not talking about whether the estate tax gets revised or not this year. We’re talking about how we’re going to defend our families and fellow citizens against a still-at-large group of homicidal maniacs who would like very much to kill us.

Should Tenet or Rice or Mueller get fired for their respective failures to prevent 9/11? Maybe. I don’t have enough information yet to form a judgment. But the criteria I’ll apply in making that judgment will not be whether they “deserve” it, or whether a Clinton appointee in their place would be fired — it will be whether removing them from office will improve, or harm, this country’s ability to defend itself.

I think many, if not most, of the voices being raised in alarm and dismay about the administration’s handling of the pre-9/11 warnings — and their current lack of candor — genuinely do have the old and honorable aim of improving our society and government through open discussion and criticism. But some, including Carpenter, seem to be failing to grasp the danger involved in politically castrating the President of the United States when, ever so incidentally, we happen to be at war.