Politics, pardon and crimes

Mona Charen

December 30, 1992|By Mona Charen

GEORGE Bush has at last freed himself from the great illusio that marred his presidency -- that of bipartisanship. By pardoning the Iran/contra defendants, an act of courage, Mr. Bush demonstrated that he now understands the raw political motives at work in Washington.

It may perhaps seem odd to accuse the president of misunderstanding the political nature of this most political city, but it is true. He began his administration begging for an end to "bickering." On issue after issue, from the civil rights bill to the budget deal, he could not see that the Democrats were motivated by a desire to make him look bad. (Republicans do the same thing.) Good politicians understand political posturing and maneuver accordingly. Not George Bush.

A savvy politician like Sen. Bob Dole, who can sniff out a political motive at 50 paces, recognized the Iran/contra persecution for what it was -- a political vendetta. Mr. Bush was slower to see the truth. For years, he stressed his cooperation with each investigating body, from the congressional committee, to the Tower Commission, to the special prosecutor, as if anyone were really interested in the truth.

But on Christmas Eve, with the emptiness of post-White House life looming and the powder burn of the second Weinberger indictment (released just four days before the election) still on his back, President Bush decided to fight fire with fire.

Despite the obvious political motivation of the second Weinberger indictment (since thrown out by the court), most of the press treats Mr. Walsh as a dispassionate seeker after truth. Even in the face of Mr. Walsh's remarkable performance in Oklahoma City following the pardons, where he pronounced Weinberger guilty (an incredible faux pas, since a prosecutor is expected to wait for a jury to determine guilt) and openly threatened the president of the United States with indictment as revenge, the press questioned only the motives of Mr. Bush.

Democrats are fond of pointing out that Mr. Walsh is a Republican. Maybe so, but he is a Republican the way Madonna is a Catholic. Besides, the overwhelming majority of his staff of lawyers are liberal Democrats, and they have been out for Ronald Reagan's and/or George Bush's scalps from the beginning. Indeed, at his press conference, Mr. Walsh admitted that he believed in a mammoth conspiracy to cover up presidential wrongdoing -- a conspiracy that successfully shielded Ronald Reagan from impeachment for Iran/contra "crimes."

Supporters of the special counsel ask if lying is to be tolerated in public life. Well, it depends who's doing it, doesn't it? We just elected a new chief executive who counseled his friend Gennifer Flowers to lie if anyone asked about their relationship. Later, he -- denied that he had ever had an affair with her. Special prosecutor, anyone?

What George Bush belatedly came to recognize is that the Iran/contra scandal had little to do with Iran and everything to do with contra. If the affair had consisted only of Mr. Reagan secreting arms to the ayatollah, it would have been acutely embarrassing for a few months, no more. But because the joy riders in the Old Executive Office Building found a way to divert the profits to the contras, a blood feud began that even now, six years after the scandal broke, will not die.

There are two reasons for this. The first is a flaw in the special prosecutor law that gives the office unlimited time and money to operate. The second is psychological. The liberal Democrats who self-righteously withheld aid to the contras have been proved wrong by history. When Nicaragua was at last permitted to enjoy a free vote, the Sandinistas were ousted and the allies of the contras elected. By tarring the entire Reagan administration effort on behalf of the contras as shameful (which what the Iran/contra "scandal" accomplished), the Democrats seek to repair their spurious moral superiority.

The past decade has not been a proud one for the nation's leading political party. In the Bork and Thomas hearings, the Democrats stooped to character assassination. In Iran/contra, they tried to throw their political opponents in prison. If that's not dirty politics, what is?

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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