Frist's Folly 

In which the good senator morphs into a White House attack dog.

When Richard Clarke left the government, he had an idea: He would write a book. He turned to the subject that had most recently preoccupied him in government, cybersecurity. Had he done a book on that -- whatever that is -- the world would have yawned. So much for the man's lust for big bucks.

To Clarke's good fortune, his agent, Len Sherman, had a better idea: terrorism, especially how the Bush administration (mis)handled it and went to war in Iraq to rid that country of weapons of mass destruction it did not have in the first place. This, the perspicacious Sherman argued, would make a better book. With a little sales help from the White House, it turned out Sherman was right.

I offer you this account of how Against All Enemies happened to be written -- proffered by the still-dazed Sherman ("It never occurred to me that the Republicans would make it into an event") -- because it has been charged that Clarke set out to make a bundle on the bodies of the victims of September 11th. So said Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, over and over again.

Maybe not since Joe McCarthy sneered insinuations about communism has any senator waxed so ugly and, in the process, made such a fool of himself. Someone should check: Frist, a physician, may be self-medicating.

Frist started by saying that Clarke wrote his book "in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001." Having said that, he then fakes fairness by admitting that he doesn't know why Clarke wrote the book: "I do not know if Mr. Clarke's motive ... is partisan gain or personal profit." But then, having somehow instantly gotten the answer, he pronounces the book "an appalling act of profiteering" and demands, as only a multimillionaire could, that Clarke "renounce any plan to personally profit from this book."

Apparently, it has not occurred to Frist that writers write for money. This is why a broke Ulysses S. Grant took the advice of his friend Mark Twain and wrote his memoirs.

When it comes to September 11th, the list of authors who have made money from this tragedy is extensive. One could even argue, as I'm sure Frist has in private, that Rudy Giuliani should return the royalties from his book Leadership, since until September 11th, his leadership was not all that evident.

In a partisan psychosis, perhaps induced by a call from the White House, the good senator has become addled. He confuses perpetrators with victims and bystanders. For First Amendment reasons, I happen not to like "Son of Sam laws," which deny criminals the fruits of their labors if they should write a book about what they've done or sell their sordid tale to the movies. Still, I understand the reasoning. It's bad enough to be a victim once, but over and over through book or movie sales is truly adding insult to injury. A criminal should not make money off his crime.

But Clarke did not perpetrate September 11th. He wrote a book about it -- and what led to it and how the Bush administration used it as a pretext for war in Iraq. Because of the amateurish and distasteful way the White House has gone about rebutting the book, Clarke will, as Frist has rued, "make quite a bit of money for his efforts" -- and so what? Ain't this America?

Sherman says that Clarke's next project may be a novel. If so, Clarke ought to consider one about a once well-regarded senator who became a White House attack dog and in the process made himself look both unprincipled and foolish. He could call it Frist.

Richard Cohen is a columnist for The Washington Post.


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