More than eighty years ago, in his argument with Walter Lippmann about the proper role of the press in a democracy, John Dewey warned that “a class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge.”
It would be difficult to imagine a more telling–and disturbing–manifestation of Dewey’s prediction than the current torture debate in Washington. Even after the disgraceful performance of so many armchair warriors during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, who would have dared predict the willingness, nay, eagerness, of respected journalists and pundits to argue in favor of purposeful ignorance? Sadly, many of them have shown less interest in potential war crimes committed by the Bush administration than little Misha Lerner, the Jewish Primary Day School fourth grader who quizzed Condoleezza Rice about her inability to explain the legality of these policies to a group of Stanford students.
While many have made the case to varying degrees, Peggy Noonan made it most explicitly: “Some things in life need to be mysterious,” she said of America’s role in torturing terrorist suspects. “Sometimes you need to just keep walking.” And while defenders of the insider establishment may note, as a mitigating factor, that Noonan is less a journalist than an ex-Reagan flack who plays a journalist on the Wall Street Journal editorial page and ABC’s This Week, what, then, to say about David Broder? The “dean” of the Washington press corps sets a tone for many of his colleagues and represents a goal to which many if not most of them aspire. He, too, advises his colleagues to keep walking, eyes wide shut.
Broder mocked his colleagues following the 2004 election for writing that “the forces of darkness” were taking over the country, chortling that America did not face “another dark age.” He’s changed his mind, but not his tune. Yes, the dean admits, it turns out that we have just passed through “one of the darkest chapters of American history.” But never mind that. Anybody interested in just what took place during this period is guilty, according to the apparently telepathic pundit, of “an unworthy desire for vengeance.” Sure, Broder admits, that old-fashioned notion of democratic “accountability” offers a “plausible-sounding rationale” for an investigation. But Broder wants none of it. He worries that it would lead to “endless political warfare.” He says the torture memos “represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places.” And most of all, he is afraid that if George W. Bush is a “man of honor,” he will ask to be indicted rather than allow his underlings to take the fall. (I swear I am not making this up.)