The Right Coast

September 09, 2004
The Bush Diaries
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Eveyone's first reaction to the emerging possibility that Dan Rather's documents (Bush, National Guard) were forgeries must be "These people surely can't be that stupid..."

Perhaps they are not, and perhaps the documents are genuine.

But people, even otherwise sophisticated people, often believe what they yearn to believe. A truly sad example was Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), one of the better twentieth century British historians, a very good and readable author, who notoriously said he would "stake his reputation" on the authenticity of the "Hitler diaries", which of course soon turned out to be none-too-clever forgeries.

(Adolf Hitler had a bohemian "artist's temperament". He was proud of it: he always flattered himself that he really was an artist. He loathed systematic work, alternated between bouts of feverish activity and complete inaction, conducted his monologues long into the night every night and seldom got up before noon. After taking over Germany in 1933, Hitler seems weirdly to have been a little afraid of the elderly old-fashioned President Hindenburg, and evidently made an effort to keep something like regular office hours until Hindenburg's death in 1935. Then Hitler reverted fully to his bohemian ways. All of this is well known to everyone who has read or studied the history of Nazi Germany -- surely including Trevor-Roper.

In a word, the chances that Adolf Hitler would have been orderly and regular enough in his habits to keep a diary were just about nil. It would have been completely out of character.

Trever-Roper ought to have known this. At some level he undoubtedly did know it. But he wanted to believe.)

(Precisely why he wanted to believe is somewhat less clear. The Hitler Diaries were a scoop, and offered Trevor-Roper a new level of fame. T-R was always publicity-keen, and seems to have been socially insecure, which is a very, very dangerous thing to be in the piranha-like and infinitely class-conscious little worlds of Oxford and Cambridge. Still, it's a strange and really very sad story. The end of Trevor-Roper's life, by all accounts, was significantly more unhappy than it would otherwise have been, because of this affair.)

Back to Dan Rather and "Sixty Minutes" and the famous documents.

It is only a few days since Susan Estrich -- academic, former Dukakis campaign manager, angry left -- wrote her ill-advised column more or less boasting, and gleefully so, that rich Kerry supporters would soon be paying for, or had already paid for, fake "revelations" designed to hurt Bush and Cheney. (If you are doing such a thing, why write a column announcing it?)

The "stories" so far -- the National Guard stuff; all the Kitty Kelly stuff -- seem to me very unlikely to do Bush much damage, or any damage, even if true.

But if the "Sixty Minutes" documents are forgeries, the consequences for Dan Rather, and even for CBS, are apt to be dire. Obviously, Rather will have swallowed the forgeries because he wanted to believe. It won't be good for Kerry either. If the docs are forgeries, Kerry is [choose one] (a) less likely than otherwise to be President, or (b) toast.

The fact that much -- not all -- opposition to Bush has been tinctured with sheer rage has been obvious for many months or years now. It's an obvious thought, under the circumstances, that "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad".

PS: The original source of "Whom the gods..." turns out to be very uncertain. The phrase appears in a Dryden poem, but Dryden may have been paraphrasing Euripides. Erudite RightCoast readers (all of you, surely!) are invited to elucidate.