If you care about human rights, the mere mention of the name John Yoo probably is enough to get your blood boiling and make your stomach churn.
Yoo, now 42, is an attorney who served in the Office of White House Counsel during President George W. Bush’s administration. While there, he wrote several infamous memorandums stating that the president has broad, nearly unlimitless powers during wartime and crisis. These include allowing the torture of detainees and depriving them of habeas corpus rights, allowing the survelillance of U.S. citizens without a court-issued warrant and undermining congressional oversight of how the president conducts foreign affairs.
Since the end of the Bush administration, many of the memos have been repudiated and withdrawn by Justice Department officials.
As part of the ongoing effort to whitewash the Bush era, Yoo granted an interview to The New York Times Magazine, which appeared Dec. 29. No doubt inspired by some hired image consultant who advised Yoo to present a warmer version of himself to the public and show he has a sense of humor, the bizarre interview actually results in being offensive due to the flippancy in which he discusses the deadly serious matters he took part in.
One question posed to Yoo asks when and why he became a conservative.
He replied, “I’ve been one since I was a kid. I was 9 when Jimmy Carter took office. I can remember him giving a speech in a funny sweater and asking people to turn down thermostats. And then there was the malaise speech. I thought they meant mayonnaise.”
Which just goes to prove Yoo’s slippery hold on the facts.
As someone who watched the speech in question, given in July 1979, Carter never once mentioned the word “maliase.” Connecting that term to the speech was a creation of the media and political spin machines. As modern GOP policies seem to be based almost exclusively on perception and emotion rather than substantive facts, I’m not surprised that a “young turk” Republican like Yoo doesn’t know better.
More importantly, the topics covered in Carter’s speech that night now ring truer than ever. Almost every single threat he outlined as harming the American psyche remains with us today and has gotten worse.
Yoo seems to be buying into Republican revisionist history, which maintains the speech was hated by the public and made Carter appear weak. In fact, the opposite was true.
As James Fallows notes in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly, the initial reaction was positive. Carter got an 11 percent uptick in his approval rating immediately after the speech.
Fallows wrote, “In his recent book about Jimmy Carter’s now-ridiculed ‘malaise’ speech in 1979, What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?, Kevin Mattson, of Ohio University, says that initially the speech was well received, as most jeremiads are ... the speech, which did not include the word ‘malaise,’ was officially called ‘A Crisis of Confidence’ and warned that Americans had lost their way.
Mattson continued, “The speech is shocking to read 30 years later, for how closely its diagnosis of American problems matches today’s bleak national self-assessment, from the dispiriting partisan gridlock of politics to the crippling dependence on foreign oil.”
What hurt Carter later was the mass firing of his Cabinet and his handling of the Iranian hostage crisis.
Modern Republicans, however, don’t like the type of self-analysis and adult-style politics represented by Carter’s speech. They would rather bask in the glow of a make-believe world and like the constant ego-boosting usually needed by insecure adolescents.
Better luck next time, Mr. Yoo.