Katrina vanden Heuvel
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Opinion Writer

Are there no standards for punditry?

Last Sunday, ABC’S “This Week” turned to none other than Donald Rumsfeld, the former Bush administration defense secretary, to get his informed judgment of the mission in Libya. Last month, the journal International Finance featured former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan commenting on what is “hampering” the economic recovery.

Fox News trumped even that, trotting out retired Marine Col. Oliver North, the former Reagan security staffer who orchestrated the secret war in Nicaragua, to indict President Obama for — you can’t make this stuff up — failing to get a congressional resolution in support of the mission in Libya.

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.

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Next we’ll see a cable talk show inviting the former head of BP to tell us what it takes to do offshore drilling safely.

Are there no standards whatsoever for punditry? Do high government or corporate officials suffer no consequence for leading us into calamity? Public officials who have failed spectacularly in office should have the common decency to retire in disgrace. But even if modern-day officials know no shame, why in the world would opinion pages, network talk shows and reputable journals give them a forum to offer their opinions, when they have shown that their advice isn’t worth the air it disturbs?

On ABC, Rumsfeld criticized Obama for “confusion” in the Libyan mission, noting that the coalition “is the smallest in modern history.”

As Bush’s defense secretary, Rumsfeld played a lead role in perhaps the worst foreign policy calamity since the British burned down the White House in the War of 1812. He helped cook the books that justified the war of choice in Iraq, costing thousands of Americans their lives and limbs and the government a projected $3 trillion. His war squandered the global goodwill in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, left millions of Iraqis dead or displaced, and strengthened our adversaries in Iraq and the terrorists of al-Qaeda.

Rumsfeld personally approved the torture techniques that despoiled the nation’s reputation when they were revealed at Abu Ghraib prison. He is now hawking his unrepentant and disingenuous memoir, which concludes that the Bush administration “got it right” on the big things in Iraq and elsewhere. Why would any rational news show invite his opinion on anything except maybe how to live with yourself after screwing up big-time?

Greenspan, the ex-Maestro Chairman of the Federal Reserve, argues that “the current government activism is hampering what should be a broad-based, robust economic recovery, driven in significant part by the positive wealth effect of a buoyant U.S. and global stock market.”

But Greenspan hasn’t got a clue. His ruinous policies at the Federal Reserve helped drive the economy into the worst downturn since the Great Depression. He cheered on the housing bubble while denying its existence; touted the benefits of subprime mortgages; turned a blind eye to reports of pervasive fraud and abuse in mortgage markets; and opposed the regulation of derivatives that, he claimed, were making the system more stable.

Greenspan admitted he was “shocked” that his worldview had a “flaw.” An apology, penance, self-reflection and even a memoir describing what he did wrong are in order. Surely we can be spared Mr Greenspan’s opinion of what impedes recovery from the Great Recession that his own blind market fundamentalism did so much to produce.

And do we really need Oliver North’s views on the Constitution and the law? “[I]t’s unparalleled in my entire experience in the military going all the way back to the 1960s,” North said. “Every president has gone to the Congress to get a resolution to support whatever it is he wanted to do.”

This from the White House operative who ran a secret war not only without congressional authorization, but also despite a congressional prohibition — a folly that ended in his indictment and nearly in the impeachment of his president.

There is a striking double standard operating in America. We hear much about enforcing “accountability” from the powers that be. Teachers, students and schools are judged in high-stakes tests. Minority students particularly are subjected to “no excuses” school punishments. Punitive “three strikes and you’re out” prison sentencing disproportionately snares those caught for drug possession or other nonviolent offenses.

At the top of society, bankers, CEOs and hedge funders enjoy increased license, prestige and lavish rewards. Yet when their excesses, lawlessness, ideological blindness or simple incompetence result in calamity, there seems to be no consequence. When Charles Ferguson received an Oscar for his riveting documentary “Inside Job,” he reminded the audience that “not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” Wall Street bankers haven’t been prosecuted.

Rumsfeld and the neo-cons still enjoy plush chairs in think tanks as well as high visibility and high speaking fees. Greenspan is allowed to pose as the Maestro, even after his reputation has been completely shredded.

In Japan, high officials who failed so spectacularly would be contemplating seppuku. In Britain, they’d resign, repair to drink and end up in the House of Lords. In America, they become pundits and are offered a stage to argue the same ideas that earlier brought the nation to near-ruin, rewriting history to fit their theory.

As Talleyrand said of the restored French monarchy under Louis XVIII, they have “learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” It is a pity that these discredited pundits are offered a stage to project their inanity on the rest of us.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is editor and publisher of The Nation. She writes a weekly online column for The Post.

 
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