No Comment — November 19, 2007, 3:41 pm

Department of Painfully Inappropriate Comparisons

Bush national security advisor Frances Townsend today delivered to President Bush a three-page handwritten resignation letter on White House stationery. At its core was this heart-rending tribute:

In 1937, the playwright Maxwell Anderson wrote of President George Washington: There are some men who lift the age they inhabit, til all men walk on higher ground in their lifetime.

Mr. President, you are such a man.

Comparing George W. to the first president may invite the more sober to some serious comparisons. George Washington served his nation in uniform in two conflicts and was viewed as the obvious candidate to bring the country together and avoid nascent partisanship shortly after the Constitution was adopted. Whatever criticisms may be mounted as to the particulars of his stewardship, he met these expectations: he was a uniter, with a prudential vision, keen to the limitations inherent in the force of arms and determined to avoid foreign entanglements which would undermine the peace and prosperity of his nation.

George Washington believed that America’s credo required that prisoners taken in time of war be treated with dignity and respect. He forbade torture and other acts of abuse. He required that the religious convictions of the prisoners be respected. “Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British Army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands,” he wrote in a famous order on January 8, 1777.

George Washington succeeded against all odds, and his success was bolstered by a brave decision to fight the war in a way that reflected the values of a new republic, which put the dignity of the ordinary man first, repudiating the cruelty associated with tyrannical regimes. In this way Washington stood for a great nobility of spirit. As Maxwell Anderson wrote, he did lift the age he inhabited.

And what would George Washington think of a successor who treads with malice on his noble traditions and whose most notable accomplishment has been the destruction of a reputation that generations of Americans sacrificed to achieve on the global stage?

George Washington’s favorite play was Joseph Addison’s “Cato,” and one passage in that play is underscored in Washington’s copy and was quoted by him repeatedly in correspondence—to explain why as a conscientious subject he found it impossible to continue to serve a sovereign he considered to have taken on the attributes of a tyrant:

There live retired; pray for the peace of Rome;
Content thyself to be obscurely good.
When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
The post of honour is a private station.

Surely there can be no honor in serving this president. But a resignation letter with the unmistakable signature of a sycophant is in the end appropriate. It speaks truth about the author, and about the nature of her relationship with her erstwhile master.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

August 2014

The End of Retirement

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Octopus and Its Grandchildren

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Francis and the Nuns

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Return of the Strongman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The End of Retirement·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“For those riding the economy’s outermost edge, adaptation may now mean giving up what full-time RV dwellers call ‘stick houses’ to hit the road and seek work.”
Photograph (detail) © Max Whittaker
Post
The Many Faces of Boko·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“People want education. Open a school and they will rush.”
Photograph © The author
Article
The Octopus and Its Grandchildren·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Stanford University’s origins and vision
“The pervasive fantasy that Silicon Valley doesn’t need the government obscures the role of that government in funding much of the research that built it.”
Photograph © Sallie Dean Shatz
Post
God Lives on Lemon Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Bethel was Oz-like for me. I mean that with all the awe, utter hopefulness, and mythic fear with which Dorothy and her friends had approached that magical city.”
Photograph (detail) ©© Clemens v. Vogelson (Flickr)
Article
Francis and the Nuns·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“A year and a half into his papacy, Pope Francis is looking an awful lot like his predecessors.”
Photograph (detail) © Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

Estimated additional hours Americans would spend stoned annually if marijuana were legal in most states:

30,000,000,000

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University said that most alcohol-related airplane accidents happen at night and in bad weather.

A waitress in Chengdu ate a cockroach in response to a complaint by a customer who had discovered the bug in his salad. “You will always find cockroaches in the food,” she told him. “It is very normal.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today