I was in my semi-late twenties when, after the landslide re-election of our crook-in-chief of those times, the Watergate process unfolded.
By then I'd been deeply concerned for several years about the ruthlessness, dishonesty, and lawlessness of the Nixon presidency. (For example, I'd taken the two thousand dollars that I'd been paid from a life insurance policy of my recently deceased father --my whole nest egg at that time-- and sent it off to a Danish bank, just in case the Nixonian suppression of dissent ratcheted up another notch or two.) And I wondered if this "third-rate burglary" might possibly prove the means by which the American Republic would save itself.
For a long while after the process began I found it difficult to maintain much optimism. The people in Congress were proceeding so slowly, so cautiously. I wanted them to charge ahead and root out the truth and confront Nixon's lawlessness. The sight of Congress investigating the Nixon presidency --so methodical, so uncertain, so finger-in-the-wind-- was not reassuring to me.
After the fall of Nixon, it was widely said that "the system worked." But to me that sounded like unfounded complacency. What would have happened to America in the absence of the Watergate break in? What would have happened if the existence of the tapes had never been disclosed?
I'm still not entirely reassured. But I do believe that the American system probably had more resiliency, more hidden resistance to its own destruction, than I --as a young man-- gave it credit for. And one other thing: the way that our politicians in Congress go about things is, in its pace and decisiveness, much more like a huge ocean-liner turning than would suit the feelings of the outraged and impassioned citizen. Their wheels grind very slowly.
I think about these things now as we behold this new Congress groping and flailing and gathering itself in fits and starts to take on this Bushite presidency-- a presidency far more ruthless, far more dishonest, far more lawless than the one that Congress brought down more than thirty years ago.
CONGRESS AS A FLOCK ON THE WING
I now feel more confident that this Bushite presidency is heading for destruction and/or repudiation and/or public disgrace than I did about Nixon's at a similar stage in the process.
That doesn't mean that I think it will happen right away. It doesn't mean that I feel confident that it will take the form of impeachment and removal from office. And it certainly doesn't mean that I'm confident that I think it will go as far as it ideally should. All it means is that I now fully expect that the ship of this Bush presidency --now foundering in the waves and taking on water-- will end up sinking to the bottom.
It means that I see a dynamic at work that will play out in that direction. If Bush were a stock, I'd short him.
I feel more confidence than I did with Nixon's fall largely because of a change in how I conceive of the workings of Congress.
If things worked the way I would like for them to work, the march toward investigation, condemnation, impeachment and conviction would be fast and straight-forward and irresistible. This presidency is, after all, an abomination: it is a criminal enterprise; it is corrupt; it has flagrantly disregarded the Constitution; it has lied its way into a war.
Meanwhile, everyone has taken an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. If these politicians operated as I'd like for them to, then out of moral outrage and sacred duty they'd proceed without hesitation to prosecute this thuggish regime to the fullest extent of their powers.
But of course, with a new notable exceptions, that is not how the Congress of the United States --or probably any body of elected office-holders-- works.
What I've come to realize is that most of these people in Congress have no idea where things are heading, or what position they will be taking on this Bush presidency two months from now, or six months, or a year. They proceed not by plan, but rather one careful step at a time, continually re-appraising the situation, the play of forces, how the wind is blowing.
Not only do the wheels of Congress grind slowly, but most of the politicians are proceeding like a blind man crossing an unfamiliar room.
Or here's another metaphor.
I see Congress as like a big flock of birds on the wing, the kind of flock that --in some mysterious and not altogether predictable way-- wheels in formation, with each bird responding exquisitely to the little perturbations in the group as a whole and the changes of direction of those birds on their flanks. They're making it up as they go along, with a kind of group mind that's influenced by the shifting of the forces of wind and terrain.
The way the flock in this Congress will fly will be shaped by the forces that impinge upon them in flight, such as:
**how the war in Iraq goes;
**what is disclosed in the Scooter Libby trial;
**what is uncovered through hearings held by Congress;
**what unfolds in other court cases involving presidential abuses of power;
**whether the president continues to pick fights with Congress (as with the surge);
**how the media covers all these events;
**and above all --and the means by which all the above elements exert their impact-- how much or little American public opinion turns against the Bush regime.
THE DYNAMICS BETWEEN REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS
The bottom line for the great majority of the members of Congress is how to avoid losing their office and, if possible, to gain in power. Given the nature of the American political system, their fates are not their own alone. They are tied to the fate of their political parties. And inevitably, the fate of the Bushite regime is tied in opposite ways to the fates of the two major parties.
Not only are the Republicans tied to Bush through their party identification, but they are also tied to him because of the abject and disgraceful way in which they enabled and supported the Bushite regime, even as they knew what kind of thugs they were dealing with. It appears that they figured that it paid to bind themselves to a gangster regime for the power and security its success was bringing them. Now that this success has turned to ashes, the Republicans are clearly worried that the punishment the voters inflicted on them in 2006 will be compounded in the elections of 2008.
For now, it seems that most Republicans are still calculating that they are tied to the Bushite ship, and that their best chance of survival is to try to keep it afloat by whatever means might work. But as the ship takes on more and more water, and looks more and more likely to sink, their calculations will doubtless change.
In the meanwhile, belonging as they do to a political party in which loyalty is regarded as the paramount virtue, few Republicans are getting out front in denouncing their leader, as Chuck Hagel has done. They probably figure that, as was the case with Watergate (e.g. with this president's father, George H.W. Bush, who was chairman of the Republican Party during that time, and who spoke up in defense of Nixon until near the end), they are more likely to survive if they wait to jump ship until the band has stopped playing. It helps that the American people have short memories (except for Republicans who don't readily forget disloyalty).
