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Political Pot Pourri

July 6, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

Coming out of the 4th of July weekend, a half-dozen thoughts worked their way to the forefront.

1. Old-fashioned, small-town 4th of July parades.

When we lived in Northern California's San Geronimo Valley in Marin County, we participated, along with everybody else in the small rural community of Woodacre, in as Norman Rockwell-like a parade as you can imagine. This year, we were at the somewhat larger one in suburban Corte Madera.

There are floats and marching bands and bright-red fire trucks, kids on red-white-and-blue-streamered bicycles and local politicians waving from open cars - the whole nine yards. Though there are exceptions, it is rare to find in many of the thousands of such all-American parades any public mention of the underlying meaning of the celebration and its possible connection to our current struggle for liberty in the Bush era. (Although in recent years, one has been able to find the occasional anti-Bush T-shirt and protest sign.)

I sometimes talk with teenagers and younger kids at these parades - sometimes even their parents - asking them if they know what we're celebrating. Mostly I get blank stares, or references to fireworks, barbecue picnics, and watermelons.

It breaks my heart as a former teacher to realize yet again how ill-educated our citizens are when it comes to American history and to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Rarely does one find citizens connecting the dots about our country's civil liberties, the Constitutional guarantees of due process, and where all that derived from - reaction to tyrannical imperial rule from England, and the desire of the American colonists to make sure such heavy-handed big-government excesses never would be permitted to happen again.

In past years, when I engaged in conversation with some parade-goers, especially the adults, about how our current King George was running rough-shod over the Constitution and the accompanying Bill of Rights, often they said they were appalled to hear that. They just hadn't been paying that much attention to what was going on, they said; they figured that Bush, leading the country's "war on terrorism," was doing what has to be done and they trusted him not to go overboard.

But this year, as the current polls reflect, the reaction of the public is quite different. Nearly 60% think the war in Iraq is a mistake, and 42% nationally, according to the Zogby poll, think impeachment hearings are in order if Bush lied our country into that war - which certainly seems to be the case, given the overwhelming evidence from the leaked, top-secret Downing Street Memos from inside Tony Blair's war-council meetings.

Middle-class people I've talked with in recent days (and letters I get, especially from moderate Republicans) seem more leery of Bush's pronouncements, more suspicious of his policies and agenda, more willing to entertain the likelihood that all governments lie big time, and that while most such lies do little immediate damage, Bush's lies are getting tens of thousands of people killed and maimed, and spending the U.S. into humongous debt.

2. Karl Rove's potential legal problems.

Let's forget for a second the hypocrisy of the GOP going after President Clinton because of private, consensual sex. Clinton, the Republican pack finally came to spin, wasn't being impeached because of his erotic misbehavior but because he lied under oath in denying it.

Now, we're not quite there yet - we don't know precisely what Karl Rove said, to whom and when - but let's suppose that Rove lied to a grand jury and/or the FBI or other official investigators in connection with the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. (Reportedly, Rove has been named in the notes of Time magazine's Matthew Cooper's as one of key White House officals with whom he talked about Plame just days before right-wing columnist Robert Novak revealed her name and job.)

Again, just speculating here - since we don't know if the special prosecutor is going after Rove because he may be one of the the Plame-leakers or because he participated in a grand cover-up of whoever did the leaking. But If Rove did indeed lie under oath or to the FBI, what are the chances that the upright moralists of the GOP will demand his head, will urge he be removed from his White House position? Yes, you know the answer as well as I do: there will be a rally-'round-Karl chorus from the GOP, denying, delaying, smearing others, etc.

And, if worse comes to worst in this scenario, Rove, if caught red-handed, may attempt to escape a probable felony indictment on the leaking charge by saying that he thought Plame's CIA status was well-known in Washington; that way, he'd be off the legal hook, since in order to fall afoul of the law, he would have to have knowingly revealed her secret identity.

And if that doesn't work, and/or if Rove is indicted on a coverup charge, there's always the good ol' presidential pardon, a Republican speciality when the heat gets intense. (Ford pardoned Nixon in the Watergate scandal, George H.W. Bush pardoned Caspar Weinberger in the Irangate scandal - before he'd even been charged with anything.)

So, Rove - one of the most hated but most feared politicos in America - eventually may escape the legal noose currently locating itself around his neck. But, Washington politics being what it is, one can expect (as in the Watergate scandal decades ago) that, by turning over one rock, a whole lot of other smelly scandals will be revealed.

Just think of it: Rove on trial, Kenneth Starr as his chief counsel, with a witness list that might well include Robert Novak, Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV (Plame's husband that Rove was angry at), Jeff Gannon/Guckert, Judith Miller, Chris Matthews (who reported that Rove told him that Plame "was fair game" after her husband criticized the administration), Bill Frist, Scott McClellan, John McCain, Ken Mehlman, Ralph Reed, et al. What a show that would be!

3. The parties switch positions.

How to explain the whiplash-like reversal of the two major parties in recent years? The Democrats, supposedly the more liberal, these days in many ways is the more conservative - trying to "conserve" what is best about Constitutional government, our natural environment, our adherence to open and honest rule. The Republicans, meanwhile, have turned into the radical party, trying to "reform" or eviscerate much of the popular New Deal/Great Society programs, and carrying out multiple wars abroad.

It used to be that the Republicans were the party of small-government and states' rights. They were suspicious of privacy intrusions by the Washington bureaucrats. Now it is the Democrats who rail about the central government running roughshod over citizens' civil liberties.

