Democratic Underground

"Shallow Throat": Do Dems Have a Death Wish?

January 17, 2006
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

"Shallow Throat" joined me at a mostly-deserted park in Virginia, red-faced and shaking with anger. I didn't even have to ask a question before the rage exploded out:

"I can't believe your Democrat friends are blowing it once again! The Bushies are imploding in one scandal after another, it's dictator-time, the GOP in Congress is tarred by the Abramoff corruption brush, more attacks on Mideast countries are coming soon, Bush ordered spying on Americans with no court permission, impeachment momentum is in the air - and the Dems have let the President off the hook once again! How many times are you going to push that boulder up the steep hill to the top and then let it roll back down again? Do you liberals really have a death-wish?"

Normally, I have to contact the secretive GOP mole high up in the Bush Administration, but this time Shallow Throat came looking for me. To vent, to explode, to dish.

"Whoa there," I said, as we walked quickly down a tree-lined path. "Slow down and tell me what's wrong. And, by the way, I'm not a Democratic consultant, I just play one on the Internet. I presume you're talking about Alito escaping the Judiciary Committee noose in his hearing?"

"No, no, you're missing the point. Your Democrat friends -, Democratic pols, liberal pundits - always miss the point. They're great when they finally decide to hone in on something, usually minor, but they constantly miss the big picture, and rarely have a world-view, a philosophy, even a sense of what their political enemies are trying to do to them. No wonder you guys lose elections - wait, before you call me on that last one, I'll admit: balloting fraud helps, too."

"So what is the 'big picture' here? What did the Democrats ignore?"


"The reality they're missing is that Bush & Co. long ago declared war on our democratic institutions, and the liberals pretend that it never really happened. Bush & Co. have set themselves up as a dictatorship, where, under an extreme interpretation of 'the unitary executive' theory, the president can violate whatever laws he wishes whenever he wishes, totally negating the Legislative Branch's lawmaking and oversight powers. They've been doing this in secret for years - using the 'national security' dodge when carrying out and condoning torture, domestic spying on citizens' emails and phone calls and so on - and now, thanks only to some whistleblower friends of mine inside the Administration, the whole rotten, stinking pile is out in the open.

"The issue is joined, and yet the Dems simply can't face that they're going to have to really fight for freedom and power, not just mouth the words. The Alito hearings were the perfect platform to make their points openly, and with all that free airtime, and they dropped the ball."

"But they did ask Alito plenty of questions about presidential overreach," I responded. "It's not like they ignored the issue."

"Yeah, they asked some questions, a well-rehearsed Alito bobbed and weaved with platitudes, and then the Dems moved on to another line of questioning, as if each issue were equal and a perfectly normal difference of opinion. What you and your friends are failing to grasp is that this is the issue of our time - the amassing of total political and military power in the hands of a few dangerous, power-crazed officials down in a fantasy bunker. The result of this denial has led to a withering away of other countervailing powers in our society, in the Judiciary, the Press, the Legislative branch. It happened in Germany in the '30s, and it is starting to happen here. If we don't stop them now, we may never have another good opportunity to do so."

"But you still haven't told me what the Dems - who are the minority party, remember, with little or no power - could have done in the Alito hearing other than to press the issue with the nominee," I said.


"Think creatively!" shouted Shallow Throat. "If the Democrats truly and sincerely believe America and the Constitution are in imminent danger from this wild, power-hungry crew in the White House - and, believe me, you guys only have seen the tip of the iceberg as to how bad it is - they can't keep behaving in the normal manner.

"The Senate Democrats could have reined in their individual egos, organized themselves and, in effect, held an educational sit-in during the hearings, using their media face-time to lay out the facts of Bush's cockamamie theory underlying his assumption of total power. They could have met elsewhere in the Capitol and held their own hearings, a la John Conyers in the House, about what Bush has done. They could have said they would be unable to vote for Alito as long as he avoided telling the country his philosophical views - not how he might rule on particular cases - on the key issues. As a united body of senators, they could have indicated their support for impeachment hearings based on the usurpation of total power (tying the nominee to this right-wing agenda), domestic spying, torture, corruption, massive lies, etc.

"Instead, they just lobbed a few easy-to-deflect questions at Alito and moved on. If Alito is confirmed to the Supreme Court (joining Roberts, also a supporter of expanded executive power during 'wartime'), the likelihood of more police-state tactics and shredding of more Constitutional protections and more spying on ordinary citizens will move us further along toward an authoritarian, one-party state. Although they seem to recognize this, the Dems' questions (too much on Roe) and disorganized, noncholant approach suggest that they don't really care to try to stop this movement toward an American type of fascism."

"You, a moderate conservative, think America is heading into fascism?" I asked, somewhat shocked.


