Really? And more what?
Set aside whether the writer is a courageous patriot or a gutless coward, and whether the Times was right or wrong to grant anonymity. Set aside the White House’s mole hunt to flush out the leaker, and the two dozen “senior administration officials” who rushed to insist they were not the traitor in their midst. Set aside, too, the rash insistence of the libertarian Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky that suspects should submit to lie-detector tests to prove their fealty.
Settle on this, though: The writer who would shoot the king to save him, and by extension the country, aimed the arrow awfully low. Defending “effective deregulation, historic tax cuts, a more robust military and more.” Seriously? Defending those relatively modest goals and achievements when—by the writer’s own perfervid, urgent reckoning—the security of the republic, the sanctity of the Constitution, and, just maybe, the fate of the Earth is at stake?
The smallness of those stakes calls to mind Sir Thomas More’s famous remonstrance in A Man for All Seasons, when he upbraids a colleague for perjuring himself in exchange for a minor Welsh appointment: “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … But for Wales?”
At the dawn of the Cold War, George F. Kennan published his “X” article anonymously in Foreign Affairs, arguing that the United States should “contain” but not seek to destroy the Soviet Union in the long twilight struggle that American values and virtues ultimately won. In the dark days of Richard Nixon’s presidency, Daniel Ellsberg leaked what became known as the Pentagon Papers to the Times in an effort to cut short the nation’s misbegotten war in Southeast Asia, and perhaps save thousands of lives.
By those standards, “effective deregulation, historic tax cuts, a more robust military and more” seem—well—less. A lot less, no less.
Within days of the publication of Kennan’s article on “The Sources of Soviet Conduct”—he was the State Department’s director of policy planning at the time—journalists discerned his authorship, owing partly to his distinctive, erudite style. Kennan was distraught, as his biographer John Lewis Gaddis noted. “Feeling like one who has inadvertently loosened a large boulder from the top of a cliff and now helplessly witnesses its path of destruction in the valley below,” Kennan wrote at the time, “shuddering and wincing at each successive glimpse of disaster.”
But when Secretary of State George Marshall called him to account, peering through his glasses and with raised eyebrows—at “whose raising, I may say, better men than I had quailed,” Kennan recalled—Kennan could say that the article had been cleared for publication by the department’s official committee, and there the matter rested.
This is a constitutional crisis.