Nick Bromell, a childhood friend of Scooter Libby, tells us more about himself than he probably intended and also something about his idea of what it means to be a modern liberal. Little of what he says is flattering to either himself or liberalism. Here are some excerpts from a much longer essay:
So, for six years I've been obsessed with Scooter. Every time I read a newspaper, I see Scooter and me hunched over a game of Stratego (which he usually won), or I see him faking right before hooking left so I can hit him with a pass in the end zone. Walking my dog through the woods around our house, I chant the mantra of questions I literally ache to ask him: How could you work for an administration that denies global warming and supports tax breaks for large SUVs? How could you work for an administration that cuts funding for birth control to the poorest people in our country and the world? How could you so brazenly exaggerate the threat of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, and how could you so foolishly imagine that American troops would be welcomed in Baghdad with cheers and flowers?
In my hotter moments-I have fewer and fewer cool moments these days-I ask Scooter whether his political identification with homophobia is distinguishable from a political identification with racism or anti-Semitism. And convinced that it is not, I sit down at my desk to do it: to write the letter telling Scooter that I can no longer be his friend, not even in the rather distant way we have been friends for all these years.
You'd think that as friends Bromell would at least extend Libby the benefit of the doubt on these issues rather than portraying them so unfairly. No one, for example, denies global warming. What is questioned is the cause, the importance, and the permanence of the rise in the earth's temperature. No one, not even the censorious Mr. Bromell, knows the answers to these questions.
Nor is it homophobia to oppose gay marriage. To compare opposition to gay marriage to racism and anti-semitism is either ignorant, foolish, or dishonest.
Today, my old friend is under indictment for obstructing justice by lying about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame affair. Unless his lawyers manage to engineer a miracle, he will be tried in court early in 2007. There he will face the distinct possibility of public disgrace and a career-terminating jail sentence. So what should I hope for, I ask myself: my old friend's acquittal or his conviction?
Why wouldn't any decent human being hope that his friend would be innocent of the chages and thus acquitted? Why isn't hoping for his friend's acquittal a no-brainer for Mr. Bromell? Is it that punishing people one disagrees with politically is a higher priority for this self-described liberal than the obligations of friendship?
A liberal, as I use the term, is someone who never gives up trying to see the other person's point of view. A liberal never stops doubting himself, for self-doubt is precisely what allows us to make room in our minds for someone else's views and to keep the possibility of communication between us alive. A fundamentalist, on the other hand, is someone to whom the very idea of point of view is immaterial, or worse-the foundation of relativism. A warrior who pledges fealty to the god of one Truth, a fundamentalist searches for personal conviction, not mutual understanding.
By his own definitions I'd say Mr. Bromell shows himself to be more of a fundamentalist than a liberal. He's not making much of an effort in this article to see Scooter Libby's point of view. His description of a fundamentalist, in fact, sounds very much like a description of his own tone in the first two paragraphs above.
What I want to ask Scooter today is how the United States can shape "the international security order in line with American principles and interests" if those principles include-as the document implies-the right of a nation to seek preeminence. After all, if we aim to shape the world in accordance with that principle, aren't we inviting the other nations of the world to emulate us and thereby to seek preeminence themselves?
For Mr. Bromell it is nefarious for nations to strive for greatness. It's chauvinistic to think that one's principles are superior to those of others. Mr. Bromell would apparently prefer that all nations remain equal in their shared mediocrity. Rather than getting out in front and pulling others along in our slipstream, if people like Mr. Bromell had their way all nations would be stalled at the same level of achievement as the most laggard third world economic basket case.
In my own experience, this pernicious trend resolves itself finally into the matter of whether I should remain Scooter's friend and what verdict I should hope for at his trial. There's a part of me that wants to see him get nailed. There's a part of me that wants to end the endless imagined conversations I've been having with him, that wants to stop peppering him with "How can you?" questions, that wants to arrive at the Zen clarity of the warrior who focuses on one thing only: victory.
But there's another part of me-call it the lingering liberal part-that tries to be fair to Scooter's point of view, that doesn't want to consign him to the camp of "the enemy," that wants to keep lines of communication open.
