ROVE vs. NIXON….The current spin from desperate Republicans about Plamegate is that when Karl Rove outed Valerie Plame’s identity to reporters, he was merely trying to correct the erroneous impression in the press that Dick Cheney had sent Joe Wilson to Niger to check up on the Iraq/yellowcake story. Not so! It was really the peaceniks in the CIA who sent Wilson, and Rove was just conscientiously trying to set the record straight.

Tim Noah knows this is ridiculous, but today he manfully shoulders the task of pretending to take it seriously so he can explain why it doesn’t make sense:

Let’s suppose that Wilson did indeed claim, falsely, that Cheney personally selected him to go to Niger (Go get ’em, tiger!). To blow the whistle on this lie, Rove still would have no logical need to expose Wilson’s wife as a CIA employee. He could merely tell Time’s Cooper, “Cheney did not select Wilson for the trip. Cheney has never met or spoken to Wilson in his life. Some faceless bureaucrat at the CIA picked Wilson.”

….What Rove told Cooper was that Joe Wilson was married to a woman who worked for the CIA. He said this apparently without checking ? as any minimally responsible person would do ? whether this was information that needed to be kept secret….Rove behaved in a way that was unacceptably heedless of national security concerns. He revealed a secret not to expose the truth, but to smear a political enemy. And, if Cooper’s e-mail is precisely accurate, the smear wasn’t even true. Some whistle-blower.

To understand just how reckless and venomous Rove’s actions were, let’s take a trip down memory lane. The year is 1960. John F. Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon for the presidency and making much electoral hay over the “missile gap,” a supposed disparity between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the quantity and quality of ballistic missiles at our disposal. The Reds, Kennedy claimed, were kicking our butts, and he promised to fix this pronto if he was elected president.

Except for one thing: there was no missile gap. What’s more, Kennedy had received top secret briefings from the Pentagon and knew this. Did that stop him from talking about it? Not at all. It was one of the big issues of the campaign.

Richard Nixon lost that election by a hair, and public perception of the missile gap was probably one of the reasons. Despite that, he never revealed ? either publicly or privately ? the classified information about Soviet capabilities that could have saved his campaign.

Think about that. This is Richard Nixon we’re talking about. His opponent was spreading clear misinformation that he knew to be untrue. And there was a presidential election at stake!

Even so, he kept classified information classified and went down to defeat. Maybe this was because he took national security seriously or maybe it was just because he was too smart to use classified information in a pissing match. Who knows? By contrast, when Karl Rove was faced with a trivial piece of unfriendly spin that had no major consequences for anyone, his first instinct was to systematically call half a dozen reporters and peddle classified information to them even though he didn’t need to. With no apparent qualms at all, he did something that even Richard Nixon with an election on the line wasn’t willing to do.

Welcome to the leadership of the modern Republican party. Who would have thought that one day the White House would be run by someone who made Richard Nixon look responsible and forbearing?

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