Guilt. Different people feel guilty about different things. Basically, you feel bad about the things that you care about. One person can feel bad about burping in public, while another takes glee farting on demand. A dieter might feel guilty about eating an Oreo, while a morbidly obese person such as myself will happily eat an entire row. So signs of guilt are a good way of understanding where someone’s priorities are. If you don’t feel guilty about something, then it just isn’t important to you.
And guilt is a powerful thing and can really fuck you up. You can be the smartest guy in the room, but if you feel guilty about something, it can totally throw you off your game and turn you into a complete idiot. You might even have a perfectly good explanation for something, but if you feel guilty about it, your best reasons will sound like horrible lies. And if you don’t feel guilty, you can make the most lamebrained excuses sound perfectly rational. It all just depends on how you feel about it at the time.
And that’s what makes it so interesting to watch the Bush Administration in action. Because they don’t seem to feel guilty about a god damn thing. Bush’s immediate reaction to 9/11 made headlight caught deer look strong and decisive; yet they continue to play-up 9/11 as if it was some sort of victory for them. They continually deceive their strongest supporters, while portraying Bush as the Jesus Christ of straight-shooters. And they can repeat disproven statements on everything from Saddam not complying on WMD’s to absurdities about supply-side economics; all without blinking an eye. Overall, these people will do and say anything and they don’t seem to care at all.
And sure, that’s all part of the spin-machine; but that’s the point. They’re not faking it. They really don’t feel guilty. It doesn’t bother them. They think it’s all part of doing business; and they’re probably right. That’s probably the right way of going about things; especially if your true agenda would piss-off most voters. The Clinton Admin always looked like they were in trouble for everything, and so all kinds of stupid shit stuck to them. But the Bush Admin tries to act completely cool, like it’s no concern to them; and it works. Big screw-ups and horrible deeds just slide off them like water off a duck. Ari Fleischer was way way better at this than the guilt-ridden Scott McClellan; but even Scotty works to give the impression of not being concerned. He’s not really good at it, but he’s good enough.
But there is a time when they clearly act guilty: Whenever their spin-machine gets caught flat-footed. That’s what they care about and that’s the only thing that throws them off their game. Because that really is all they care about. They don’t feel bad about deceiving their supporters; they feel bad if they don’t deceive them. Deep down, all they care about is the spin, and when they fail at this one task, that’s when they kick it into overdrive and start screwing up. They’re best when they’re in their Cool Denial mode, pretending that everything is as it should be; and they’re at their worst when they’re outing CIA agents and in cover-up mode. And that’s how you know when they feel guilty, when it becomes obvious that they’re playing hardball. They always do play hardball, but if us rubes in the cheapseats see it, then they’re not doing it right.
I suspect that that’s why they screwed up with the “sixteen words” thing in the SOTU address and finally admitted that Bush shouldn’t have said it. And they did feel guilty that time. Not because they felt like Bush shouldn’t have said it; but because they didn’t have a good response when they got caught. They were totally flat-footed and freaked-out. And that’s the kind of thing that they feel guilty about and what screws them up. And so they blundered for a few days and then finally did the unthinkable and admitted that it was a mistake; and that really set-off a media frenzy.
And that’s exactly how they’re acting with this whole Cheney shooting thing. Like they realized they screwed up but don’t know what the hell to do about it. They tried the low-key approach, but clearly screwed it up. Because they didn’t look low-key, they looked downright sneaky. And if there’s one thing about the low-key approach, it’s that you don’t look sneaky. But this did. It just looked like they were hiding something. And now they’re trying to gloss-over the fact that they were trying to hide it, and that just makes them look even more guilty.
Because there is no good reason why the Whitehouse won’t answer the media’s questions. McClellan’s trying all his old tricks, but they just don’t make any sense this time. Hell, even if Cheney was drunk (as some commenters have suggested) or had intentionally shot the guy (the most likely scenario), that wouldn’t explain why the Bush Admin screwed this up. Because those things would be easily hidden. But they screwed-up the initial response and then everything they said afterwards just sounded like crap.
And part of the problem is that they always feel like they have to hide everything. And so they tried that now, and got totally blasted for it. We were going to find out eventually, and so they just should have been upfront about it from the start. But after getting caught flat-footed, everything went to hell and they couldn’t get their game back. But it’s not that there was nothing that they could do. It was because they felt bad for having screwed-up the one thing they’re good at: Spin.