So many of us were devastated after Congress rolled over and gave Bush his war on Iraq. We needed help in figuring it all out. So I set up the coded signal to "Shallow Throat," the high-ranking GOP mole in the White House who had been so helpful in pointing us in the right direction several times previously.
We met in a nondescript bar in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Shallow Throat wearing a different wig and glasses than last time. I didn't even get a chance to ask a question before Shallow Throat sneered at me with disgust and began raging. "You liberals are so clueless, no wonder you got reamed on the Iraq vote. You wanted to look reasonable to the American public, and not run the risk of looking 'unpatriotic' for the November election. But what you wound up doing was giving Bush cover. You got all the words into the war-resolution that Americans wanted to hear - 'last resort,' United Nations, diplomacy, inspectors and so on - but you, and Bush&Co., know that the attack juggernaut is rolling and Bush isn't going to pay the least attention, other than lip-service, to any of it. The war is on, and your lot were cowards, enablers with blood on their hands."
"That's not fair," I said, even though I was so angry at the Democrat leadership myself. "They probably figured that unless the Democrats win the election next month, any chance of stopping Bush on his march toward total control disappears."
"Yes, I'm aware that your Democratic friends didn't want to risk anything when they believed they might be able to take the House back and even pick up a seat or two in the Senate. I grant you it's a reasonable strategy to stick to the bread-and-butter issues the public cares most about - the sinking economy, fear of losing jobs, prescription drug-coverage for the elderly, the need for educational reform, etc. - but it misses the forest for the trees."
"Your Democratic friends are laughed at inside the White House. The Dems in Congress still want to play by the traditional rules - give a little here, get a little there, compromise and scratch each others' backs, and so on - but even after watching for nearly two years how Bush&Co. operate, playing real hardball, your friends still don't get it. Bush&Co. want it ALL, they want EVERYTHING, and they'll do whatever it takes to get it. You can't play nicey-nice with these guys. They'll lie, cheat, steal, promise one thing and do another once they've rolled you."
"Is that why you're revealing their secrets, even though you're a GOP stalwart?"
"I know now how Jim Jeffords felt before he resigned from the Republican Party and gave the Senate to the Democrats: I'm forced every day to play ball with sleaze and power-hunger and hypocrisy and uncompromising zealotry. I choose to stay on the inside, for whatever good I can do there and so that I can let you and your Democrat friends know what's really going on." There was a pause. "But it's getting worse and worse. It's like working in a charnel house, and the stench associated with rapacious greed and the lust for power and total control and running roughshod over the Constitution is getting to me. I don't know how long I can stick around. I take five showers a day just for the illusion that I'm clean."
I looked into Shallow Throat's eyes. "I haven't seen you like this before," I said. "You look totally disheartened. It's really that bad, huh?"
"You remember the flap when the German justice minister compared Bush's tactics with those of Hitler - of mesmerizing the population with war-talk while the real issues are swept under the rug? The Bushies got enraged because she hit too close to the mark. The administration's propaganda policy is, who said it?, a weapon of mass distraction - and it's working. Look at how the Congress caved, look at the absence of major coverage on the shaky economy and the various Bush&Co. scandals."
"You're not really comparing Bush to Hitler?"
"Of course not. But the Bush people learned a lot from The Third Reich, and other authoritarian regimes, in terms of how to organize and propagandize and frighten and slowly slice away at the veneer of democracy and rule of law. They also learned the value and techniques of bullying, especially with regard to foreign conquest and scaring their critics domestically. And this 'permanent-war' rationale isn't new either. In fact, there's a lot of recycling of nasty ideas and tactics these days."
"You're joking, right? You're just exaggerating because you're so frustrated working inside the belly of the beast."
