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Ask Auntie Pinko

January 5, 2006
By Auntie Pinko

Dear 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 weird before?

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?

Nell K.
Sioux City, IA


Dear Nell,

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 read this 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 these lines:

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 them.

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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