The Nossiter Net
The net that shall enmesh them all
Edited, Written, and Published by Josh Nossiter
The Morning Mendacity
Tuesday, December 21st, 2004
The Nossiter Net is cast  to snare some of  the riper rascalities of the day.  Comments?  editor@nossiter.net
President Truman created the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, to recognize the service of citizens who contributed to the victory over the Axis powers in World War II.   Since 1945, the award has been given to those who make "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, or to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."  Among the most recent recipients are L. Paul Bremer, who oversaw the occupation of Iraq;  and George Tenet, former Director of Central Intelligence, who was responsible for the intelligence that led up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

During his tenure, L. Paul Bremer made a complete hash of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, with mortal consequences for our troops, their civilian colleagues, and all the citizens in that benighted country.  During his tenure, George Tenet not only got the intelligence on Iraq all wrong, he was also blind to the machinations of Al Qaeda in the days before the 9/11 attacks, with mortal consequences for over three thousand of our fellows in this benighted country.  That such blunderers should be so handsomely rewarded by President Bush might seem peculiar.  In fact, the choice of these particular recipients is the result of a curious misunderstanding on the part of the President, occasioned by his habit of acquiring all his information from television shows and sports programs.

The seed was sown in the President’s brain one rainy Sunday morning, as he sat in bed watching a quiz show on television.  The program asked contestants to distinguish the meanings of similar sounding words, such as ‘tact’ and ‘tactic’, ‘home’ and ‘homely’, ‘passive’ and ‘impassive,’ and so on.  It was all rather new to President Bush, but as the contestants happened to be comely young women, he felt that it couldn’t hurt him to learn a word or two by watching the program through.  Unfortunately there was also a football game on another channel, and the President, a notorious channel surfer, was flipping back and forth between the two.  He was spending somewhat more time on the football game, and as a consequence missed every other definition given by the quiz show contestants.  He therefore formed the mistaken impression that if words sounded alike, they had more or less the same meanings.  For Mr. Bush, an impression is as good as a conviction.

The next in this concatenation of circumstances was the presentation of a memo to the President by one of his aides.  The memo was a short list of possible Presidential Medal of Freedom candidates, together with the award’s description as quoted above, including the word ‘meritorious’.  This word, though unfamiliar to him, strongly suggested worthiness to Mr. Bush.  The memo emphasized the meritorious service of General Tommy Franks, retired, former head of Central Command. 

An unhappy coincidence placed in the President’s in-basket that very day an aide’s account of both L. Paul Bremer’s published complaints of insufficient troop strength to maintain control of occupied Iraq, and of George Tenet’s admission that he had erred in saying that Iraq’s harboring WMD before the invasion was a “slam-dunk.”  The aide, a show off, characterized both men’s statements as ‘meretricious.’  Although the word is now used more commonly to mean tawdry, false, or cheap in a phony way, the aide perhaps had the original meaning of the word, ‘whorish,’ in mind.  By failing to support the President with unquestioning fervor, the aide seemed to suggest, Mr. Bremer and Mr. Tenet had prostituted themselves, possibly hoping for a kinder judgement from history.

Mr. Bush, in his headstrong fashion, conflated the words ‘meritorious’ and ‘meretricious.’  He reasoned that since the words sounded vaguely alike, they must mean similar things.  And if General Franks, retired, was to be rewarded for ‘meritorious’ service, surely the ‘meretricious’ performances of Mr. Tenet and Mr. Bremer deserved no less.  And so Mr. Bush boldly initialed his approval of the Presidential Medal of Freedom short list, adding the names of Mr. Bremer and Mr. Tenet in his own hand.  His aides were surprised, to say the least, by these additions, but knowing the President’s dislike of having his decisions questioned, they shrugged their shoulders and ordered two more medals.  No one was more surprised than Mr. Bremer and Mr. Tenet.


.©Joshua C. Nossiter, 2004
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