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Bench Memos

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In Response to Matthew Franck



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Matt Franck is, as we used to say, as sharp as they come, and I wouldn’t entirely disagree with him, but I’m afraid he has done his Claude Rains act from Casablanca: He professes to be “shocked–shocked” that anyone should think the White House capable of leaving up a decoy to draw off the fire and propel the opposition into the throes of research–directed at the wrong target. I was in a conference call at midday, as a number of conservatives were earnestly seeking out assurances about Joy Clement. One friend, who had been in touch with her, reported that she hadn’t received a call from the White House, and he was sure, he said, that she had become a “decoy.” People at the White House are now denying that she had been put forth deliberately as a decoy. And I share Matt’s view in part: I don’t think that George W. Bush would deliberately and cynically create embarrassment for Joy Clement. (Nor do I think that any of my other friends of the White House would have done that.) She had evidently made a fine impression on the President. But apparently, the word had emanated from the White House earlier in the day, that she was the choice. And nothing was done until late in the day to check the rumor. According to the Post, Joy was not called by the White House until around 1:30 p.m. I offer myself again as a barometer of something: Why was NBC willing to drive me down to the studio, to arrive as late as 6 p.m., for a program beginning at 6;30? Answer: because even that late, the networks, with all their resources, had not found out for sure that Joy was not the nominee. They were left in the dark, until after the evening news. It may be that we had here something like the caper of Luther Billis in South Pacific: He was suddenly out in the water, as a decoy, drawing the fire of the enemy, and he might as well be left there. Even if the White House hadn’t arranged the feint, there was an unwillingness to undo it, for that would allow the President to keep the secret longer and stage the surprise he wanted. It also had the effect of catching the opposition wildly off guard, tripping over their own feet.



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