Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Another resignation
Christine Whitman resigned today as head of the EPA. This comes as no surprise to anybody. Practically since day one, she has been a joke in the administration. When she pledged the administration's support for reductions of carbon emissions as a method to fight the greenhouse effect, her boss cut the ground out from under her by repudiating his support for reductions and throwing his lot in with the greenhouse skeptics. Neither she, nor her agency, has recovered from that public humiliation. The only surprise in her resignation is that she waited so long.

The surprise is in the text of her letter of resignation. No one would have blamed her if the resignation had ended with the words “…and here’s one for the horse you rode in on.” No; the letter is polite--even gushing—in its enthusiasm for Bush’s environmental record.

It has been a singular honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead the EPA in its effort to leave America's air cleaner, its water purer, and its land better protected than it was when this Administration took office. Our work has been guided by the strong belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand, that the true measure of the value of any environmental policy is in the environmental results it produces. I am pleased that the EPA has built an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our Nation's treasured environment.

It goes on like this for eight paragraphs. What gives?

I am reminded of Bukharin at the Moscow show trials. Nikolai Bukharin was one of the youngest and best liked of the Old Bolsheviks, the original group that carried out the October Revolution in 1917. Beginning in 1935, Stalin accused one group after another of the Old Bolsheviks of treason and counter-revolutionary sabotage. Each group was brought before a public trial in Moscow with the world’s press in attendance, where they dutifully confessed, implicated the next group, and was shot. Bukharin was in the final, and therefore guiltiest, group. He confessed to having been a fascist spy since 1918 (which is a year before fascists existed), to sabotage of the economy, to plotting assassination of his comrades, and planning to detach the Ukraine and other western territories to give them to Hitler. Bukharin even confessed to new crimes of which he had not been accused.

Leftist groups outside the Soviet Union were thrown into crisis by the trials. No one could understand how he or she could have so misjudged these men. If guilty, how could the Left have been so bamboozled for so long? If not guilty, how to explain the confessions? Surely they knew they would be shot? Many left the party. Others blindly shut down their critical facilities and decided Stalin knew best. They were perfectly suited to follow Stalin through the policy reversals of the wartime years. But Milovan Djilas, himself a former Stalinist, member of the Yugoslav politburo, and subject of something resembling a show trial, may have had the best explanation of Bukharin’s confession; he was being sarcastic.

This brings me back to Christine Whitman. Her letter of resignation is so absurdly effusive that I can only think of one way to explain it. She’s kidding.

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