Log in

No account? Create an account

Daily · Dreamtime

Until yesterday, the riddle that preoccupied the press was the apparent

Recent Entries · Archive · Friends · Profile

* * *
   The author is professor of English at UMass Amherst. His father,
Bill Bromell, was a senior CIA officer with extensive service in Arab
countries. We served together in Amman in the late 1950's. It wasn't
poverty that ruled out a new car for the family. One of Bill's hobbies
was restoring old Rolls-Royces.


*To print this page, select "Print" from the File menu of your browser*


   Scooter's tragic innocence

*Why my friend Scooter Libby is loyal to Bush, Cheney and an arrogant
administration whose values are not his own.*

*By Nick Bromell*

Jan. 24, 2007 | As someone who's an old friend of Scooter Libby's and at
the same time a frustrated critic of the Bush administration, I find I
can see Scooter's trial in just one way. What we are witnessing here
again is an old drama of ambitious innocence foundering in and probably
drowned by a world much more wicked than it ever knew. To be sure,
Shakespeare would not have penned a plot that hinges on the hero's claim
that he simply "forgot." But this is an American tragedy, after all. The
backdrop here is not the steeps of Mount Parnassus or the gorges below
Delphi. It's the Washington Beltway, clogged with SUVs and littered with
half-eaten Whoppers and Big Macs.

Until yesterday, the riddle that preoccupied the press was the apparent
"paradox" of Scooter Libby. Some pundits wondered how a first-rate legal
mind could have forgotten such crucial details of his professional life
or told such clumsy lies. Others wondered how a "buttoned-down lawyer"
could wear a cowboy hat and drink tequila. And still others wondered how
such a canny operator could be persuaded to fall on his sword to protect
his superiors.

Now we have something new to wonder about: Was Scooter really a
used to protect Karl Rove, as his attorney alleges? Or is this just a
strategy Scooter's lawyers have devised to portray a shrewd insider as a
victim of palace intrigue?

Just below the surface of all these ruminations on Scooter's character
lies the question that has tortured me for the past six years. I've
known Scooter since we were both 11-year-old "new boys" at a boarding
school in New England. Later we were roommates, co-captains of the
debating team, and later still we both went to Andover. We had the same
teachers, read the same books, and played hundreds of hours of touch
football together. We were close friends, drawn to each other not just
by shared interests but by a shared position on the cruel status ladder
of these elite prep schools. In a world dominated by rich WASP jocks, we
were both too small to play varsity sports. Scooter was a Jew. I was a
scholarship boy whose family never owned a new car.

To me, the puzzle of Scooter Libby is not that he's a highly paid lawyer
who likes to drink shots of tequila now and then. Nor is it the question
of whether he was betrayed by his superiors. The deep mystery to me is
that for years Scooter somehow managed to reconcile who he is with what
his masters and mentors demanded of him. Easygoing, tolerant, humane,
balanced, modest and witty, he is precisely everything that the Bush
administration is not.

So, I ask: How could Scooter work enthusiastically for politicians who
enflame and profit from anti-gay hysteria, when he is not himself a
homophobe? How could he work untiringly for politicians who denied the
fact of global warming, when he himself respects science? How could he
pledge fealty to men allied with the Christian right, when he himself is
secular and rational? (If his local public school started mandating the
teaching of creationism alongside evolution, Scooter would certainly
yank his kids out and send them off to Andover.) In short, how could
someone like him work for the likes of George W. Bush
<http://dir.salon.com/topics/george_bush/> and Dick Cheney

The simple answer often given is "naked ambition," but that obscures
what's most mysterious and compelling about this case. After all, if
Scooter had been content with the standard American dream of power and
wealth, he could have spent his life making millions very safely for a
corporate law firm.

To understand Scooter Libby, we have to think about the particular form
of his ambition. And to perceive that, we have to look at the peculiar
education Scooter and I received at New England prep schools in the 1960s.

At Eaglebrook and then at Andover, Scooter was always a model citizen.
He got excellent grades, and he participated enthusiastically in all
aspects of school life. He cared whether the school teams won or lost,
and he developed close, even sycophantic relationships with the teachers
we had -- including teachers who had about half his IQ. I remember being
especially puzzled by Scooter's high regard for one "master" (that's
what prep-school teachers were called back then) -- a classic
football-coach type who drilled us in marching and taught us how to
salute the flag smartly. Most of the other boys in our little clique
called him "Dumbo," but not Scooter. Scooter flattered him, and joked
with him, and seemed genuinely to respect him.

