Okay, so I’m a behind-the-times old Sixties lefty. Guilty as charged, yer Honor. I throw myself on the mercy of the court. But would somebody explain to me how anybody who thinks of himself as a “progressive”, or a person of the Left in any sense, can fail to be pleased when a CIA agent is “outed”? Personally, I love it when that happens, and I wish somebody would out ’em all. Don’t you?
Well, the regular communicants of Daily Kos don’t see it that way. I’m lurking, under deep, deep cover — disguised as a security guard, actually — at their “first-annual” convention in Las Vegas. It’s Day Two (Day One was reported at www.counterpunch.org/), and — we’ve all been there — Day Two has a slightly bleak, morning-after quality. (We’ll get back to the CIA in a minute.)
Day One was undoubtedly exciting: all these folks who knew each other only under screen names finally meeting in the flesh — fairly prepossessing flesh in some cases, less so in others. I hope there were at least a few hookups, though as a journalist, I personally would have declined embedding (not that it was offered, dammit).
Day Two has had the slightly tentative, halting air of a post-coital breakfast. Perhaps that’s why the Kosniks turned from each other’s now-known, and suddenly too-familiar faces, to the safer ground of celebrity-worship. The first celebrity made available for the purpose was Ambassador Joseph Wilson, husband of “outed” CIA agent Valerie Plame and whistle-blower on the Niger yellowcake story .
Wilson is a classic FSO type. He’s well-spoken, he knows how to play gravitas in the left hand and levity in the right simultaneously, and he seems to be profoundly comfortable in his own skin, without a shred of Kos’ conscious and showy arriviste self-assurance. Wilson’s Paderewski coiffure says that he is a man of culture as well as a man of the world, and if ever I saw a coiffure that wasn’t lying, it’s Wilson’s.
The Kosniks ate him up. Standing ovations, big belly laughs at every donnish little witticism — he’s the guy they’d all like to be. And when he dropped the tidbit that his Frau had the best score with an AK-47 on the CIA rifle range, I feel sure a lot of ’em crossed the line from wanting to be him to wanting to do him. Or her. I felt a little frisson myself, to tell the truth. (For her, of course. Ahem.)
Wilson repeatedly referred to the “national security” of the United States, and flirted with accusing the administration of treason — an accusation made explicit by one of his fellow panelists, another ex-CIA guy, Larry Johnson, who has been breaking blogsphere lances left and right on Plame’s behalf ever since she became a household name. Johnson was apparently a bud of Valerie’s in the Agency, lucky dog.
Now “treason” and “national security,” it seems to me, are expressions that ought to send any Lefty running for cover. But it didn’t have that effect on the Kosniks. They loved it. They were delighted to be on the same side as this orotund, world-weary vieux-prepster Foreign Service dude, and the furious, carpet-chewing, traitor-hunting Johnson.
History notoriously repeats itself, and I couldn’t help thinking that what the Kosniks are feeling today, as they are stroked by politicians and patricians, must have been a lot like what the chastened, newly anti-communist liberals of the late Forties felt — the Hubert Humphries and the Sidney Hooks — as they came in from the cold, damp and shivering, and were handed a cheering Martini by Dean Acheson. Of course the famous line, “first time as tragedy, second time as farce” comes irresistibly to mind.
Speaking of Martinis, they were laid on, abundantly, at a reception given by Virginia governor and presidential hopeful Mark Warner, which rounded out the day. Warner, or somebody, spent some serious money on this bash. It was held at the top of a Space Needlish tower, apparently something of a local attraction — such an important structure that the blazer thugs put you through an airport search routine before they let you on the elevator. And I suppose in fact if Osama wanted to strike at the heart of America, he could do worse.
Warner’s Martinis were handed around on little trays — plastic glasses, though, a chintzy touch — and there was a profusion and variety of food that outshone a Great Neck wedding. All in all, it made General Wesley Clark’s little soiree the previous night look pretty shabby.
Warner worked the room with wolf-like intensity — he even cornered me, while I was trying to get a picture of him, and gave my hand a manly pump, gazing deep into my eyes. I was still thinking about Valerie Plame, though, so Warner didn’t make as much of an impression as he might have.
The Kosniks were in seventh heaven. You could tell by the excited voices, the drawn-up, self-important stances, the handshaking and backslapping. They thought they’d arrived. They thought they were in.
You can’t grow up in a little Protestant church down South, like I did, without having the Scriptures come to mind occasionally. What came to my mind up in that Space Needle, as I looked down at the streetlights stretching out into desert darkness, and heard the giddy voices of the Kosniks raised in illusory triumph behind me, was a bit from Luke’s gospel:
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.
“And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan.”
The Kosniks, smart and likable as so many of them are, haven’t the astuteness of the distinguished Galilean. He understood that the Devil’s promises are hollow ones; but I fear the Kosniks will have to discover that by experience.
MICHAEL J. SMITH is a grizzled old Lefty who is trying to destroy the Democratic Party on his blog, stopmebeforeivoteagain.org. He lives in New York City.