Ask Auntie Pinko
January 5, 2006
By Auntie Pinko
I don't normally go in for "the sky is falling!" or "the world
as we know it is ending!" reactions to the news, even when it's
pretty weird (which it has been ever since Bush was elected). But
between the illegal domestic spying, Plamegate (anyone remember
that?) and the Abramoff scandal growing tentacles in every direction
at once, I have to wonder. I'm not really old enough to remember
Watergate, and I barely remember Iran-Contra. Has it ever been this
Is "the world as we know it" really ending, politically speaking?
If so, what can we expect in a post-apocalyptic America? And will
all this shady financial stuff and illegal power-grabbing take the
Alito nomination and the fundy nutballs down in its wake?
I mean, a girl can dream, can't she?
Sioux City, IA
By all means, cherish your dreams! And while Auntie can't necessarily
go so far as to declare the "apocalypse" just yet, I am old
enough to remember both Watergate and Iran-Contra, and I have to
say that the current cesspool is right up there in the red zone
on the scandal meter. In fact, insofar as Mr. Abramoff's stinky
dealings go, I'd have to go clear back into history - to Teapot
Dome - to find anything comparable. (Google it, and in particular
article!) And depending on what's revealed over the coming weeks
and months, the casino corruption web orchestrated by Mr. Abramoff
might well surpass that for sheer sleaze.
I have not yet seen enough documentation from reputable sources
to connect all of the dots about which wild speculation abounds.
Rumor is inevitable, conflation is natural, and wishful thinking,
conspiracy theory, and plain mischief-making can all muddy the waters.
It's impossible to gain an accurate and complete perspective on
a historical event while it's occurring. But even if only the least
lurid, best-documented allegations prove true, this scandal is likely
to rock the foundations of our government institutions. We all "know"
on some level that "politicians can be bought," and cynicism is
the pervasive national attitude toward government. Nevertheless,
the ugliness of the reality is shocking even to the jaded.
I'd go so far as to say that "the (political) world as we know
it" is indeed ending, but that's not a big deal, Nell. I've seen
that happen several times in my lifetime, and on occasion it's happened
in such slow motion and tiny increments that it wasn't obvious until
it was over. Other times it's been surprisingly quick, like the
national revulsion against McCarthyism and the meteoric progress
of the Watergate scandal. Even those affairs are remarkable more
for the fact that it's possible to point to precipitating events
and a clear resolution, than for overnight speed.
I'm betting that in the casino corruption web, too, it will take
a couple of years for the workings to be laid bare, consensus to
emerge on ways to "fix" the problems, and the enactment of systemic
remedies (other than consequences to individuals). And I very much
doubt that the eventual systemic remedies will be complete and effective
solutions to the problems. We have a national history of slapping
rather messy, leaky band-aids on our political problems.
So, if you want Auntie's predictions of what the "apocalypse"
and "post apocalyptic America" will look like, it's something along
A number of people will go to jail and/or resign from public office
- most of minor-to-middling status, but a few Really Big Fish among
The Bush Administration will lose some key figures (but probably
not Mr. Bush himself) and be more or less reduced to lame-duck,
ineffective status. Most of the declared initiatives and goals of
the administration will remain unfulfilled, and a few of their past
"achievements" may even be rescinded or reversed in highly
public, retaliatory gestures as the Legislative Branch seeks to
reassert its status and reacquire legitimacy.
The Executive Branch will attempt to retain its legitimacy and
influence by devising a plan that combines face-saving for Mr. Bush
and PNAC with a greatly accelerated disengagement from Iraq. (In
essence, they'll find a way to declare victory and go home, probably
by the end of 2006 but certainly by the end of 2007.)
Ultimately, new campaign-finance and lobbying laws and regulations
will be proposed in an attempt to rectify the structural problems
that led to the casino corruption web. A few will be moderately
effective, and some improvement will result. Politics will be marginally
"cleaner" for a few election cycles.
The balance of electoral power will shift to the Democratic Party,
but not decisively. Party divisions within the Democratic Party,
as well as public distrust, will inhibit Democrats from moving decisively
to establish new policy initiatives, unless a unifying, charismatic
leader emerges and grabs the spotlight and a broad consensus during
the next two years.
I can't make any predictions on Mr. Alito's nomination, specifically.
Much depends on the speed at which the various Abramoff revelations
unfold, what they are, and who is involved. The Judiciary may emerge
the winner in the balance of power sweepstakes, but without Mr.
Alito. Or possibly, Mr. Alito might win confirmation, but at the
cost of some resignations and balancing new appointments that would
leave the high court (and other Federal courts) status quo.
I think that the progress of Mr. Alito's nomination will be most
influenced by how scared the Legislative branch is running based
on the intensity of whatever "throw ALL the scoundrels out" public
sentiment emerges. Both redistricting and election law will be key
factors. If the legislators are worried enough about public reaction
to obvious self-protection measures, they may decide to sacrifice
Mr. Alito (whose views on "one man, one vote" are gaining greater
scrutiny with each passing week) to appease such sentiment.
Regardless of the Abramoff scandal, I think the pendulum on America's
current wave of irrational religious fervor is beginning to reverse
direction. That doesn't mean it will go away, or that loudmouths
like Mr. Robertson or Mr. Falwell will go away, but I think that
as a factor in politics, the religiously fervid are on their way
to a more marginal role. It may take awhile for the reversal to
gain enough momentum to really ease the current public fascination
with all things puritanical, but cheer up, Nell, I'm pretty sure
it's on its way!
Still, I wouldn't take any of this prognosticating too
seriously. Given the many, many people and institutions involved
in Mr. Abramoff's sticky progress, things could look very different
tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how things are playing out
by summertime, so check back then and thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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