But if the fortunes of the Bushite regime continue to sink --especially in Iraq, and thereby also in public opinion-- the Republicans will be in a most difficult situation.
One commentator, Michael Green (my thanks to Richard Stein for calling his essay to my attention), has described their circumstance in this way:
Rest assured that the only folks in Congress who despise Bush more than the Democrats are the Republicans. They saw what he did to them in the 2006 election, and they know that that was nothing next to the rout that's coming their way in 2008. Already they're jumping ship on the war, and pretty soon you'll see a lot more than that. ...The one thing any candidate for any position in any race will not want in 2008 is an (R) following their name on the ballot. Bush has turned that into the kiss of death. A pedophile running for sheriff might do better.
It is for this reason that I have begun to believe that Bush's chances of survival are now overshadowed by the likelihood of his early political demise. He is essentially already in a free-fall without doing anything. Imagine what will happen when Congressional oversight investigations reveal the true workings of this administration, or even if the public sees its members continually refusing to answer questions posed by Congress. Republicans who facilitated those crimes by bottling up such investigations for six years will now be furiously attempting to put as much distance as possible between themselves and this one-man wrecking machine, ditching him any way possible. Indeed, it is not at all unimaginable that we could now witness the counterintuitive sight of Republicans leading the charge to take down Bush (and thereby amputate their gangrene-infested limb before the whole body is irreversibly and fatally infected), while Democrats actually sit back and drag their heels, leaving him to fester in office, prolonging the agony and damage.
I'm not sure that I would count on things getting to that point, with "Republicans leading the charge to take down Bush." Even if Bush is their gangrene-infested limb, they will also be afraid of what the pack of Democrats might do to them if they break out of the circled-wagons formation that comes naturally to the Republican Party. Every exposure of Bush will also be an exposure of the complicity of the congressional Republicans, who weren't even interested in knowing about the law-breaking and lies the Bushites were engaged in, who preferred re-writing laws to accommodate the Bushite crimes to actually preserving America's being a nation of laws.
Helping sink the Bushite ship will be a frightening prospect for those Republicans.
Meanwhile, the United States of America desperately needs for the Congress to do the vital work of cleansing the nation of this criminal regime and repairing the damage that it has done. Two main tasks need doing:
**The nation needs to be protected from further damage by the Bushites disgraceful and incompetent war-making (see for example my essay, "Tie the President's Hands Re War-Making in Iran," at www.google.com);
**The United States needs for Congress to uphold the rule of law, challenging the notion of unchecked presidential powers, repealing unconstitutional laws (like the Military Commissions Act), and holding administration law-breakers accountable for their actions.
So vital and urgent is the need to accomplish those two tasks that it might be worthwhile to sacrifice a bit of justice to assure that at least this much justice is achieved. It is in the context of this concern that I would like to propose a possible political deal, something along the lines of a plea bargain.
SHOULD THE REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS BE OFFERED A PLEA BARGAIN?
The more the two parties in Congress are diverted by the competition with each other, the less they will be able to achieve in reining in and discrediting this criminal Bushite regime. The more the Republicans use partisan tactics to defend this presidency, the harder it will be for the Democrats to feel safe and empowered to go after the crimes and lies of the Bushites. The more the Democrats seek partisan advantage out of his Bushite disaster, the less the Republicans will help do what needs doing.
One way out of this dilemma could be for the Democrats to offer the Republicans some kind of "plea bargain." In exchange for the Republicans turning "state's evidence"-- i.e. helping to tell the American people the truth about this regime-- the Democrats will exercise SOME degree of restraint in exploiting the political advantage over these congressional Republicans that this disaster of a Republican presidency might offer them.
(And the "carrot" of the offer of such a possible arrangement should be accompanied by the corresponding "stick" of hard-knuckle campaigning to make sure that the gangrene Michael Green talks about fully infects the candidacies of those Republicans who continue to protect this corrupt presidency.)
Just what all the terms of such a "plea bargain" might be would have to be worked out, with the degree of the Republican cooperation being connected with the degree of the Democratic restraint.
At the minimum, what this might mean could be: 1) the Republicans agree to cooperate in the setting up and the conduct of hearings, allowing the truth to come out fully; 2) in exchange, the Democrats agree to share with them, in the media, the public posture of being the restorers of American democracy and of respectable conduct in the world.
It might be argued that the Republicans deserve no such clemency, having been such bootlickers of this fascist power that took over their party. I would wholeheartedly agree with that argument.
But if a degree of clemency is required to achieve the necessary purging of this country's body politic of these Bushite forces, then a plea bargain, even if undeserved, might serve the greater cause of justice.
TAKING THE LONG VIEW
This Bushite presidency has been enormous-- both in the usual sense of being huge (in the magnitude of its impact) and in the more archaic sense of being a grotesque and exceedingly wicked thing. This has been the most powerful embodiment of evil in the history of American civilization.
What has come together to create this enormity must be crushed and extirpated as thoroughly as possible. The defeat of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney hardly begins to accomplish the cleansing that is required. The American people must come to understand deeply the truth of what these forces are, and to repudiate them with all the passion and disgust that they warrant.
It matters not only that we defeat this evil regime, but also how thoroughly it and the forces behind it are crushed and repudiated. To whatever degree we fail at this larger task, to that extent the American Republic will remain in danger from the resurrection of this powerful evil.
That's why it is essential that Congress --Democrats and Republicans together-- proceed as energetically as possible with that task.