The nightmare as it sometimes seems
Here is my perspective on the current landscape of constitutional mayhem in Washington DC --
At first blush, it looks terrifying.
And how the real Democratic leadership is responding is, while understandable, actually far more dangerous.
But let's go with how bad things look first...
The courts, the bureaucracy, the media and the upper level officer cadre of the armed forces -- the ones that have been allowed to remain -- are completely with Bush. Perhaps the fulltime and reserve troops would not go along with a coup, but they are for the most part on the far side of the planet, the largest group of Middle East hostages ever assembled. If there is trouble, Bush even has access to a constellation of private armies -- so-called defense contractors, one with a major installation not much more than 200 miles south of the capital.
The sense in Washington is that something very, very bad could happen at any moment. People are hurriedly adhering to the forms of legitimate competitive governance, to give both themselves and their constituents confidence that, the system of checks and balances continues to work. After all, there are hearings, investigations, subpoenas, and Bush officials are answering them and some resignations are being forced.
There is also an awareness that everything terrible that was whispered about among close confidantes was not just real, but far, far worse than expected, that the six years of steadily rising bars of surprise and outrage were not aberration, or mischance, but planned.
That in a world where anything bad can happen, and all confidence lost in government, that is not for ideological hostility to government, but rather hostility to our current form of it. And making Americans unsafe, uncertain, untrusting and unsure of their ability to compel positive change has been the game plan all along.
The message has not been - less government but less of this current type of it.
To enable this evisceration of our Republic, under the pretense of protecting it, we have seen a Republican Congress hand the President everything he has asked for including silent assent to his ability to not only line-item veto but rewrite legislation. Then to have advocates in Congress and the media cheer such usurpations and abuses.
To not only selectively obey and enforce existing law but declare it inapplicable to himself by fiat at any time. This, too, has been, first by silence, then by capitulation, surrendered to the President. Then to have advocates in Congress and the media cheer such usurpations and abuses.
To not only apologize for, then proselytize suspension of centuries of moral progress in regards to the treatment of persons held as witnesses, suspects or prisoners of war, to not only actively subvert existing law but to openly declare that such moves are not only righteous but a duty. Then to have advocates in Congress and the media cheer such usurpations and abuses...oh, and virtually entire contingent of Republican presidential contenders, as well. And, let's not overlook, the lone dissenter virtually assured his elimination as the 2008 nominee by doing so.
To encourage the rise of a national consciousness based on partisan affiliation, to subsidize by selective regulation, legislation and executive decree the makings of a Republican nation-within-a-nation, and to do so in broad daylight, with an official and media coterie leading the cheers for every defeat handed to Americans...if they aren't clearly Republicans.
I offer as my first exhibit the effective death of New Orleans by conspicuous neglect and forced relocation. So long as New Orleans is in critical care, so is the United States of America. I remain convinced this is a purposeful condition that the Bush cabal not only require for their plans but savor on a personal level, likewise their base.
I offer as the second the single most flagrant violation of the Constitution yet -- the bill of attainder against Michael Schiavo written in the middle of the night by the GOP Congress and signed by the President which, had it held would have ended the Republic right there and then.
The bad news is we no longer have a Supreme Court that would stop the Republicans, should they retake Congress again, and it sometimes seems that the Democratic Congress we have now is not quite doing the job they were sent to DC to do.
And that is a darn scary movie to be watching from the front row seats.
What is saving us from open declaration of the New Order
Twenty-eight percent, that is what.
Not all the king's pundits, not all the king's men, can put the New Order together again...because Bush is beyond unpopular.
Were he to make any sort of bold move, Bush would immediately be in an untenable position. Oh, he might seemingly thrive for a short while (we are talking months, here) but the country would swiftly become ungovernable. Even if my own (very harrowing) scenarios of civil war did not materialize, the economy would be paralyzed, incidences of mass demonstration, partisan violence (assassinations and disappearances, for starters), absenteeism at work, runs on staples, arms and fuel -- oh, it would be bad, and only made worse by the sudden highly visible appearance of police, soldiers from trusted units and, last but not least, mercenaries who would not always be in uniform, sometimes in plainclothes more resembling Secret Service in appearance -- and a far more infamous S.S. in activity.
There would, rest assured, be a rapid shift to state-led, executive-dictated central planning and coordination of economics. Everything you ever thought you knew about Republicans, even what Republican voters think they know about Republicans, would be thrown out the window.
And it would fail.
It would be attempted, maybe, yet it would fail.
