Retired Defense Secretary Robert Gates breezed back onto the national scene last week by speaking his mind. Oh, and did he speak it -- loudly enough, robustly enough to remind all within earshot what it means to hear an honest man seek to serve the truth.
I said "seek" to serve. Did he actually serve, and how would we know for sure? With any of Gates' memorable judgments, ladled out in a memoir called "Duty," we are entitled constitutionally to differ. Is President Obama, as Gates avers, skeptical of his own Afghanistan policy? Are the majority of representatives in Congress "uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and re-election) before country?" Has Vice President Joe Biden "been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades"? Do foreign policy calculations spring as often as not these days from domestic political reasonings?
The take on Gates, from the White House's 4-3 defense, official and unofficial, is reproach for disloyalty. "You should not write a book," says ex-Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, "that your boss has to answer to while he's in office." In the website Politico John Harris sees "Duty" as "a move to advance (Gates') profile at the expense of the loyalty and the kind of sanctity" -- Harris' possibly self-revealing word choice -- "of the policy process which he owed."
Let us clear our throats. Let us, if we feel the need, shuffle our feet in embarrassment for our brother, thus impugned. But, durn, honey, didn't it feel good, as well as revitalizing, to hear a public man speak the unsparing truth as he sees it? And wouldn't it be nice to see it happen more often?
Commitment to truth is never quite the coin of the political realm, but particular eras are more distinguished than others for fakery and overweening interest in elections and polls -- especially as the prospects for power increase. One is supposed to say, in the interest of fair play, they all do it -- all parties and interests deceive. Which they do. Some particular complaints about the incumbent Democrats arise, nevertheless, in this context.
"If you like your policy, you can keep it" springs to mind. President Obama's purpose was to banish fears about the results of Obamacare. Could he really have asked his experts whether such a promise was likely to prove true or false? Not so's we hear. The eagerness of the president's media claque to help him change the subject, as with the Syrian "red line," similarly grates.