I watched the newscast footage of Bush addressing an election-eve rally in
Virginia a few weeks ago, and the guy looked and sounded somewhat
inebriated, slurring his words, a goofy grin on his face, oversized
mannerisms. I had read recent articles about Bush's inability to handle
the enormous stress he's under these days (screaming and ranting at his
aides), and the likelihood of his being on anti-depressants and/or hitting
the bottle again, but just assumed those were sensationalist bloggers
spreading some dirty fictions.
But, oh my, when I watched
clips of his sad performance at that Virginia rally, I began
to wonder. It can't be easy being Bush these days, when all is
collapsing around him. Consider:
The Iraq war going so badly that even that old
dependable warhawk John Murtha is urging Bush to close it down and
redeploy the troops; Libby, DeLay under indictment and the Abramoff
scandal getting closer to the White House, with Frist on a legal hot
seat as well; Patrick Fitzgerald heating up the Plamegate probe after
hearing from Bob Woodward, which could put Cheney, Rove, Hadley and Rice
once again under the Grand Jury microscope; the centrist Republicans
causing grief for Bush's agenda; McCain's treatment-of-prisoners
amendment making headway, forcing Cheney and Bush to lobby for torture;
GOP stalwart Sen. John Warner sticking it to Bush on the lack of success
in Iraq; establishment conservative Republicans like Brent Scowcroft and
Lawrence Wilkerson and Bill Buckley and others firing off the equivalent
of mortar rounds into the White House over Bush's Iraq war; the Downing
Street Memos from inside Tony Blair's headquarters verifying that the
Iraq war had been on the boards for at least a year before the invasion,
with the job being to "fix the intelligence" around that policy
More: Doug Feith and his Office of Special Plans being
probed by the Pentagon's Inspector-General for allegedly "stovepiping"
raw intel directly to CheneyLibby in the White House; the Taliban
majorly regrouping in Afghanistan; ANWAR drilling taken off the table
yet again; the price of home heating oil rising astronomically just as
winter approaches; Harry Reid implying the Dems might filibuster on
Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court; Bush's poll numbers plunging
into the mid- and even low-30s; the residue of the "incompetence" and
"lack of trust" issues from Katrina and the Iraq disasters; the CIA
leaking more and more damaging info about Bush policy; etc. etc.
The Good News: On the one hand, all that is positive for the U.S.
and the world: The Bush agenda is in jeopardy and the once-tight GOP
organization is in tatters. Corruption and incompetence and
wrongheadedness everywhere. Imperial ambitions running headlong into
reality. All these provide room to maneuver for GOP moderates, and
openings to attack for the Democrats, who finally are beginning to feel
their gonadal sacs waking up after years of numbness and atrophy.
The Bad News: On the other hand, Bush&Cheney&Rove
and the GOP remain in power; can you imagine three more years of that
cornered, weakened, flailing crew, with all the deliberate and unintended
damage they can do?
What would happen, for example, if a desperate or
half-deranged Bush decides on an extreme wag-the-dog action -- say, if he
were to order a "pre-emptive" nuclear strike on Iran or Syria or North
Korea or Venezuela, or all of them together? Would there be anybody to
stop him inside the Administration? Would the Joint Chiefs have the
courage, and be able, to rein him in?
Who knows? We've never been in this dark place before.
CONSTITUTIONAL CRISES, THEN & NOW
Then: Well, maybe we almost were once, when a heavy-drinking Nixon
seemed ready to take the country and the Constitution down with him as he
was heading over the political cliff known as Watergate and into the
Senate's impeachment dock. But, perhaps because cooler heads prevailed,
Nixon resigned instead, the first such asterisk next to a president's name
in America's history. But the damage Nixon could do was almost more
personal than political or international.
Now: The carnage Bush could do to the country, and
the world, is of an entirely different order of magnitude.
Domestically, Bush could, for example, force the country
into a Constitutional crisis -- by, say, declaring martial law as
"commander in chief" during "wartime."
Yes, that's right; according to this cockamamie legal
doctrine worked out by his then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez and
his neo-con legal team, Bush claims to be legally home-free to ignore and
violate laws whenever he acts as "commander in chief" during "wartime."
