Normally I don’t get all that excited about protests against the awarding of honorary degrees to those thought by some to be unworthy. Nor does it matter to me much one way or the other whether UMass Amherst goes ahead and hands such a degree to former White House chief of staff Andrew Card this Friday.
But I was struck by an op-ed piece in today’s Globe by Vijay Prashad, director of the International Studies Program at Trinity College. What caught my eye was that, according to Prashad, Card has actually been lobbying for the degree, initiating an hour-long conversation with at least one UMass trustee and defending himself in an interview with the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Card’s message to his critics: I’m not the guy you think I am. Media Nation diverted $1.99 from its capital-projects budget in order to buy the Gazette article, which is hidden behind a pay wall. Some highlights:
“I am greatly flattered and grateful to UMass for this degree,” Card said in a telephone interview. “I defend that right to speak out, but they [the protesters] might want to do some homework.”…
Protesters are critical of what they see as Card’s role in orchestrating the lead-up to America’s invasion of Iraq and the ongoing war. Some have accused him of lying.
Card, who served as President Bush’s chief of staff from 2001 to 2006, said he has done no such thing.
“I don’t know what lie they say I have perpetrated,” Card said. “I have not lied and the people who know me know that I would not do that.”…
“In my experience, protesters have taken quotes in newspapers out of context and the things they say don’t always reflect the reality of the burden of the decisions we have to make,” Card said.
I’ll stop there. I’m up against the limits of fair use here, but I do want to get my two bucks’ worth.
Now, I’m not sure whether Card has ever actually lied about anything important, but he did amass quite a record in serving George W. Bush. (He was a top aide to Bush’s father, too.) The most notorious example — which Prashad mentions in his op-ed — was Card’s statement about the build-up to the Iraq war in 2002, when he said that “from a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
Were Card’s words “taken out of context,” as he suggests in his interview with the Gazette? Without a transcript, we can’t know for sure. But we can at least look at the context in which that particular quote was used — in a Sept. 7, 2002, page-one New York Times story by Elisabeth Bumiller headlined “Bush Aides Set Strategy to Sell Policy on Iraq.” Her 1,000-word story describes a coordinated effort by the White House. Here’s how it begins:
White House officials said today that the administration was following a meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein.
The rollout of the strategy this week, they said, was planned long before President Bush’s vacation in Texas last month. It was not hastily concocted, they insisted, after some prominent Republicans began to raise doubts about moving against Mr. Hussein and administration officials made contradictory statements about the need for weapons inspectors in Iraq.
The White House decided, they said, that even with the appearance of disarray it was still more advantageous to wait until after Labor Day to kick off their plan.
“From a marketing point of view,” said Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff who is coordinating the effort, “you don’t introduce new products in August.”
Toward the end of Bumiller’s story, Karl Rove says pretty much the same thing:
White House officials said they began planning more intensively for the Iraq rollout in July. Advisers consulted the Congressional calendar to figure out the best time for Iraq hearings while Ms. [Karen] Hughes [a former top Bush aide], even as she was driving back to Texas, discussed with Mr. Bush the outlines of his Sept. 11 speech.
By August, with Congress out of town and the United Nations not convening until September, White House officials decided to wait out the month, even as final planning continued by phone between advisers in Washington and at Mr. Bush’s ranch in Texas.
“There was a deliberate sense that this was not the time to engage in his [sic?] process,” Mr. Rove said. “The thought was in August the president is sort of on vacation.
Based on the context in which Bumiller quotes Card, and on Rove’s similar remarks, I’d say Card’s infamous “new products” remark is every bit as cynical as his critics charge. I hope Card reflects every day on the consequences of that sales job.
Also, though Prashad doesn’t mention it, just last week we learned something new, important and disturbing about Card’s conduct in the White House. Former deputy attorney general James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that, in 2004, he had to rush to the hospital in order to intercept Card and then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who were trying to pressure the gravely ill attorney general, John Ashcroft, to reauthorize a no-warrant spying program that Ashcroft had already ruled was illegal.
The Globe’s Charlie Savage reports that Ashcroft refused, and that Card was furious with Comey for attempting to intervene on behalf of the ailing A.G.
Time was when Andy Card’s reputation was that of a moderate Republican state legislator from the South Shore, a good guy who probably would have made a pretty good governor. But it was his choice to cast his lot with George W. Bush.
You almost wonder whether the old man asked Card to keep an eye on his impetuous son. If that was the case, it didn’t work out.