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More in Defense of Power

The lip-smacking glee with which the resignation of Obama adviser Samantha Power is being greeted on the right is perhaps an understandable reaction to the sanctimony (and success) of the Obama campaign. But some of the comments are simply over the top. For instance, Scott Johnson at Powerline (a blog which I regularly read and greatly respect) calls Power “self-righteous, high-minded, and utterly unserious — in short, a pompous phony.”

I can only imagine that Johnson has not read Power’s A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, a deeply serious, exhaustively-researched, 610-page work of history that garnered just about every literary prize in the known universe. If he has read it, I am at a loss to see how he could fling so many insults at its author.

Power doesn’t deserve all this venom. She is a centrist Democrat and a passionate human-rights activist who has risked her neck to cover carnage from Bosnia to Darfur. She shares a commitment with many conservatives that America is and should be a force for good in the world, even if she disagrees with them over some specific policies. Some of the very comments that got her into such hot water are, in fact, evidence of her fundamental seriousness.

When asked, for example, whether Obama would withdrew all American troops from Iraq within 16 months, she told a British interviewer “You can’t make a commitment in March 2008 about what circumstances will be like in January of 2009. He will, of course, not rely on some plan that he’s crafted as a presidential candidate or a U.S. Senator. He will rely upon a plan–an operational plan–that he pulls together in consultation with people who are on the ground to whom he doesn’t have daily access now, as a result of not being the president.” That’s a gaffe only in the Kinsleyesque sense of the word, in which telling the truth in politics can be a faux pas.

Her downfall was not due to her having said anything intrinsically terrible; it was simply because her statements (calling Hillary Clinton a “monster”;  saying she was “confused by what’s happened to Gordon Brown”) have been subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny given to a high-level politician or administration official, rather than the kind of treatment she’s received in the past as an academic and author. No doubt Power erred in not realizing the greater weight her public words would carry given her closeness to the Democratic front-runner, but that hardly justifies the pummeling she is taking.


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