This makes him pretty much a dictator, indefinitely, since
Bush&Co. continually tell us that we're in the midst of a "war" that will
last forever. So far as I know, neither Bush nor Gonzales, now Attorney
General, has ever disavowed the memos that supplied that rationale for
what a President legally can do.
You may recall that Nixon tried something similar during the Watergate
scandal, claiming that any time a President took an action, it was, by
virtue of him being President, ipso facto legal. The U.S. Supreme Court
shot down that one quickly, but it would appear that Bush&Co. are willing
ignore that decision, because they've come up with a different legal
gimmick, the "commander-in-chief-during-wartime" ploy. Sure, a presumptive
Bush case would wend its way up to the Supreme Court, but that could take
a year or more and, in the interim, all kinds of deadly mischief could be
implemented and the Constitution wrecked even more. Plus, given a Roberts
and Alito on the court, and their affinity for strong executive
preeminence in "wartime," there's no guarantee of a decision similar to
the Nixon case.
THE PLAME/MURTHA CONNECTION
Watching how the Republicans are attacking John Murtha for
criticizing Bush's failed policy in Iraq makes the genesis of the
Plamegate scandal more understandable.
Consider: Ambassador Joseph Wilson wrote his famous op-ed
piece for the New York Times some months after Bush gave the Iraqis a
healthy dose of "shock & awe." But things weren't going well for the
Occupation or for the way the U.S. war on Iraq was viewed around the
world. Old allies were openly in opposition, no WMD had been found,
millions of folks around the globe who earlier had gone into the streets
in opposition to Bush's invasion were becoming more and more
anti-American. And then here comes insider Joe Wilson, with an
administration pedigree and solid credentials, telling the world that, in
effect, the BushCheneyRumsfeldRiceRove cabal in the White House had lied
about Iraq's nuclear capabilities, and by extension, the whole WMD issue
in general, along with the supposed Saddam/al-Qaida connection. In short,
the war had been launched, and an Occupation had been established, based
on lies and deceptions. The political fallout from Wilson's article could
Rove and the rest of the high-ranking White House Iraq
Group -- established to "market" and defend the war -- simply had to stop
further attacks on Bush's credibility and quickly, before anti-war
sentiment gained any further momentum. Thus the slime attack on Wilson,
and the outing of his CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame -- slicing him
where it hurts. Hitting Wilson/Plame hard, the Bush Administration
believed, would get the message to other insider whisteleblowers to keep
their mouths shut.
And, their plan worked, at least for a good while. True,
anti-Bush elements inside the CIA, reacting to what had been done to their
colleague Plame, leaked a lot of damaging revelations about how the case
for war had been concocted out of unreliable raw intel, and went unvetted
by the professional intelligence agencies. But, on the whole, the Bushies
were able to keep a lid on their hidden policies and crimes, at least
through the all-important 2004 election.
But simmering below the surface was Special Counsel
Patrick Fitzgerald's criminal probe of the Plamegate scandal, with
Cheney's surrogate, Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, indicted on five counts
of lying, perjury and obstruction of justice. (Update: Fitzgerald recently
acknowledged that he's once again bringing witnesses before a sitting
grand jury, which suggests that other Administration heavies could be
indicted soon. Possible targets: Rove, Cheney, Hadley, Rice and others.)
IRAQ RETURNS TO THE FRONT BURNER
Suddenly the false reasons for going to war in 2003 are thrust back into
the headlines. This development dovetails with a major increase in deaths
to American military personnel and Iraqi civilians and police forces at
the hands of Iraqi insurgents -- and growing evidence of increasing
tension between Sunni and Shi'ite elements. Very quickly, in poll after
poll, Americans of all stripes -- including, most ominously for the Bush
Administration, conservative Republicans -- indicate that they
increasingly believe the Administration hasn't got a clue what it's doing
in Iraq and that the time has come for considering whether to cut our
losses and get the hell out of that incipient civil war situation. Bush's
ratings are down in the mid-30s, as low as they've ever been in five
And then horror of horrors for the neo-cons who took the
country into war: The one influential Democrat warhawk they always could
count on, Representative John Murtha, launches a frontal assault on the
justifications for staying in what is a disastrous war effort in Iraq. The
time to get out is now, he says -- actually he said re-deploying U.S.
troops out of Iraq sometime within the next six months -- before
additional tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel and Iraqi
civilians are killed or wounded and we have to get out anyway at that
time. In other words, the Vietnam-quagmire scenario.