"Think again, my friend. The hardright cabal at the heart of Bush&Co. for at least the past decade, ever since the collapse of communism (and even before that), have been thinking about and planning for, and writing about, what they would do if they ever got into power.* Your namby-pamby friends in the Democrat opposition chose to ignore those guys, thinking them far-right kooks, with all their talk about acting aggressively as a superpower, first-strike "pre-emptive" attacks, "benevolent hegemony," control of oil&gas reserves, making sure no other country ever could emerge to challenge the U.S., mangling the Constitution to get what they want, and so on. Now do you understand why the HardRight - the politicians, the justices, the columnists, et al. - have fought with so much venom and meanness to get into power? This is their time, as they see it, when they can Take It All - around the globe, in this country - and they will crush anyone in their way who tries to stop them. Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg."
"It can't all be that dark," I said, my skin beginning to crawl. "The fact that the American people, in poll after poll, for example, were way ahead of their elected representatives in Congress - wanting U.N. inspectors in Iraq, not going in there without our allies and U.N. approval, and so on - must count for something."
"Sure, thanks to the efforts of liberals and moderates, you've slowed them down a bit, forced them to alter their rhetoric - once they said there was no need to go to Congress and the United Nations for authorization, but they were forced to bend in those directions. So, big deal. Let's be clear: If they don't get what they want by going the civilized way, they will take what they want anyway. Don't you understand? THESE...ARE...NOT...NICE...PEOPLE. They are playing for keeps. You're talking shadow forces unleashed, my friend."
"Isn't there anything that can be done to stop them?"
"Short of voting them out of power in 2004 - or ruining them through investigations and impeachment before then as a result of all their scandals - all you can hope for right now is to slow them down. If the Democrats take the House and hang on to the Senate, you'll be able to stick some good wood into their spokes - maybe even get some tough investigations going; you'll force Bush&Co. to figure another way around.
But if the GOP loses in November, and the Democrats continue to behave like Bush lap-dogs, the game is over. The Democrats have to become a true opposition party and take it to Bush&Co. straight up. Power is the only thing these Bush guys understand. The Dems have to feel it and be willing to FIGHT, big time, for those things they believe in. I'm not sure your current Dem leaders understand that or have the courage to even try. The young people demonstrating in the streets, and the online political sites have that knowledge, but aren't strong enough yet to be taken seriously. As for the rest of the citizenry, thanks to September 11th and now the renewed terrorist attacks, they're too frightened to want anything but security and seem willing to go along with whatever the Bushies say is necessary."
"Up to a point," I interjected. "If Iraq turns out to be a disaster, and more terrorist attacks occur as a result of Bush&Co. policies, and more and more allies get turned off by U.S. arrogance and bullyboy behavior, and the economy continues to tank, and Americans' civil liberties continue to shrink, I think you'll see Americans getting really angry."
"Dream on," Shallow Throat said with a sad grin. "These guys are experts at ratcheting up the fear factor and keeping their permanent war going - plus, don't forget there actually are genuine bad-guy terrorists out there."
"I refuse to believe that you can fool all of the people all of the time. The truth will out. And once the American people get angry at their leaders, watch out."
"Well," said Shallow Throat, "I'm glad that you and your Democrat friends still have that idealism, because that belief, and the willingness to do something to activate it, is the only thing right now that offers any hope. From inside the White House, it all looks too scary and awful to even want to think about...And speaking of that place, I've been away too long and someone might begin to wonder where I am. Don't forget: What happens now will determine America's, and the world's, future for a long time. Develop some backbone...quick."
And with that, Shallow Throat exited the bar. It took me a half-hour before my legs stopped trembling and I could get up to leave.
* A few days after our meeting, in a package sent by regular mail, I received the following books and articles from Shallow Throat, which chillingly laid it all out: "From Containment to Global Leadership? America & the World After the Cold War," by Zalmay M. Khalilzad (currently the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan; published by Rand Corporation, 1995); Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan's "Towards a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy (Foreign Affairs, July-August 1996); Nicholas Lemann's "The Next World Order" (New Yorker, April 1, 2002); Jay Bookman's "The President's Real Goals in Iraq" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 29, 2002) and "An Empire by Any Other Name" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 10, 2002); "The National Security Strategy," issued by The White House (www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nssall.html).
Bernard Weiner, a poet and playwright, was the San Francisco Chronicle's theater critic for nearly 20 years. A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at various universities and published in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive, and widely on the internet.