Politics & Policy

The Truth about Honors (and Honor)

Matt Latimer's continuing self-aggrandizement campaign.

In the letters section of the Wall Street Journal today, Speech-less author Matt Latimer implies that he is not really very involved in writing former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s book — that he doesn’t “finally report to” Rumsfeld, and is more a proofreader for the publisher than a ghostwriter for the author. I found this statement incredible. When I was a counselor to President Bush with responsibility for his speechwriters, Latimer told us the reason he would be leaving months early, breaking his commitment to serve through the end of the term, was that Rumsfeld insisted Latimer leave the White House immediately to help write his book.

I am surprised that no reporter has yet asked either Donald Rumsfeld or Crown Publishing whether Rumsfeld hired Latimer or not, and whether Latimer has a financial stake in the sales of Rumsfelds memoirs — something not disclosed in his own book. It would be a revealing omission for someone purporting to be an unvarnished truth-teller, given that the author lacerates virtually everyone he ever worked with or for — except Rumsfeld.

I’m also surprised that Rumsfeld has remained silent while the man he chose to write his book presents a damning portrayal of most every member of his Pentagon inner circle, including even a snarky caricature of Rumsfelds personal secretary. These men and women loyally served the defense secretary, and if Rumsfeld believes his hand-picked writer is wrong about his former staff being such incompetent fools, he should come forward to defend them publicly.

#ad#Latimers attempt to spin himself as a minimal participant in Secretary Rumsfelds memoirs is consistent with many accounts I’ve seen or heard or read of Speech-less. One story that’s captured the imagination of bloggers is that J. K. Rowling — author of the Harry Potter series — was “denied” a Presidential Medal of Freedom (PMOF) at the end of Pres. George W. Bush’s term because her books contain “witchcraft.”

I was actually involved in the discussions in which the administration compiled, and then winnowed down for President Bush’s consideration, the list of candidates for the highest civilian honor our government bestows. Foreigners rarely receive the honor, but the last round of medals included three: former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, former Australian prime minister John Howard, and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

J. K. Rowling did not receive a PMOF, but it was not because of witchcraft. It was because she did not commit her nation to, and help lead worldwide coalitions in, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did she oust the narcoterrorists who were taking over her country.

Latimer reportedly also laments Sen. Ted Kennedy’s being “denied” a PMOF “because he’s a liberal.” While it’s true there were advocates for a medal for Senator Kennedy, the arguments against it centered on his role in debasing the Supreme Court confirmation process by savaging Judge Robert Bork, his support for communist dictators in our hemisphere, and his advocacy of countless bills that hardly merit an award in the name of freedom. In addition, it was widely assumed that President Obama would award him a medal, and it seemed fitting that President Bush’s successor be allowed to bestow the honor on a man who played such a critical role in getting him elected. An additional pertinent fact is that President Bush awarded the Medal of Freedom to a number of people who did not share his political views.

Theres a certain irony to one who claims to be disenchanted with a betrayal of conservatism, and then in the next breath bemoans Ted Kennedy’s not being awarded the PMOF — but the inconsistencies don’t stop there. I’ve read that Latimer was frustrated by the president’s speech to CPAC in 2008, and thought that the president didn’t fully understand the conservative movement.

There is some truth to the latter point. President Bush did not come up through the conservative ranks the way I did, but that doesn’t make him a man of “ideological incoherence,” as Latimer describes his administration. The CPAC speech itself clearly refutes the charge, which is why the response to it was intensely enthusiastic — interrupted by applause no fewer than 85 times, with the audience at the end even breaking into chants of “Four more years!” Here is the transcript of the speech; NRO readers can judge for themselves whether or not George W. Bush was a staunch defender of conservative principles.

That’s not to say that none of President Bush’s decisions are subject to legitimate criticism from the right. In eight years of a presidency, such criticism is inevitable. Indeed, during my 18 months at the White House, there were times when I didn’t agree with decisions made by the president. But unlike Matt Latimer, I didn’t sit silently, scribbling down what others around me were saying with an eye toward making colleagues look silly in hopes someday of getting a fat advance. I voiced my concerns at the time.

And unlike Matt Latimer, I won’t write about them here now — or in some pathetically self-aggrandizing book later.

Ed Gillespie served as counselor to Pres. George W. Bush and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2003 to 2004.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.

NR Staff — Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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