Not because these guys do not know how to govern. That is comforting, but it is also ridiculous; these are creatures of power and just because they willfully generate bad outcomes does not mean that they do not know what they are doing. They most certainly do so.
It would fail because the Bush regime is already very unpopular, and would only become more so should it step too far out of line.
Regardless Bush can, with all the legislated and tacitly-surrendered powers at his disposal, do a great deal of harm to the Republic.
However, at the end of the day I am not worried about what he can do with all these powers, as even if he were to assert the full range of the possible, it would backfire on him terribly, and quite likely be the death of the Republican Party, once and for all.
Bush is trouble, but his is in a very secure box of his own making: He might well be the single most hated man on the planet, and the single most hated man in his own country.
That is not a good place for an aspiring emperor to be.
So why am I still angry...and more than a little worried?
Because Bush and his cabal are flagrantly violating every law and good effort on behalf of the United States of America that they can think of, and laughing at the rest of us because we dare not attempt to stop them, they think.
It's not a question in DC of the various GOPer witnesses lying to Congress.
It is common knowledge, even to the members of the Committees investigating them.
It would be nice to think that Kyle Sampson is a stupid schmuck, and that Monica Goodling is a ditz, but the truth is they are sharp, well-organized and highly motivated true believers that know precisely what they are doing, and why, and have no emotional trouble or lack of talent lying.
If they seem to slip, it is only because they seem to slip.
I learned as a teenager that the best way to avoid punishment for a serious crime is to flagrantly commit then confess to another (usually lesser) affront. To do so for no other purpose than to be caught, to attract attention, to eat up attention to run down the clock, to then get away with the affront or transgression that I really, really did not want noticed.
I see in the Bushies the same gambit being played, only on a far larger scale, with far superior organization and resources brought to bear.
The hearings only seem to expose; they in fact help the covering of up of transgressions that might bring down the government, and if that threat happens, then it might trigger a true constitutional crisis.
In your heart of hearts, you have been wondering the same thing, many of you. It's in all the live blog threads from the hearings:
What else is going on?
Why are we not seeing people arrested yet?
Why aren't the Committee members asking the questions that matter?
How many more hearings do we need to get an impeachment going?
I would say not because of complicity with the Bushies, but rather fear.
Fear of forcing the contest now, when all the Dems have to do is wait until November 2008 to have it all.
and that is barely more than 18 months away.
Not forcing the contest might seem like a good idea
Figure this: So long as Bush is not painted into too tight a corner, he has no incentive to do more than be stubborn.
So long as the Republicans do not feel that what goes against Bush is not an attempt to execute the GOP past campaign rhetoric, they have no reason to choose between supporting a coup d'etat and running away from Bush in 2008.
For now, I am going to sidestep the minor detail that we should not even be having this conversation with the Republicans, but this is as I see it the way things are...because I think we are, if not on the path toward a partisan civil war, the topic has "Overtoned" into something that a wider range of commentators are wondering about.
Now, under the current situation, there is little need for pretty much anyone but the Bushies to contemplate alternatives to fair and free elections in 2008. Why? Because everyone else stands to win....just as back in the 1860s, it was clear that, like it or lump it (most these days liking the eventual outcome), slavery was on its way out the door, as there were only two so-called civilized countries left (Brazil and the southern portion of the United States) that adhered to it and the votes to keep the Poisonous Institution going were gone.
Likewise, the votes to keep on the path of conspicuous dismemberment of the Constitution and of American status as a civilized society are no longer there. In my opinion, it was not just the Iraq War but the Murder of New Orleans that sealed Bush's fate, and if they are not wise, that of the Republican Party as a major force in American politics.
In my opinion, once the Bush administration started killing American civilians by neglect and actively blocked of rescue and aid efforts, they crossed the line. That was entirely unacceptable. And I will never understand how anyone could lend aid and comfort, and political cover to such an outrage as that. (And, yes, you have been recognized, Joseph I. Lieberman.)
But back to topic: So, perhaps deferring the trouble is good. After all, time is on the side of progress, always.
The last time waiting for the next election went badly
So, perhaps we should look to the time when Republicans were (mostly) the good guys...and Democrats (mostly) were not so much. The issue was far more contentious and intimate to the lives and economies of the various states. There was a clear choice -- either work it out, somehow, as a country, or as two of them.
Yet there was geopolitics, too -- perceptions that Great Britain was intensely interested in the outcome of any possible split-up of the upstart United States. "What England would do" was on the minds of the hotheads.
What Britain almost did was Go to war against the United States in 1861, after the USS San Jacinto stopped the HMS Trent and removed two Confederate emissaries on the grounds they were 'enemy dispatches'.
