Democratic Underground

A Cancerous Tumor in the Body Politic: Time for Surgery

August 16, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

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When White House Counsel John Dean in 1973 told Richard Nixon that there was a "cancer growing on the presidency," it wasn't totally clear if he was referring to the Watergate coverup inside the White House, or to the felonies committed by Nixon's closest aides, or, without coming right out and saying so, to the President himself.

But, clearly, something toxic was eating away at the President's legitimacy, Dean was suggesting, thus putting Nixon in potential legal jeopardy. Something had to be done to protect the presidency, if not the President, from the mortal danger symbolized by that cancer metaphor.

Nothing remedial was done; the coverup grew worse - one lie and deception and crime piled on another - and the cancer killed Nixon's presidency. With the Congress about to impeach him, he resigned in disgrace.

That medical metaphor is much on my mind these days, and not just when thinking about the Bush presidency. Someone close to our family recently was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Something potentially deadly was growing inside her body.


The tumor had to be removed, and it was excised a few days ago. She appears to be recuperating well, but now steps will have to be taken (chemo, radiation, change in diet, etc.) to ensure that the cancer does not spread and that it will never return.

Going from the microcosmos to the macro, today there is a cancer growing in the body of the American polity. Its aggressive nature has forced its way into the social and political fabric of our lives, and is destroying both from within.

This destructive malignancy was not removed at the first opportunity and has now spread and infected the entire culture and political apparatus. It is running rampant and is strangling the foundation upon which our nation rests, the Constitution. It has leaped national boundaries and is attacking other nations beyond our shores.

These invasions and occupations are connected vitally to the domestic outbreak at home. It's a closed loop, with one infection feeding the other, and vice versa. (Oddly enough, attacks from foreign terrorists seem to aid the power-cancer internally.)

But unlike in the time of Watergate, these days there are no journalistic radiologists, such as Woodward and Bernstein, to identify the malignancy, no skillful oncologists, such as Sam Ervin, to diagnose it, and no Congressional surgeons, such as Ervin and Howard Baker and Peter Rodino, to remove it through impeachment and conviction.


The American corpus, which just a few years ago, was relatively strong, is riven with social, political, economic and moral disease. The cancer, barely noticed by most Americans, was growing slowly all this time, away from direct public scrutiny, building its support network, infiltrating into various arteries of power (the media, think tanks, propaganda ministries, electoral systems, education), and then, after decades, when the moment was ripe, the cancer erupted in the highest halls of power, in the White House.

The remedy of tumor removal/amputation - via the surgery of impeachment - could begin the process of healing. But this cancer is notoriously aggressive in maintaining itself in the face of assaults - in this, it's reminiscent of an organized criminal enterprise - mainly by growing and spreading into new areas where it attempts to control the situation.

At moments, when it appears to be cornered, it exudes a toxic slime over its most notable critics and opponents. Examples: Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, John McCain, John Kerry, Cindy Sheehan, et al. A new candidate for those crosshairs is Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor who potentially could indict much of the inner circle of the Bush Administration in the Plamegate/Iraq War scandals.

There is also the possibility that the body politic, so turned off by the outrageous aggressiveness of the bullying cancer - and the high costs of supporting its foreign wars abroad so expensive in terms of blood and treasure - will create enough antibodies to drive out the malignancy in a periodic election in, say, 2006 and/or 2008. (This assumes that the agents of the cancer no longer will be controlling the voting machines and computerized vote-counting processes.)


If we've learned anything about cancer, it is that it must be confronted and dealt with. You can't deny its existence, or wish it away. Cancers are cells gone wild with their power. When such a malignancy shows up in a human body, you cut it out, and then drive a symbolic stake through its heart through chemo and radiation.

When a malignant tumor shows up in the polity, you follow the same protocol. When the costs of denial become too great, when so much damage and death and destruction is done in your name, then the cancer finally has to be faced and dealt with. Society must mobilize itself for radical surgery, and then through the symbolic chemo/radiation - reforms, re-asserting the primacy of the rule of law and Constitutional protections, re-establishing the checks-and-balances established by our Founding Fathers - try to ensure that one-party rule, authoritarian leadership, police-state measures, "pre-emptive" wars, torture as state policy, incipient native fascism, etc., do not have an easy chance to re-assert themselves again.

But in order to reach this era of the Restoration of Constitutional Rule, there must be a general consensus on the nature of the disease, indeed on the fact that there is a malignancy on the loose, and thus a willingness to combat it. In the past two Presidential elections, it would appear that more than half the population voted for someone other than the cancer party, but the "official" election results (counted by corporations in lockstep with those in power) said otherwise.


