Here is the kind of debate that's common on taxpayer-subsidized PBS: two liberals arguing over the right degree of rage over President Bush on Iraq. Should it be white hot? Or just hot enough that you don't burn your mouth on it? On Thursday night's edition of his eponymous show, Tavis Smiley interviewed Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
Ignatius worried out loud about finding some degree of national unity in the Iraq end game, and suggested Bush hatred is running contrary to the national interest: "People are so angry in Washington. The debate is so intense that I just worry that we're just slipping a gear as a country. People are almost so angry at George Bush that they want to see this thing fail to spite him, and that should be. That's wrong." Smiley tried to suggest he was asking "devil's advocate" questions, but his angry tone and finger-pointing body language gave his personal opinion away:
SMILEY: Far be it for me to argue with you, but let me just take the devil's advocate position on this, just to press you a little bit more on this. Why shouldn't we be outraged? Why shouldn't we be angry with George Bush?
IGNATIUS: We should be...
SMILEY: Why shouldn't this be the issue around which we will throw down a gauntlet and be angry? We're losing lives every day, why not this, if any issue, to be just outraged about?
IGNATIUS: We should be outraged. What's happening in our country now is a tragedy, and what's happening to people in Iraq is a tragedy. The question, Tavis, to me is what are we going to do with this? We have made terrible mistakes. How are we going to undo them to the extent we can? How are we going to get through this period without doing even more damage to ourselves and the people we naively came and tried to help?
SMILEY: But David, we -
IGNATIUS: What's the way to do that?
SMILEY: But we didn't make those mistakes. George Bush and his administration made those mistakes. So, how do you hold a guy accountable when you send him legislation, he vetoes it, sends it back, and says, "I dare you to override it?"
IGNATIUS: Well, look at the November elections; you see how you hold him accountable. We have a Democratic Congress now, and we have some powerful Democratic candidates, and I'd be surprised if a Democrat isn't elected in 2008. But there is a separate question, which is you know, how do we protect our country's interests, which transcend George Bush, which transcend this group?
I mean, they led us into this terrible situation, but it is ours to deal with. What's the right way to deal with it? I've heard from an Arab ambassador something I want to share with you which really stuck with me. I heard this a couple weeks ago. He said, "There are two kinds of landmines. One that detonates when you step on it, and the other that detonates when you take your foot off. Which kind is Iraq?"
It's probably both, but if it's in part the kind that detonates when you take your foot off, we as a country -- put aside George Bush and this cast around him -- we as a country have to think really carefully: how do we do this in a way we don't hurt ourselves even more? That's all I'm saying.
To prove that Tavis Smiley is channeling his own opinions, and not just playing a role of devil's advocate, look to the evening before, when his guest was California Democrat Congressman Tom Lantos. Did he ask him questions from the Republican side of the aisle? No. He was angry at the Bush veto of a timetable, and banged away at Team Bush for allegedly ruining America's global image:
Tell me what your thoughts are, Congressman, on what the image of America is to the world tonight. Many of you on Capitol Hill have been concerned about this image, so now what the world sees is that Congress says one thing, sends it to the president, he vetoes it, but the House that represents the people doesn't have the power to check the president. Talk to me about that in terms of our image around the world....do you think that the damage done to the image of this country by this administration is irreparable?
Lantos said no, but the image repair job will take a long time. Perhaps Lantos looks back to the heights of prestige America had when Jimmy Carter was bungling through the Iranian hostage crisis? Or when Bill Clinton did nothing while terrorists blew up our embassies and soldiers? Smiley wouldn't be caught anywhere near that neighborhood of questioning.