April 20, 2002
Debating McKinney, take 2

A blogger named Atrios disagrees with me regarding Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Avedon Carol's defense of her. First, he defends the congresswoman's statement:

What the
[WaPo] article does, and what most people have done, is conflate two entirely separate points she makes, which she herself likely didn't mean to do. She says two basic things:

a) The administration likely knew something beforehand.


b) There are people who are close to the administration that stand to profit from the war on Terra.

It is only if you link these two things that her comments were potentially over the line. At least, over the line if she has no further evidence. In doing this, it makes it sound as if McKinney was saying the administration caused or let 9/11 happen in order to reap great profit. Though her radio remarks could be interpreted this way by a reasonable person, I admit, she didn't actually say it. And, her written statement makes quite clear what she meant.

I agree, her written statement does indeed make it quite clear what she meant. Let's go to the videotape, in particular this paragraph:

I am not aware of any evidence showing that President Bush or members of his administration have personally profited from the attacks of 9-11. A complete investigation might reveal that to be the case. For example, it is known that President Bush's father, through the Carlyle Group had -- at the time of the attacks -- joint business interests with the bin Laden construction company and many defense industry holdings, the stocks of which, have soared since September 11.

McKinney is not saying that "people close to the administration stand to profit" from the war. She's suggesting that the President himself as well as members of his administration may be profiting from it. Putting aside the point that Presidents put their assets into a blind trust, the question of financial gain for those close to the administration is unavoidable and irrelevant. Of course people close to the administration will likely profit from the war effort. So what? What would you have had Bush do on September 12, say something like "Well, I'd really like to go after these guys for murdering three thousand of our citizens, but gosh darn it, my old frat brothers are a bit too heavily invested in Boeing and Morton Thiokol, so I guess we'll have to try sanctions for awhile until they can rebalance their portfolios"? Maybe McKinney would like to push for a Constitutional amendment that bars federal officials and everyone they know from holding defense-related stocks, as any military action would be subject to this line of questioning otherwise.

Given that, the subtext of McKinney's charge is that the administration went to war against our enemies because of the profit potential for themselves and their buddies. The rightness of our actions in destroying the Taliban and al Qaeda has nothing whatsoever to do with who might make a buck off of it. To suggest otherwise isn't just wrong, it's obscene. And of course, given that there were advance indicators of the attack, it's a short hop from McKinney's words to the wacky world of conspiracy theory, where Bush et al took action to ensure the attack so they could reap the bounty afterwards. Are you begininng to see why some people took exception to Rep. McKinney's statement?

It's also damaging to the cause of those Democrats who would like to challenge President Bush and his policies more forcefully. Now all the GOP has to do when someone questions the wisdom of attacking Iraq or the mushiness of Bush's Middle East stance is to point at McKinney to discredit what's being said. I made the same point about Samizdata when Dale Amon cited the loopy tax protester group We the People as part of his case against the US income tax. Aligning yourself with wackos and conspiracy theories does more damage to your credibility than good. McKinney has done no favors to legitimate dissent against Bush, which is why Democrats and liberals have rightly distanced themselves from her.

Atrios also thinks that government investigation is more likely to get to the truth of what we knew and when we knew it regarding the 9/11 attack. I actually do think that congressional committees will have a place, but I don't have a lot of faith in their abilities to do the initial legwork. I think they serve better when they're prosecutors rather than researchers. Let's face it: Any revelations about incompetance or interference prior to 9/11 are going to be deeply embarrassing to one party if not both. It's not in the interests of Congress to delve too deeply into that until they are forced to by facts brought to light by outsiders.

Finally, Atrios needs to read my point about Al Gore's oil connections more closely. I did not say that since Gore has oil money all of Bush's actions where oil is involved are excused from scrutiny. What I said was that Cynthia McKinney would not have tried to paint Al Gore as a cynical profiteer in the war on terror if he were president instead of Bush. McKinney was throwing red meat to her base by making unfounded statements about a boogeyman, just as Jerry Falwell used to do when he pitched a videotape which claimed that Bill Clinton was a murderer. It serves no purpose other than to score political points and to distract from the real issues.

The signal-to-noise ratio in politics is dismal enough already. We don't need Cynthia McKinney or anyone else making it worse.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 20, 2002 to National news