Britain sent 11,000 troops to Canada (and had committed to sending 100,000), Canada doubled the size of its militia (another 100,000); the British Fleet was placed on a war footing, ready to shut the Atlantic down to American shipping. Rather busy elsewhere, the Union Army had perhaps only 50,000 troops to spare for any hostilities emanating from British Canada. Plans for war with the United States were quite detailed.
Lincoln saw fit to pen an apology and release the Confederate commissioners. Britain was mollified, albeit its displeasure with Washington would continue for many years to come.
This is what happened right out the gate, so it was not atypical for persons in the run-up to the attack on Fort Sumter and the start of the American Civil War to speculate on British intentions. This only made tensions worse, knowing that a foreign power considerably more powerful at the time than the USA might well get involved at any time.
So, there was incentive to do two things (1) for the free states to keep the Union together at all costs, rather than contemplate being sandwiched between a British dominion to the north and an allied state to the south; and (2) a potential payday for secessionists, who could read the tea leaves as well as the abolitionists could, that so long as the South could hold out in a then-hypothetical context, in time the North would relent and Britain might recognize the Confederacy and compel a cease-fire by threat of its active involvement in the war.
This last almost happened in 1862, when from the sidelines it looked like the South was not only holding its own but making advances. That would end abruptly after first the Battle of Antietam, then the Battle of Gettysburg showed that the South was not going to obtain a decisive military victory, after all, and that in time the superior industrial might of the North was going to prevail by attrition. Still, in 1860 and earlier, no one knew that.
Why is this important? Because Britain factored into the motivations of the two sides in the emerging Civil War, and encouraged polarization of both camps. Possible British involvement was a reward/sanction that led to assumptions and actions that precipitated the conflict occurring when it did.
The slavery question thus became one not only of national politics, not only of national identity, but one of national existence as well, and (albeit with some parsing of language due to Britain's revulsion with slavery) one that interested the then-superpower as well.
Which leads us to the war that separates brother from brother in the here and nwo.
Iraq as the Polarizing Factor in 2008
Same difference. It's a national issue; the very definition of American is now a question of support or opposition to the war,. No issue since slavery is as divisive, and the issue strongly favors opponents of the war in elections for the foreseeable future. And the rhetoric of the age is that if the Iraq non-war is 'lost' -- or if it is not made to get lost -- then very, very bad things will happen, and that cannot be abided.
At the heart of the matter is the nature of the international order to be, the choice between America as the sole hegemon and not only by might but an elaborate body of self-reinforcing, often-repeated legends the only appropriate superpower the world should ever seek to follow -- and people who don't like that idea are evil by definition. I might be flip in that delivery but the essence is deadly serious -- that any questioning of the continued enhancement of American control over world affairs is morally equivalent to flying a hijacked passenger plane into a skyscraper. And this message, once internalized, is difficult to reverse by suasion -- after all, talking against the war or questioning the patriotic course of the Bush administration is disloyal and therefore terrorism.
This arrogance extends to all venues of public and international, even scientific policy; any position that advocates a change away from that which has been in place for the past three generations, which moves away from How Things Are Right Now -- any change -- is treated as a potential threat to America-as-Hegemon.
Were it possible, I think, the Republicans would freeze history, that there would always be an Iraq War, always be instability and tyranny in the Middle East as justification for American regional dominance, that Palestine would never be anything but an almost-possession of Israel, with a snide veneer of sovereignty painted over it, that China would be a fine place to invest but never fix its daunting structural impairments and thus never in reality ever be more than a useful, polluted factory for cheap consumer goods.
That science, medicine, energy, economics, healthcare and the proliferation of the credit card debtor class would never, ever change.
Then there is the rest of the country, the part that feels that America is presently very powerful, that other regions and powers are developing, that rather than fear change America's greatest strength has been embracing progress even as so much of its constituency remained appalled by what it needed to tolerate in order to be enriched by it...and yet, if slowly, eventually embraced as well.
And much of the world sees a need for change as well, not at America's expense, but for America's profit as well, yet only expect those who name themselves world leaders to in deeds not just words actually led the world where it needs to go, not where it insists that it must remain.
This is the choice for, however you want to label it or constrain it, for internationalism...for a community of nations as well as states, for a path toward if not a world state but a world federation that, if not universally free, at least capable of restraining the worst impulses and occasional insanities of its membership.
In other words, the UN as it was chartered, as the victors of World War II intended. As if beating swords into plowshares and learning war no more were a good thing, not a call for contempt and conspicuous spitting on the ground.
