I watched the
newscast footage of George W. 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
video 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
- 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 decision;
- More: Doug Feith and his Office of
Special Plans being probed by the Pentagon's Inspector-General for
allegedly "stovepiping" raw intel directly to Cheney-Libby 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
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 "preemptive" 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.
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
impeachment by the House. 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.
could, for example, force the country into a constitutional crisis -- by, say,
declaring martial law as "commander in chief" during
Yes, that's right;
according to this cockamamie legal doctrine worked out by his then-White House
Counsel Alberto Gonzalez and his neocon 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, have 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 to 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.
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.
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 Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Rove 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 be
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 whistleblowers
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. 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 years.
And then horror of
horrors for the neocons 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
redeploying 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 warhawk 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 antiwar and impeachment momentum build even more.
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
What's to Be
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 order.
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 USA 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
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 Day 2006.
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 can trust.
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.
Copyright © 2005 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, a co-editor of The Crisis
Papers, has taught American politics and international
relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State University. He
was an antiwar activist and activist journalist in the ‘60s and '70s, and
served as an editor of Northwest Passage in the Pacific Northwest. He was with
the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years as a writer/editor/critic, and
has published in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive,
CounterPunch, The Progressive Populist, and widely on the internet. He is the
author of “Boy Into Man: A Fathers' Guide to Initiation of Teenage Sons” (Transformation
Press), four volumes of poetry, and numerous plays. He lives in San Francisco.