It used to be that the Republicans were leery of foreign military adventures, wanting to concentrate on taking care of our own citizens and society first. Now it is the Democrats who are denouncing the Administration's war-making abroad, and Bush & Co. policies and philosophy ("pre-emptive" wars) that will yield more such conflicts.

It used to be that Republicans were the party of budgetary restraint and living within one's means. Now it's the Democrats pointing loudly at the trillions of dollars of debt being racked up on Bush's watch, in order to afford two wars and huge tax-relief to the already-wealthy.

It used to be that the Republicans, big on religion and "family values," were the party of moral absolutes, and the Democrats were tarred with the "moral-relativism" brush. But those currently in control of the GOP are quite willing to trim their moral sails to whatever wind will bring them victory. The only goal is winning, and the ends justify the means. This is true with regard to Iraq, and to domestic disputes as well. The Democrats thus take great delight in pointing up the hypocrisy of the Republicans in violating their own traditions and positions, in the hunt for victory.

Strange how the Republicans, captured by the far right-wing of the party, morphed into what they used to detest - big-government coercers, reckless military adventurers abroad, intrusive collectors of all sorts of private data about its citizens, moral relativists - and the Democrats have become the old-fashioned conservators of what is best about America. Difficult to fathom. If anybody has any solid explanations that explain this shift, I'd love to hear them.

4. The supreme cultural battleground.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor mistakenly has been viewed by the mainstream press as a "centrist" on the Supreme Court; the awful realization is that so far has the right-wing moved the parameters that the "center" has shifted. In truth, O'Connor was a staunch conservative, just not one of those over-the-edge rightists currently holding the reins of GOP power. One can reasonably expect that she will be replaced by someone more attuned to Bush/Cheney's stark, ideologically-based view of the world.

One would like to believe that Bush, having suffered a number of major legislative defeats in recent months (on Bolton, Social Security, filibuster, etc.), might want to nominate someone reasonably mainstream, just to get a quick victory in hand. But Bush apparently still believes he has a lot of political capital to spend, and so he can afford to push someone he knows will antagonize Democrats and traditional-conservative and moderate GOP senators.

My guess is that Bush's first choice will be someone on the far right edge of judicial philosophy, to get the Democratic opposition fired up for a filibuster. At which point, Bush will try to regroup the Republicans to move to the "nuclear option" of changing the rules in the Senate to eliminate filibusters, and thus require only a majority vote for a nominee. If none of that works, he will nominate someone merely thoroughly objectionable but not a Bork-like or Clarence Thomas-like Manichean.

But who knows what Rove & Co. are cooking up in the White House kitchen? We'll probably find out later this week. Buckle your seat-belts; the next few months are liable to be a very bumpy ride.

5. Confusion on Iraq policy.

One wonders whether the inconsistent statements coming out of the White House about what's happening in Iraq are planned to create confusion in the public mind, or are evidence that this gang can't shoot straight even with each other.

Cheney proclaims vociferously that the insurgency in Iraq is in its "last throes." The commanding military officer, General Abizaid, on the ground in Iraq, says the insurgency is about the same as it was six months ago - i.e., healthy and active, able to mount major operations. Rumsfeld, who at the start of the war said that the U.S. should be wrapping up the post-war operation within six months, now says it may take 12 years. Bush just talks vaguely about "staying the course" and "completing the mission," as if constant repetition magically will make it happen.

Maybe they figure it doesn't matter what they say anymore, since their base remains fairly solidly with them, and nobody else listens to them or cares what lies come out of their mouths.

What is interesting is how quickly Bush has lost the trust of the American public on the war. With his backside covered because of that public revulsion toward the war, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel can come right out and say that the Bush Administration has no coherent policy in Iraq, that it's being made up on the fly, and that the U.S. is losing the war. It took many years to get to this point during the Vietnam era.

So, while there are denials all the way around, it's not surprising that so desperate are the Busheviks to do something, anything, to change the dynamic in Iraq that they're willing even to talk with insurgent representatives, as they've been doing in recent weeks.

As with Vietnam, this Iraq story is one that keeps getting worse. Eventually, as with that war, the American people will have had enough, will resent the deceptive way the country was bamboozled into attacking Iraq and the incompetent way the invasion and occupation have been managed, and will not put up with more deaths and maimings of our soldiers. Then the citizens will demand withdrawal. My guess is that this will happen sooner rather than later.

And who will the Bushies blame for the Iraq debacle? Not themselves, you can be sure; they don't make mistakes. Yep, you got it: "weak-kneed liberals" and the "liberal media." Stay tuned.

6. A silent scream?

I couldn't believe my ears the other day while watching Bush's Iraq policy speech at Fort Bragg. What I was hearing was... nothing. Usually, Bush's hand-picked audiences cheer loudly and often during his speeches. But this time, the thousands of beret-clad troops in the audience sat on their hands.

Polite applause once, started by Bush Administration plants in the audience, and that was it.

I almost pitied Bush. It reminded me of watching a stand-up comedian "dying" in front of an audience that didn't think he was funny.

The audience was tailor-made for a Bush military speech: officers and young men and women in uniform. But this time, they remained silent, and their silence said more than Bush's speech about the mood in this country toward the Iraq War and the Administration's mishandling of it, from the deceptions and lies underlying it to the bumbled occupation to the current quagmire.

These are soldiers who would be sent down that rathole, and/or who know those already there, and their silence made it plain that they didn't want any part of it, and didn't accept Bush's platitudes about the war. Good on them.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. has taught government & international relations, at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and now co-edits The Crisis Papers. Send comments to crisispapers@comcast.net.

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