Let's assume Brennan's right about President Obama's critics -- that, for political reasons, they're distorting the facts of how the Christmas Day suspect was handled. Would that help al-Qaeda? That would depend on what direction the critics are pushing the administration, wouldn't it? In this case, critics are demanding more diligence and hawkishness against al-Qaeda. That helps our enemies?
And lying in itself isn't aid and comfort to the enemy. John F. Kennedy successfully misrepresented the facts about the "missile gap" in 1960, in a hawkish direction. But I'm not sure it helped the Soviets.
I'm not defending lying -- and Brennan offers no good evidence on that score. I'm just trying to unpack his argument. As with his boss, it seems Brennan's real objection is to inconvenient criticism, and he's willing to use any rhetorical weapon near to hand to delegitimize it.
That's why he suggests criticism is driven by partisanship. But, again, partisanship is one of the necessary antibodies of a healthy democracy.
No one likes partisan asininity, never mind dishonesty, but politics are supposed to be messy. In Federalist 51, James Madison famously wrote about how "ambition must be made to counteract ambition." That's what "playing politics" usually amounts to. Like the seeming chaos of the market, the hurly-burly of politics is how we sort things out. The result is often healthier than the process would suggest.
As the Washington Post's Fred Hiatt recently noted, partisanship defined the debate over port security during the Bush years. Democrats in Congress harped on the Bush "failure" to achieve the impossible goal of inspecting every cargo container. Now that Obama has adopted the Bush policy, the same voices are cheering.
The hypocrisy might be annoying, but the Democrats' anti-Bush partisanship also called attention to an important issue. The real danger now is that Democrats will abdicate diligent oversight out of partisan loyalty, while Republicans will ignore the issue out of fear of seeming hypocritical.
Every White House is prone to group-think. So it's no wonder that this administration has the tendency to dismiss criticism as illegitimate, partisan and even dangerous. The Bush White House certainly dabbled in this sort of thing on the grounds that there was a war on. Democrats used to take great offense, which is why they insisted dissent was the highest form of patriotism. Brennan's tantrum reveals that that talking point is a dead letter.
But I'm less concerned about that than I am about Obama's faith in something called "post-partisan politics." Politics without partisanship isn't politics. And democracy without politics isn't democracy.
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