Thursday, September 30, 2004

"Just remember," Mr. Hyde shot back, "ignorance is salvageable, but stupid is forever."

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 — The House committee hearing began as a serious discussion about the coming elections in Afghanistan. It ended in insults, so partisan and personal that the committee chairman expressed relief upon adjournment.


The mood seemed to change when Representative Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, seized on President Bush's declaration in Ohio last week that "as a result of the United States military, the Taliban is no longer in existence."

So, Mr. Menendez asked Mr. Armitage, "did you fail to give the president a briefing that the Taliban is still in existence?"

Mr. Armitage said the president meant that the Taliban "is not shackling 28 million people anymore," not that it had literally vanished.

The reply did not entirely satisfy Mr. Menendez, who said, "I think we have to stop sugar-coating the realities of what is happening in Afghanistan and in our other conflicts and be honest with the American people."

Mr. Armitage did not respond directly to Mr. Menendez's "sugar-coating" metaphor, choosing instead to use one of his own. "The Taliban is very much running from hidey hole to hidey hole," he said.

Moments later, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, opined that "nitpicking the president of the United States' words is not really constructive in this type of situation." Mr. Rohrabacher said Mr. Bush had driven the Taliban out instead of unwisely tolerating it, as he said President Bill Clinton had.

A bit later, emotions warmed even more as Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, asserted that Mr. Bush had misled the American people by taking the country to war against Iraq ("It wasn't difficult, because many people have a difficult time getting the details straight"), while the main mission was still Afghanistan.

"And I have never seen such a misuse of our power," Mr. Payne observed.

That was too much for Representative Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who heads the committee. He said that "calling the commander in chief a liar by every hour on the hour" was simply wrong, and was helpful to "the other side," by which he appeared to mean America's terrorist enemies.

Moments later, Representative Gary Ackerman, Democrat of New York, said he and his colleagues were "sick and tired" of hearing their patriotism questioned whenever they exercised their responsibilities and rights, as citizens as well as members of Congress.

Mr. Hyde did not mollify Mr. Ackerman a bit. "Nobody questions your patriotism," Mr. Hyde said. "It's your judgment that's under question."

The two lawmakers interrupted each other a few more times, until Mr. Ackerman said, "What's obvious, Mr. Chairman, is that you are a rather vicious partisan."

"Now you're really getting personal," Mr. Hyde observed.

"Well," Mr. Ackerman countered, "I think that willful ignorance is kind of personal also, Mr. Chairman."

"Just remember," Mr. Hyde shot back, "ignorance is salvageable, but stupid is forever."

"I know that," Mr. Ackerman said, "and I'm glad that you've memorized that." He went on to say that Mr. Hyde's insults notwithstanding, he had never called the president a liar...

Posted by Mahmoud the Weasel at 3:21 AM |

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