Jewish World Review May 28, 2013/ 19 Sivan 5773
Shakespeare knew all about deniability
By Paul Greenberg
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | It's called deniability. By keeping a president out of the loop, his loyal aides can hope to insulate him against any accusation that he knew of the dirty tricks being played on his opponents. That doesn't make the tricks any cleaner, or that the chief executive is any less responsible for what is done by his administration. But by keeping him in the dark, his aides can claim he knew nothing of all the skullduggery practiced in his interest.
In the case of an exceptionally dense or just exceptionally cautious president, this claim might even be true, an Extra Added Bonus and a rare virtue indeed in the forest of cover-ups that begins to overwhelm American presidents when the second-term blues set in.
Here's the latest example of how the Great Game of Deniability is played: It now comes out that, despite earlier claims from the president's press secretary, the
The current presidential press secretary's name is
How could Mr. Carney claim the president didn't know that this scandal at the
That way, like any gang boss called to testify before the old McClellan Committee back in the mobsterish Fifties, the president can claim, "I didn't know nuttin.' " It seems you can take a president out of
Talk about a flashback: Ms. Lerner's taking the Fifth brings back the Fifties, complete with its superficial layer of cool propriety over all the grubby manipulations underneath. One almost expects the shades of
Deniability. It's become almost a standard feature of modern presidential politics, whether the subject is Watergate, Iran-Contra, L'Affaire Lewinsky and now the games at the
Master Will knew all about deniability and how it works. See Act II, Scene 7 of Antony and Cleopatra. The names may be different now, but the way
In Shakespeare's account, Pompey is entertaining the Roman triumvirate --
Menas begins his whispered aside with Pompey by tempting him with the one lure no politician may be able to resist -- power. Great power.
"Wilt thou be lord of all the world?" asks Menas.
"What says't thou?" asks Pompey, who heard him very well.
"Wilt thou be lord of all the world? That's twice."
"How should that be?"
"But entertain it, and, although thou think me poor, I am the man will give thee all the world."
"Hast thou drunk well?" asks Pompey, who's been the one drinking.
"Now, Pompey, I have kept me from the cup. Thou art, if thou dar'st be, the earthly Jove: Whate'er the ocean pales or sky inclips is thine, if thou wilt have't."
"Show me which way," says Pompey, who is not an unambitious man, and Menas shows him:
"These three world-sharers, these competitors, are in thy vessel: let me cut the cable; and when we are put off, fall to their throats: All then is thine."
Given the deterioration of the English language since its Elizabethan zenith, such a scheme might today be known as Policy Proposal 89,
Not so in one of Shakespeare's historical plays, which require, among other things, clarity and moral force as well as drama.
Menas gets an immediate response to his proposal, though it is not the one he had hoped for:
"Ah," says Pompey, "this thou shouldst have done, and not have spoken on't! In me 'tis villainy; in thee't had been good service. Thou must know 'tis not my profit that does lead mine honour; mine honour it. Repent that e'er thy tongue hath so betray'd thine act: being done unknown, I should have found it afterwards well done; but must condemn it now. Desist, and drink."
Ah, well, so go the best-laid plans of mice and
Yes, much better to let the dirty work go forward and have the president learn the grimy details only later, if ever. And then, if necessary, he can deny ever knowing about it and, in the most righteous tones, fire a head bureaucrat or two and snuff out the whole scandal. That's the essence of what in our era has come to be known as Plausible Deniability. It's also called "insulating" the chief executive. Pompey would have called it good service.
As Shakespeare has Pompey say, "being done unknown, I should have found it afterwards well done; but must condemn it now." Describing how the
JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.
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