Would remaining Scooter's friend be the surest way I have of remaining true to the principles of liberalism, as I understand that word? Or would it just be an excuse for my failure to face a difficult situation, and one that makes me a sucker as well? Would recognizing Scooter as my enemy be the honest thing to do, and the only thing he would truly respect?
In other words, rather than loving his friend unconditionally, he agonizes over whether his liberal principles might require him to hope his friend's life is ruined. This makes liberalism sound more like a fringe fundamentalist religion than a set of political principles.
I know that terrorists aren't out to grab American assets. What they hate is a certain image of America, America as a cultural chauvinist trying to impose its principles and interests on the rest of the world.
This is remarkably naive. What terrorists hate about America is the fact that we are not Muslim and that we protect Israel. They hate us, too, because our success, in spite of our being infidels, is an indictment of their own ineptitude and of the religion that has stultified their progress for a thousand years.
If I .... [am] correct, then the best way for the United States to combat the religious fundamentalism that underwrites terrorism is to remain a liberal state guided by liberal principles. The worst thing we can do is precisely what the Bush administration has promoted: become a fundamentalist nation that mirrors bin Laden's fantasies back to him and thus confirms them.
Presumably one of those liberal principles is to treat Islamo-terrorists as criminals rather than as a military foe whose aim is to utterly destroy us and our way of life. How long would our liberal principles last if we refused to fight against this threat?
And Cheney would be right. We liberals do want to hold onto the word true because we know that behind our policy proposals lurks a deep sense of right and wrong, a deep instinct about what makes life valuable and meaningful. But we do not fully articulate these beliefs, and we seldom even admit that we have them. Because they rest at bottom on conviction, not reason, and therefore cannot be justified without circularity, we hesitate to bring them into the open. We are nervous about admitting that in this sense our politics are as faith-based as those of any fundamentalist.
I'm not sure what he's getting at in the preceding paragraph except to admit that liberal principles rest on little more than a subjective preference. If that's what he's saying it's quite an admission. It is an acknowledgement that at bottom liberalism is a non-rational choice that people make simply because it makes them feel good.
While I want the Bush administration to be held accountable for its blunders and its lies, I also want my friend Scooter to be proven innocent and to go home to his family. In short, I want things both ways.
Well, then. Why all the anguish over what he ultimately wants. And how would convicting a minor figure really be punishing the Bush administration anyway? Mr. Bromell sounds like a very mean-spirited and vindictive man who comes close to being willing to sacrifice his friend if it will, even in small measure, somehow hurt Bush.
I wonder if his sense of justice wants Bill Clinton's administration held accountable for its blunders and lies? Does he, for example, insist that Sandy Berger be prosecuted for stealing documents from the National Archives and destroying them? Or is that crime justified because it served the interest of Democrats?
If this attitude involves me in self-contradiction, so be it. The risk of a seeming inconsistency is one that liberals must take if we are to meet the complexities of the world as we know it. But we should undertake this risk agonizingly, not flippantly, taking the full measure of what is at stake as we make up our minds.
Mr. Bromell makes here another confession. Liberalism, at least as he understands it, is inconsistent with the way the world is. The inconsistency, however, is mostly within himself. He wants to see anyone associated with the Bush administration destroyed, but he can't reconcile that with his obligation to love his friend. The problem is more with Mr. Bromell's character, perhaps, than with his ideology.
How is it inconsistent, whether one is a liberal or a conservative, to desire to see justice done while hoping that one's friend is innocent? Mr. Bromell is so blinded by his hatred for Bush that any twinge of human sentiment and common sense that interferes with his desire for punishment seems to him to raise the specter of a contradiction.
Most of the liberals I know are good, kind people who are not at all the obsessed, vindictive Captain Ahabs Mr. Bromell paints himself as being. They would have no trouble loving their friend and praying for his acquittal, even if they disagreed in every neuron in their bodies with the Bush administration's policies. But the liberalism Mr. Bromell displays really is something very ugly.RLC