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By Jon Campbell
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The date was Monday, March 22. Thanks to the Web and drudgereport.com, I was about to begin my week-long career as an unwitting hit man for the right.
At first, my friend's alarm seemed misplaced. So what, I thought. I've written lots of columns. The one he was referring to had focused on Richard Clarke, back in February 2003, more than a year ago. It had nothing to do with Clarke's new book, Against All Enemies, or his fresh testimony on Capitol Hill about the Bush administration's alleged absence of diligence in the war on terrorism.
You idiot, you fop, you scumbag who never served a day in the U.S. military . . .
The following are excerpts from my inbox, on the heels of the world's discovery that I had once criticized terror expert and Bush detractor Richard Clarke.
* "You're an idiot. . . . Your drivel will fade into obscurity and you'll grow to be an old angry man. Richard Clarke has done more for the victims of 9/11 than Bush ever will. Iraq was a lie and everyone knows it but you."
What if a few copies of an old article were mailed around? It's a free country.
Big mistake to disregard the amplifying power of the Net. As soon as I logged on, I noticed my inbox had overflowed with messages carrying the column's headline: "Richard Clarke's Legacy of Miscalculation." As quickly as I moved them to a separate folder, more flooded in.
All this for a column with a main thrust of good riddance, penned after Clarke stepped down from his White House post. I'd written many columns about Clarke since 1998, all uniformly scornful and critical of his obsession with cyberterror. He bequeathed the nation a haystack of quotes leading idiots to believe terrorists were going to devastate us through computer networks. That, and a claim that the Freedom of Information Act was a legal impediment to the sharing of information, in need of an alteration to fix it.
No one had been particularly interested in what I'd written back then. Just mentioning anything having to do with Richard Clarke was generally enough, I found, to make the head of the average person nod with boredom.
However, the first sentence of this particular column proved to be a time bomb: "The retirement of Richard Clarke is appropriate to the reality of the war on terror." That was what got me in trouble. Honeyed dung it was, or became, to clouds of flies on the right, buzzing mad to find a couple quarts of offal to throw on the man after the calumny of his 60 Minutes spotlight.
Late Sunday evening Bush supporters had found it through Google and started uploading to Usenet political chat groups. Soundly sleeping in Southern California, I'd been sent out as a Republican political assassin.
The Drudge Report had indeed linked to it, and the RNC had been very busy. By Monday afternoon, Rush Limbaugh had jumped on board, saying, "[T]his explains it." GreatI had penned the Rosetta of Richard Clarke's disgruntlement. Publishing a large excerpt on his "Essential Stack of Stuff" page, Limbaugh opined, "Maybe [Clarke] started singing this cyber song to the Bush administration, and they said, 'This guy is a nut' . . . He's a discredited old guy and so now he's trying to recapture his credit and credibility where all discredited old Democrats go . . . " Opinionjournal.com also linked to it in a piece entitled "The Clarke Kerfuffle."
And so the e-mail poured in, reaching out to touch me, driving home the stupidity and malevolence of the American political climate at the speed of the electrons.
"I doubt that the art of thinking can be taught at all," wrote H.L. Mencken in 1926 in "The Fringes of Lovely Letters." Most Americans "are just as incapable of logical thought as they are incapable of jumping over the moon."
Confirmation, H.L., is waiting on my desktop. From both sides of the political spectrum, the missives of my fellow citizens showed no grasp of the fact that my column was written over 12 months ago. Obviously, it had been done immediately upon the occasion of Richard Clarke's revelations, just to screw him!
Attention, my ninny countrymen! It is often good to read things like . . . the date.
As a consequence of their aphasia, it was clear I was obviously a Bush administration fixer"vermin . . . coming out from under . . . rocks to smear [Clarke]." Or, if you stood on the other ridge, I was an honest fellow, laboring to get the real story past the spinmonger Lesley Stahl and the perfidious 60 Minutes.
The anger was instantly gripping. A prime ingredient was the rage foaming, apparently, from Democrats, who avidly read Drudge so as to be able to intimidate and beat to death troublemakers. They were so over-the-top, it was funny enough to reduce one to tetany. It's certainly a misconception that Democrats are eloquent, sophisticated, sensitive, and therefore beyond the knavish dirt commonly attributed to the "right-wing attack dog." Last week, I found no difference between the two.
"It is obvious that a man who has a sense of patriotism"Clarke, my dear correspondent meant"is being attacked by an ass, and a fop. You are another example of Total [sic] lies the likes of which the press has not seen since the days of Goebels [sic]. Do the country a favor, and kill yourself."
Buried way at the bottom of the stack of mail was part of the explanation for some of this acid.