It would be an understatement to say that there was not the faintest
trace of Holden Caulfield in Scooter's makeup. Nor the slightest speck
of Huckleberry Finn. At our first school, Scooter casually courted the
older "prefects" -- boys designated school "leaders" but really just
cogs in the school's machinery of discipline -- and eventually became a
prefect himself. In our senior year he comfortably took his place on the
prestigious Church Committee, where his duties consisted of passing the
collection plate every Sunday morning at the Congregational church in
the nearby village.

As Scooter's friend, I was always puzzled by how he managed to reconcile
his exceptional intelligence with an unquestioning allegiance to these
schools' absurd values and hypocritical institutions. Perhaps as a
Jewish boy, Scooter simply felt more pressure than I did to submit to
the system in which we were placed. This system has been well described
by Robert D. Dean in "Imperial Brotherhood: Gender and the Making of
Cold War Foreign Policy"

"Boys were taken from their homes and families in early adolescence and
sent off to remote rural schools ... One object of such an extreme
solution to the problem of child rearing was to strip away a boy's
personal identity and replace it with an understanding that 'the
collective identity of the group must take precedence over individual

There is much truth to this account, but it still doesn't explain the
Scooter I knew, who always held fast to his individual identity. At
Andover in 1968, most of the boys in our set railed against the war in
Vietnam. But in truth our opposition was as much a pose as a conviction;
we knew that it was not just right but cool to be against the war,
already sensing that more girls would say yes to boys who said no. But
as far as I know, Scooter never succumbed to this fashion. Already
beginning to understand himself as a misfit among his generation, he
wittily and intelligently held his own in countless arguments against us.

Scooter turned out to be wrong about the war, of course, but he was
right about something just as important. Scooter already understood that
his own route to power would be to respect power and work for it. While
many of his classmates stumbled off the path their education prepared
them for -- taking to the woods to become carpenters or to universities
to become professors -- Scooter stayed the course and wound up working
in the White House.

For all these reasons, I want to insist that Scooter's respect for power
is not just a front for cold self-interest. At bottom, there's a kind of
innocence about Scooter. He has submitted to masters like Paul Wolfowitz
and Cheney because he respects them, just as a Zen novitiate submits to
a meditation master or a young violinist reveres the prodigious talent
of her teacher. This attitude was zealously nurtured by the prep schools
we attended, where conformity to power was called "leadership" and
submission to the system understood as "success." And it is Scooter's
celebration of this attitude -- not the sex scenes unfairly ridiculed by
the New Yorker
-- that makes his novel "The Apprentice" so interesting today. The book
tells the story of a young man just like Scooter, a man with the
humility to bow before a master warrior and undertake a life of
apprenticeship to figures mightier than himself.

The tragedy of Scooter's situation now is thus an old one. Like so many
other innocent apprentices -- from Goethe's Faust to James' Isabel
Archer -- he now finds himself way out of his depth. Always the model
student without a single demerit to blot his report card, he suddenly
finds himself an accused felon. While the men who benefited from his
desire to serve them are still at their desks and phones across the
Potomac River, Scooter is looking in the mirror, knotting his tie, and
preparing himself for another day in court. It's understandable that he
would regard himself as a victim of his superiors. He is one. But it's
also telling that the villain his lawyers point toward is Karl Rove, not
the master himself, Dick Cheney. Betrayed or not, Scooter's loyalty

And yet, I would be a kind of innocent myself to conclude that the
tragedy here is only Scooter's. His radical innocence, which his mentors
so adroitly managed, also marks the Bush administration itself.
Arrogantly dismissing the advice of seasoned Middle East experts, Bush
has pursued a policy designed by men who never set foot in the region,
never walked through a souk, never spoke a word of Arabic. Today, all
these men, not just Scooter, have been carried out of their depth.
Today, all of them are looking in the mirror every morning. What do they

Probably nothing that disturbs them, I'm afraid, since nothing about
them would stand out in a crowd. Their bland features reveal only a
characteristically American innocence, as typical as it is dangerous and
powerful. This is why it's not just Scooter, nor just Bush and Cheney,
but the nation that elected them that is symbolically on trial here this

* -- By Nick Bromell*

Copyright 2007 by Salon Media Group, Inc.