And even if inarticulate, even if impolitic to notice too obviously, this is the world that is developing.
The Republican leadership and its friends in money and media fear it, fear it violently in some instances, have no position other than some variation on the theme that America deserves dominance, just because it's America and if that's not good enough, we can still make you sorry you don't like us....but we're really great guys so long as you don't disagree with us. Iraq is the litmus test; if we abandon Iraq, then that calls all of American foreign policy and national security values -- and value to the world--into question. Never mind Iraq; what happens should some ruckus start in Venezuela? What if Brazil starts to that that the time for new Western Hemisphere leadership is now (not likely for a century, but we're exploring paranoia here)? And Chavez wants the bomb! I just know it (heh heh, there's Cheney for you).
The Democratic elites appear to be of two minds in this at the moment, much as Republicans were in the 1860s about slavery, half uncomfortable with abandoning the Exceptional Superpower legend, the other well and truly fed up that, post Vietnam, we ever had to have this conversation, ever again. However, we are, and Iraq far more so than Vietnam is now doing America more harm than going across the spectrum of public policy interests, everyone sees this, both at home and abroad...except for approximately (as late May 2007) 28% of the American population.
And that is enough support, plus the power concentrated in Bush's hands, to allow Bush...
to have his war and fund it, too....
...to commit high crimes and misdemeanors, and to delegate them, too...
...to refuse summons, to produce evidence and testimony, to lie blatantly and cheerfully under oath, knowing that no one dare call the least of them out for it...
...to destroy in plain sight evidence of the greatest, most systematic destruction of our national security infrastructure since the British sailed up the Potomac and burned Washington DC to the ground and shelled every major port city on the Eastern Seaboard, to boot.
No, I take that back; it is in fact much worse. We used to have some idea of what secrets were compromised.
We now have a situation where thanks to Karl Rove's shadow email system, we have NO IDEA what secrets we kept.
However much the Bushies can continue on, and work to conceal, they cannot while under the spotlight easily and safely engage in new ventures, as that may kill the patience of the other 72% of the country, that come 2008 Bush will be gone, and then this will begin to pass like a bad dream.
And so we defer to 2008. And that is very, very bad, just not for the reasons you might think.
It is not the Caesar you have that you need fear
The danger is not George W. Bush, rightful and stolen powers included, his military misadventures and his low contempt for civility and due process notwithstanding. Like Julius long before, he rose swiftly to fame, seemingly charmed, and while the Ides of March are not likely to be his fate, it is as likely that Bush will, in his time be an infamous figure, with no talented, determined nephew to refurbish his image later on, no romantic plays written to immortalize a vain, silly man who asked for powers and honors and yet never used them fully, and always used them badly and for venal ends.
Or maybe I have that wrong, and that nephew or relation will surface in future. There do seem to be no end of Bushes with political ambitions.
However, at 28% approval, there is not much that 'Caesar' can do, even with the vast arsenal of powers and precedents that he has had handed to him, free of charge, most with no strings attached, and where conditions and limits were set they were dishonored and ignored.
What I do fear is, in deferring a contest with such a despised President, in setting aside a duty to rebalance the branches of government, that Congress is setting itself up for its extinction as an effective participant in government no matter who wins the election in 2008.
Why? Oh, this one's really brief:
Consider what a 28% President with a six-year track record of outrage can still get away with.
Now replace Bush with a newly-elected President of either party, one with at least twice that approval rating right off the bat, and quite possibly higher.
Ask that newly-minted President to hand back powers or sign legislation to that effect.
Ask a Democratic congress to pass such legislation if a Democratic president is disinterested to do so.
Ask the Democrats in general why what is good for the goose is not good for the gander or the goose, either...and that devolving the powers back to Congress ...or the People..is a very, very good idea.
Or let's not pick on Democrats...what if a newly elected Republican president, with twice Bush's current popularity, asserts the same set of powers --- and vigorously?
Say no one , Dem or Pub, in the field does so, but the possibility of doing so at any time is still on the table because Congress never, ever gets around to reasserting its powers, save in a collegial fashion, vis a vis the White House, because it did not do so when the Presidency was at its weakest...
...and once that opportunity passes, it will be gone for keeps.
And sooner or later, someone as vain and contemptuous of law and due process as George W. Bush, only far more ambitious, far more industrious, far more imaginative and far more popular, will appear.
And he or she will have their way with the Republic, and refashion it in their own image, and if all the tools Bush has been given or has stolen are not returned to Congress and remain in the kit of that President, it will not be George W. Bush that history reviles.
It will be those who should have remembered their duty, and done it, yet did not.