According to the latest polls, the American population has lost any faith that the Bush Administration knows what it's doing in Iraq, and increasingly they believe that the war - which, as the top-secret, leaked Downing Street Memos verify, was based on gross lies and deceptions of the public - wasn't worth it.

The public is a bit more willing to grant Bush a break in terms of fighting terrorism, though it believes his imperial adventures abroad are making it more, not less, likely that terrorists will attack the U.S. again. But with the corporate-owned mass media more or less serving as a propaganda arm for the Administration, and with Rove and his cohorts constantly playing the fright card, the American public, but by a smaller percentage all the time, tends to acquiesce to Bush & Co.'s anti-terror line.

If Bush's war in Iraq continues its disastrous course, or if a huge number of Bush indictments come down from the Plamegate grand jury (especially if Rove, Cheney and Bush are either indicted outright or listed as unindicted co-conspirators), critical mass may be achieved to demand impeachment hearings in the Congress, especially if the Republicans were to lose their majority in the House.

As a way of aiding that critical mass grow, it seems appropriate to close this piece with the insights of the fellow that opened it: John W. Dean. If there's anyone who appreciates what can happen to our democratic republic when an arrogant president thinks he's above the law, it is Dean. He wrote a book that examines the Bush presidency in that light, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush (Little, Brown).

Dean was known as a relatively circumspect, mild-mannered traditional Republican, but what he has seen first-hand and learned from others about the Bush-Cheney White House revolts his stomach. Check out these excerpts from Worse Than Watergate:


Their secrecy is extreme - not merely unjustified and excessive but obsessive... It has given us a presidency that operates on hidden agendas. To protect their secrets, Bush and Cheney dissemble as a matter of policy... Cheney openly declares that he wants to turn the clock back to the pre-Watergate years - a time of an unaccountable and extra-constitutional imperial presidency. To say that their secret presidency is undemocratic is an understatement.

Cheney formed what is, in effect, a shadow NSC [National Security Council]... It is a secret government - beyond the reach of Congress, and everyone else as well... Cheney knew that terrorism was the perfect excuse, an ideal raison d'etre, for his "let's rule the world" philosophy. Politically, it would be much easier to be seen as shooting back instead of shooting first, given the caliber of weapon Cheney sought to wield. But he and his team did far worse than simply waiting for an attack that would kill a sufficient number of Americans... It is reasonable to believe that they planned to exploit terrorism before 9/11 handed them the issue ready-made for exploitation - a fact they obviously want to keep buried.

Not since Lyndon Johnson hoodwinked Congress into issuing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorizes sending American troops to Vietnam, has a president so deceived Congress about a matter of such grave national importance. ... Bush and Cheney took this nation to war on THEIR hunches, their unreliable beliefs, and their unsubstantiated intelligence - and used deception with Congress both before and after launching the war. ...The evidence is overwhelming, certainly sufficient for a prima facie case, that George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have engaged in deceit and deception over going to war in Iraq. This is an impeachable offense.

Their secrecy helps corporations and industries that are major contributors. But with a deadly difference. Bush and Cheney have, from the outset of their presidency, shown utter disregard for the human consequences of their actions, both at home and abroad. ... What Bush and Cheney are doing to the environment to curry favor with their contributors is far worse than anything Nixon's "responsiveness program" ever did. The Bush-Cheney presidency is engaged in crimes against nature, not to mention failing to faithfully execute the laws of the land.


The Bush-Cheney secrecy and style of governing carries with it potential consequences that are far worse than any political scandal. Their secret presidency is a dangerous threat to democracy in an age of terrorism. ... Bush and Cheney have picked up where Nixon left presidential power. They seek to free the presidency of all restraints. They want to implement their policies - a radical wisdom they believe serves the greater good - unencumbered by those who view the world differently.

When the moment comes and terrorists surprise America with an even greater spirit-shattering attack than 9/11, Bush and Cheney will simply push aside the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, inflame public passions with tough talk to rally support... and take this country to a place it has only been once. For eleven weeks during the outset of the Civil War, President Lincoln became what scholars have euphemistically called a constitutional dictator. But with terrorism it will likely not be so brief. Bush once quipped, "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator." George Bush, however, is no Abraham Lincoln.

In short, the time has long since passed when the political surgical scalpels need to excise the malignant tumor that had lodged itself into our public life. If we don't act, and soon, that cancer might well destroy us all.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. For comments, write

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