The Banality of Weasel

June 26, 2007

Like Hannah Arendt looking at a war criminal and seeing the banality of evil, Star-Ledger columnist Tom Moran watched former New Jersey Gov. Christie Whitman’s testimony before Congress yesterday and saw a good lil’ soldier who blew just as much smoke as the Bush administration wanted during her tenure as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Or, as Moran puts it directly, a wimp.

Unfortunately for Whitman, that smoke-blowing involved cheery announcements that the toxin-rich air above and around Ground Zero was safe to breathe following 9/11:

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents the Ground Zero neighborhood, had once called Whitman a liar. And he came close to doing it again yesterday as he grilled her about her repeated assurances that the air in New York City was “safe to breathe” immediately after the attack.

“The EPA knew those statements were wrong at the time you, Madam Governor, made them,” Nadler said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, a Jersey guy who has known Whitman for many years, became so exasperated with her that he pushed his chair away from his table and shouted: “Give me a break!”

And so it went, for nearly three hours. The former governor and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency was cast as villain, a woman so sinister that she would hide information from rescue workers about the risks we now know they were taking.

For the record, Democrats didn’t come close to proving that. And if the two class-action lawsuits filed against Whitman are any sign, they probably never will. One has been dismissed; the other is heading to the same appeals panel that dismissed the first one.

What emerged from these hearings was something very different. Not Whitman as monster, but Whitman as wimp — a person so eager to please the White House that she simply did not do her job.

Wimp or weasel? We report, you deride. BlueJersey has some video of Pascrell questioning Whitman, as well as Rudy Giuliani’s counterblast to Whitman’s accusation that America’s Mayor dropped the ball.

Personally, I loved Christie’s moral clarity moment, when she declared that the true responsibility for the illnesses and deaths among Ground Zero workers lay with the terrorists who staged the attacks. Well . . . yes, guvvie, the terrorists caused the whole thing. Glad to see you have a firm grip on that bit of howling obviousness.

The problem is that plenty more smoke-blowing took place after the attacks, and most of it came from the Bush administration, in which you, Madame Ex-Gov., were then an eager participant. To paraphrase the title of your book, it’s your fiasco too.

During her testimony, Whitman let the cat out of the bag when she said it had been important to get New York back on its feet following 9/11, otherwise the terrorists would have won. Maybe so. But the terrorists also win when people die, and when politicians lie to evade responsibility for their actions.

It’s not enough to be a good soldier. You have to be a good American, too. Christie Whitman will probably be able to skate past her responsibilities in the court of law. But in the court of conscience, she has already blackened her name and character beyond redemption. 

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One Response to “The Banality of Weasel”

  1. Ron Says:

    She was a wimp, and became a scapegoat at the hearing as one of the few available targets of wrath. Sadly, the rest of the administration acquired teflon mutations as a result of the toxic effects of 9/11…


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