There is a very important lesson I learned so long ago I can no longer recall when I first formulated it into words. It is something that I have always called Offutt’s Law, but its name was not inspired by Murphy’s Law at all. It actually came from my being a fan of the original Burke’s Law with Gene Barry on television. Offutt’s Law is quite simple: “The more important it is for you to know something, the less likely it will be volunteered to you.
You know this to be true. Sometimes, even for no apparent reason, someone will withhold absolutely essential information from you. Like the time when I was a high school senior and my 14-year-old Pontiac needed to go into the shop for a week. My mother, Foster Offutt, said that I could drive her 12-year-old Buick, drop her off at work and pick her up later. When I finally got my car back, my mother was irate after the first time she drove her car. “You almost let me run out of gas!” she exclaimed. I innocently responded, “You still have a half tank of gas.” Getting angrier, she corrected me, “That gas gauge doesn’t work; you have to watch the mileage!” Now, didn’t I need to know that the first time she handed me her car keys? That’s an example of Offutt’s Law. You can think of any number of times you have been its victim.
The reason I bring this up is that the administration of Bush-Cheney and Karl Rove seems to live on Offutt’s Law. What they do tell you is rarely, if ever, true. And what they don’t tell you is always something you positively need to know. All administrations, businesses, families, and individuals have secrets. However, the obsession this bunch has had with secrecy since entering office in 2001 makes those in the Nixon and Reagan camps look like amateurs.
Did you know that Mr. Bush has already made it impossible for you or me to ever learn anything about his administration that he does not want us to know? In November 2001, he issued an executive order that allows a sitting or former President to withhold the release of specific documents. This will protect him now and also after he leaves office. Why did he issue that order when he did? Approximately 68,000 pages of Reagan’s White House records, his father’s vice-presidential records, and more records from the Iran-Contra constitutional crisis were scheduled to be made public in January 2002. Many of the people in his own administration are retreads from the Reagan-Bush years. What would we have learned about these people that he did not want us to know? And what has he done and what is he planning to do that he hopes to forever hide?
Why was President Bush so opposed to the creation of an independent commission to investigate 9/11? And why did his administration originally black out parts of the report that had nothing to do with national security? Was it because he did not want the American public to learn that his administration was well aware of Al-Qaeda’s plans to use planes as weapons and that it did nothing to prevent it? Was it only the general inefficiency of our government agencies not working together or was it deliberate neglect? With the help of Dick Cheney, Mr. Bush had appointed numerous neo-conservatives from the Project for the New American Century to high positions: Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Lewis Libby, Richard Perle, and others. Their primary goal was to get the U.S. to invade Iraq, but they knew that a catastrophic event like Pearl Harbor was needed for them to do it. Even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, they used the Al-Qaeda’s attacks to bring on the war in Iraq.
In the recent case of the incompetence at FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Offutt’s Law was running rampant. What was it that the people of New Orleans needed to know before Katrina hit? Did anyone tell them that George W. Bush had appointed Joseph Allbaugh, who had been his campaign manager – not a seasoned emergency expert, to head the agency? The mission that Mr. Bush gave him was to scale back FEMA’s preparedness programs so that state, local, and private agencies would have to take up the slack. Are you aware that Joe Allbaugh presently represents two of the companies that have received contracts for the post-Katrina rebuilding program: a Halliburton subsidiary and the Shaw Group? Once Allbaugh had done his job, he turned it over to his old college roommate, Michael Brown. Did the governor of Louisiana or the mayor of New Orleans know that FEMA was only a shell of what it had been under Clinton and former Director James D. Witt? Did they know Mr. Brown had recently lost his job as the head of Arabian horse shows and that he had no experience dealing with national emergency situations? Did any of Katrina’s victims know that the head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, did not know he was supposed to give the order for FEMA to act and that Mr. Brown neglected to remind him? New Orleans was pretty much on its own, and a lot of people needed to know a lot of things long before the levees broke.
Hopefully, the recent confirmation of John Roberts as our new Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will turn out to be an exception toOffutt’s Law. The most important information needed to get a pretty good idea as to what kind of justice John Roberts would be was the documentation pertaining to his tenure as deputy solicitor general during the Reagan years. Mr. Bush steadfastly refused to release those documents! You know very well that if those documents would have helped get Roberts confirmed with a unanimous vote, he would have turned them over immediately. He clearly did not want us to know what he knew about Roberts. The Senate and the people really needed to know where Roberts really stands on such issues as women’s rights, civil rights, and the environment; but we probably won’t even know by Halloween whether we have been tricked or treated. We need to prepare for the worst; however, we may get lucky.
The administration and the congressional Republicans have also figured out a clever and sneaky way to both destroy the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and pay off their Big Oil contributors. The provision that will ruin the breeding grounds of the caribou, musk ox, walruses, polar bears, shorebirds, and migratory waterfowl has been carefully hidden within the massive annual 2.5 trillion-dollar government budget bill! Are they going to remind you of this? Probably not. Also, Jimmy Carter recently pointed out that the 1000 acres they say will be affected by the oil drilling will actually spider-web throughout the entire refuge. Are they going to admit that? Probably not. Why? “The more important it is for you to know something, the less likely that information will be volunteered to you.” It’s Offutt’s Law.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published October 7, 2005,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.