Which brings us to The Ugly: We're back to Karl
Rove's revolting attack scenario, similar to what he devised in the Joe
Wilson/Plamegate situation: Got to slime and brutalize Murtha, their loyal
ideological war-hawk buddy (even threatening him with an ethics probe), to
make an example of him so that nobody else gets the idea that it's wise to
criticize either the rationale for war or the conduct of the war. Murtha
and his ilk, especially among the suddenly feisty Democrats, have to be
defeated now, lest the anti-war and impeachment momentum build even more.
It's their political future that Bush&Co. have put into the political
poker pot. No margin for error. This is for the big ones: continued
exercise of power, and avoiding jail terms down the line for their crimes.
That's why the gloves are off, and the emotional intensity is so
heightened -- that plus the fact that this is the first real debate on the
war, so lots of pent-up passions are being loosed. The Busheviks are
fighting to remain in control -- and out of prison -- and the Democrats
are battling not only to end an immoral and illegal war but to try to
retake at least one house of Congress in next year's midterm election,
thus insuring serious Congressional movement to impeach Bush and Cheney
WHAT'S TO BE DONE?
So what should we progressives, moderates and traditional conservative
Republicans do in response to what's happening in D.C.? Just stand by,
with grins on our faces, watching the GOP run around utterly confused as
their carefully-constructed house of cards comes tumbling down? Say "a pox
on both your houses" and work to establish a third-party alternative to
the corrupt, power-hungry Republican zealots and the programless, timid
Democrats? Give aid and comfort to those Dems now asserting themselves and
try to reform the party from within? Make our first priority the integrity
of the vote in next year's mid-term elections, focusing on hand-counted
paper ballots, given the history of how easy it is to manipulate the
tally-numbers in an e-voting system?
From where I sit, the answer is: All of the above. This is
no time to choose just one and sit back and watch. All of our energies and
time and money have to be devoted not only to the short-term project of
getting this reckless, corrupt crew out of the White House but also to the
longer-term necessity of getting our political and electoral houses in
Here are some essential areas for action:
Keep pouring it on, don't give the Bushies a moment of
peace to regroup their forces: Alito's nomination, the catastrophe that
is the Iraq War, the specific lies and deceptions that took us into that
war, the endemic corruption, torture as state policy, the lack of true
homeland security, the Patriot Act crimes against the Constitution, the
huge tax breaks for the already-wealthy while popular social programs
are cut for the middle-class and poor, the stagnant economy, the
humongous deficits, etc. etc.
Focus on taking back the House and/or Senate in 2006.
Keep the options open and do the necessary exploratory
work to develop a wide and deep third party movement should the
Democrats return to their milquetoast ways, especially on the Iraq War
issue. And, where appropriate, DINO Democrats -- Democrats In Name Only
-- should be challenged in the primaries.
Heap high praise on those elected Dem leaders willing to
stand up openly to the White House -- the Murthas, the Reids, the
Pelosis, the Kennedys, et al. -- and even such Republicans as Specter,
Snowe, Hagel and the like. And keep that momentum building in the
Congress, to provide a brake on overweening executive power. Doing so
will encourage more Congressional willingness to consider impeachment,
especially if Fitzgerald lowers the indictment boom on more Bush
TRUE ELECTION REFORM
And, finally, and most importantly, do not permit the
voting system in this country to remain corruptible and corrupted, as it
is and has been for years with the current e-voting system in so many
states, where the votes are tabulated by Republican-supporting companies
using secret software only they control. It has been demonstrated that
numbers easily can be changed by knowledgeable insiders, or hackers from
outside, leaving no evidence of such manipulation.
Even if all the other reforms were implemented, they
wouldn't mean a thing if the vote were to be stolen (again) on Election
Paper ballots, hand-counted, observed by representatives
of both parties -- this balloting system works in much of the rest of the
world and it's time for America once again to have elections in which we
So, that's the news from this correspondent -- the good,
the bad, the ugly. As Scoop Nisker says, if you don't like the news, go
out and make some of your own.