"It's not just me. There are so many distressed traditional Republican conservatives out there, always opposed to Big Brother government, who think likewise. Even Barron's, that establishment business magazine, is of a similar mind, along with lots of military and intelligence types still inside the administration, but scared to death of saying anything. I'm nervous just being here with you, Bernie. God help me if anybody sees me."

"I think this place is out of the way enough, and you're wearing a wig and dark glasses," I replied. "But what I'm interested in finding out is: Do you think it's too late, is it all a lost cause?"

"Almost, but maybe there still are ways to stop this reckless bunch of ideologues. First of all, the Democrats have to stay united and filibuster the hell out of the Alito nomination. And they have to work on prying a few of the Republican moderates to pledge to vote no, based on the clear indication by Alito that he's willing to re-open the Roe decision, and judicially blessing Bush's assumption of sweeping powers over citizens' privacy, positions not favored by a great many anti-big-government conservatives.

"The hearings may have been a predictable dance, but they did get Alito to reveal several things: First, that he lied to somebody about being a member of the bigoted Concerned Alumni of Princeton; either he lied to Reagan officials to get a job when he asserted that he had been a member, or he lied to the Senators when he claimed he couldn't remember if he was a member. (I wracked my brain and I just can't remember if I was a member of the Klan 20 years ago. Yeah, sure.)


"Second, Alito believes many other key issues are 'settled law' precedents, but on executive power and abortion, clearly he's ready to vote to tear away at Roe and to support Bush in his assumption of more and more power, with little oversight. Some of the moderate GOP senators are greatly concerned about the Legislative Branch being stripped of its power, throwing the checks-and-balances system out of whack, so they might be peeled away here. Folks like Collins and Snowe and Chafee and maybe even Warner and McCain (who is pissed at the way Bush humiliated him on his torture amendment, saying he wouldn't necessarily honor it).

"Third, key Democratic Senators and House members should be willing to risk arrest for civil disobedience by joining a sit-in outside the White House gates, along with tens of thousands of ordinary citizens, protesting Bush's breaking of laws passed by Congress and claiming he can and will do it again and again, whenever he wants.

"We need men and women of courage to drive this issue into the mainstream media's front page and TV screens, day after day; imagine the impact if, say, Senators Boxer, Feinstein and Leahy were to put their bodies where their mouths are on the war in Iraq and on Bush's in-your-face executive power-grabbing. If the Dems are serious about confronting Bush where he's weakest, on breaking laws with impunity, then they've got to up the ante and take some calculated risks. Doing so automatically will move the impeachment ball forward.

"Fourth, it's not too late for the Dem senators to start holding hearings on their own - or talking about Alito and over-reaching executive power during a filibuster on his nomination - even if the GOP won't initiate official probes on Bush's having violated the law. (By the way, it was easy for Alito to say that even a President has to remain within the law, because, if he gets onto the Supreme Court, he'll help redefine 'the law' so that Bush always will be seen to be 'inside' it.) Witnesses could be called at such hearings, from inside and outside the government, to explain how Bush is a serial lawbreaker and needs to be reined in, either electorally at the mid-term balloting later this year or through the impeachment process.

"Finally, don't forget that Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald may drop a Rove-indictment bomb any day now on the White House. Bush and Cheney might be forced to testify in such a case - or Bush might feel constrained to issue a pardon in advance of Rove going to court, which obvious coverup ploy would add another charge to the impeachment list."


I had to ask the next question: "Do you really believe the Democrats have enough courage to do at least some of what you're suggesting?"

"No," ST said, "but they're slowly coming to realize that unless they do something dramatic to save the republic from the worst of the Bush recklessness and power-amassment, their own days and their power to get things done are numbered, and with more wars of choice in the offing. The Dems will never ever get back in power again unless Bush & Co. are brought down politically, through impeachment. We can't count on Bush and Cheney resigning on their own volition, on Fitzgerald doing it for them, on unsupervised voting-machine tallies (by the Republican-supporting computer-voting companies who control the counting of ballot) giving them earned victories. In short, the Dems and their moderate GOP allies are going to have to force the issue themselves.

"The Dem base - and a lot of angry traditional Republican conservatives and military officers at the Pentagon and intelligence officers at the CIA and elsewhere - are ready for courageous action on their leaders' part. But those leaders have to be willing to step out, take a deep breath and make the moves that need to be made to get rid of this corrupt, incompetent, vicious, power-mad crew. If they don't, we're all liable to go down with them. There are no more chances. This is it."

Shallow Throat turned off my tape-recorder and, before jogging out of the park, said: "Get this conversation published!" Which I am dutifully doing.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has had numerous conversations with the Shallow Throat character. He has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. Send comments to

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