WASHINGTON How awful are Ted Cruz and his Cruzettes?
They have done the impossible. They have made Americans look back at the Bush II era, the most reckless wrecking ball in American history, with relative nostalgia.
With 78 percent of Americans feeling blue about the country being on the wrong track, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, many consider the GOP’s imperialistic unilaterists less loco than the narcissistic anarchists. As grandiose delusions go, global domination makes more sense than self-annihilation.
“If I was in the Senate now, I’d kill myself,” Chris Christie said Friday.
But before you start thinking Dick Cheney is temperate by comparison, consider the Commentary roast of the former vice president on Monday night at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Cheney made a joke about waterboarding an antelope that he borrowed from Jay Leno. Donald Rumsfeld quasi-jested that he knew Dick “back when the president of the United States still led our foreign policy, instead of Putin.”
The acrid legacy of Cheney and Rummy lives on as they carp from the sidelines about the “so-called commander in chief.” In December, “The Unknown Known,” an Errol Morris documentary about the man who was the youngest and oldest secretary of defense, hits theaters.
Morris won an Oscar in 2004 for “Fog of War,” his documentary about another dangerous, delusional defense secretary with wire-rimmed glasses, Robert McNamara; in his acceptance speech, Morris warned that, with Iraq, America might be going down another “rabbit hole.”
But the cocky Rummy talked to him for 33 hours anyway. Unlike McNamara, however, Rumsfeld does not admit his historic blunders, but maintains his “Stuff happens” brio.
“You make a movie with the secretary of defense you have,” Morris told me dryly, “not with the secretary of defense you want to have.”
Still, the filmmaker was smart to bookend the men, opposite ends of the same warmongering problem: McNamara was so droning and unemotive that he lulled listeners into thinking that nothing bad could be happening, while Rumsfeld was so energetic and blithe that it was hard to believe that people were dying and the war was being lost.
“In his memos and homilies, Rumsfeld will say things that are just contradictory, as though by saying everything, you’ve covered all your bases,” Morris continued. “It’s deeply anti-rational, as if there’s no deep reflection or thought. You have no evidence? Well, ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,' as Rumsfeld said about WMD in Iraq. Taken to some crazy conclusion, you can justify anything that way.”
When Morris presses Rumsfeld about the Justice Department’s “torture memos,” the former defense chief said they did not come out of “the Bush administration, per se; they came out of the U.S. Department of Justice.”
That parsing would be beyond Bill Clinton.
When Morris asks Rumsfeld about the “confusion” that linked Saddam to 9/11, he answers brightly, “I don’t think the American people were confused about that,” adding, “I don’t remember anyone in the Bush administration saying anything like that, nor do I recall anyone believing that.”
Holy mushroom cloud.
Rumsfeld doesn’t even seem to understand his signature phrase. Reading from a 2004 memo, he says, “There are known knowns. There are known unknowns. There are unknown unknowns.” He tells Morris that there are also unknown knowns. Things that you possibly may know that you don’t know you know.
Morris challenges him: “But the memo doesn’t say that. It says that we know less, not more, than we think we do.”
Rumsfeld finally admits a boo-boo: “Yeah, I think that memo is backwards.” Then he chastises the filmmaker for “chasing the wrong rabbit.”
Right down the rabbit hole.
Dowd is a New York Times columnist.
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