The Scum Also Rises

The Scum Also Rises

How else to explain why arrogant incompetents like Paul Wolfowitz rose to power in the Bush Administration?

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As Paul Wolfowitz twists in the wind after being found guilty in a World Bank investigation of public payola to his girlfriend, it does seem that his career might finally be coming to an end. Pity that the Iraq debacle, which Wolfowitz promoted, was not sufficient reason for removing him from public office; instead, President Bush rewarded “Wolfie” with a promotion to head the World Bank. Add him to the rapidly growing list of Bush alums whose career trajectory suddenly plummets upon the disclosure of a pattern of lying obvious to most observers but not to the President himself.

To understand why scum consistently rises to the surface of the Bush Administration, it is best to refer to the wisdom contained in the final memoir of the late, great Kurt Vonnegut. In an excerpt published in 2006, Vonnegut observed that “George W. Bush has gathered around him…most frighteningly, psychotic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.”

How better to explain the unwavering arrogance of people–certainly Wolfowitz, but clearly he is not alone in this Administration–who consistently get it wrong yet plow on undeterred by the inconvenience of fact or logic? Most of us, once associated with the grievous distortions of evidence and outright lies justifying the invasion of Iraq, not to mention the horrid waste and death attendant upon the subsequent occupation that Wolfowitz oversaw, would feel the need to pause for a spell of critical self-reflection. Not so Wolfowitz, who, unmoved by the death and destruction he wrought, sailed on to the World Bank and announced that he would fight what he claimed was that venerable institution’s penchant for, yes, he used the word, “corruption.”

Toward that end he would bring with him a score of Pentagon underlings whose hands were almost as bloody as his from the Iraq disaster. One of them, Kevin Kellems, former spokesman for Vice President Dick Cheney, suddenly resigned his $250,000-a-year job at the World Bank on Monday. Another veteran from the Iraq buildup to be rewarded was Wolfowitz’s lover, Shaha Riza, his resident Muslim expert, who was promoted to a State Department position paying more than Secretary Condoleezza Rice earns. Not quite the $400,000 that Wolfowitz would be raking in at the World Bank, but Riza’s salary had the advantage of being tax-free–she is still technically a “foreign national,” despite her access to the inner sanctums of US security debates.

Such rich rewards for folks ostensibly fighting world poverty would not seem troubling to the PPs Vonnegut referred to, as they are suffering from a malady that renders them morally tone-deaf. Citing what he calls the classic medical text on PPs, “The Mask of Sanity,” Vonnegut noted in his “Custodians of Chaos” piece: “Some people are born deaf, some are born blind or whatever, and this book is about congenitally defective human beings of a sort that is making this whole country and many other parts of the planet go completely haywire nowadays. These are people born without consciences, and suddenly they are taking charge of everything.

“PPs are presentable,” Vonnegut reminds us, lest we be fooled by their equanimity on talk shows, “they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose!” Vonnegut includes the executives who gave us the Enron and WorldCom scandals with the neoconservatives to indicate the malady’s extent. This could be dismissed as the standard liberal claptrap–turning the culprits into victims whose illness made them do it. But I offer his observations as the most plausible explanation of the headlong pursuit of disaster, for themselves and the planet, on the part of these otherwise canny overachievers.

Yes, their mendacity does often catch up with them, and folks like Wolfowitz do not tend to be well regarded after they have lost the perks of power. The problem is that the truth arrives too late to prevent considerable suffering. Indeed, Wolfowitz’s embarrassment at the World Bank is a minor inconvenience compared with the opprobrium he should be receiving after each day’s dose of disaster news from Iraq disproves the cakewalk of a regime change that he had so assuredly promised.

Then, too, this lying lout will no doubt be rewarded with something similar to the $4 million contract that former CIA Director George Tenet recently received to share a few details of how he went about betraying us.

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