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The Decline of Politics

Waiting for Fitzgerald

by NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN

"You are like the prisoner sawing away at the bars on the little cell window so intently that he does not notice the door has long been wide open."

–George Bernard Shaw (paraphrased)

"Will there be one indictment or five?" "How high will he go?" "Has Hadley had it?"  "Will Rove get his deserts, finally?" There is the wee undercurrent of concern that it might all end up in a damp squib . But by and large, an atmosphere singed with nervous excitement hovers over Washington.

Among Democrats there is subdued energy, above the hum of a snore but certainly nowhere near fever-pitch. Whatever Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald delivers, they know, this regime is damaged goods. The march of events has produced what they did not, frozen by fear of bad timing, even dare dream attempt. But that doesn’t mean they will not relish this moment, with all the self-importance of a broken timepiece at one of the two times each day when it looks like a winner. Who would have guessed that the non-strategy of petrified silence would yield such results! The nineteenth century saw the brief rise of the American Party, also called the ‘Know Nothings’. The twenty first has unveiled a new force, the "Do Nothings", once known as the Democratic Party.

Warm though it may hearts long distressed by the extent of domestic and international mayhem wrought by the confluence of incompetence, low cunning and habitual dishonesty that so characterizes the Bush-Cheney administration, the hubbub over the Fitzgerald investigation only highlights the arteriosclerosis of a polity in general decline.

Consider this anamoly: the whole question of the Bush administration’s culpability on the Iraq war, it would seem, turns on one prosecutor’s verdict. That’s right. The political class is relying on this lone individual’s honesty and courage to call to account the brazen hijacking of its prerogatives, something it itself had neither  will nor ability to check. This is akin to a Government of the United States, fearful of confronting Al Capone, rejoicing that some low-end official was finally able to book the gangster on a technicality.

Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, do we need a government bureaucrat to prove the Bush administration committed war crimes (all we have to ask is who started the Iraq war)? To use Condi Rice’s own metaphor, we are happy to turn a blind eye to the series of mushroom clouds of the Bush years, as we stay glued to Fitzgerald’s search for the ‘smoking gun’! It is hardly  ’Breaking News’ that the Bush administration will stop at nothing in its lowly pursuits. Why does anyone need Fitzgerald’s report to conclude this? Is Florida 2000 not enough of a demonstration? Well before 9-11, Bush’s first move on grabbing office was to seal off presidential papers – including those of past presidents. No one yet knows why. Bush, Cheney and Co. jumped at 9-11, not to unify the country with a call to sacrifice and greatness, but to declare open season on the Constitution, to seize the opportunity for private plunder, to extinguish freedoms, and to concentrate political power in its hands.  Its instincts are neither conservative nor liberal — they are, if anything ,anti-political, seeking the union of unfettered executive power with  unquestioned crony capitalism, in a word, fascist.

The prosecutor’s probe will not erase the fact of twenty nine Senate Democrats voting for the Iraq war resolution. It will not nullify presidential candidate John Kerry’s sheepish reassertion of his vote two years later, long after it had become clear that the WMD claim was a lie. Nor will anyone with an IQ over 80 be persuaded, by the manner in which Democratic senators voted for Condoleezza Rice’s promotion to Secretary of State, or their "I think you’re the real deal" encomiums to Alberto "Torture Memo" Gonzales, that they have any sense of right and wrong. Nothing if not consistent, last Sunday found Charles Schumer saying he would still vote for the Iraq resolution, knowing everything he now knows, three years later. No prominent Democrat who voted for the War resolution has since said it was a mistake, or even that he was misled by the White House. The thunderclap of Democratic silence from Congress on Iraq (excepting perhaps Cynthia McKinney and a few others who have had the conscience to seek immediate withdrawal) speaks as loudly as anything Fitzgerald’s indictments can proclaim about "Scooter" Libby or "Looter" Cheney.

Republicans too should know by now that the Bush administration is as corrosive of conservative or libertarian causes as it is of  
Democratic ones. When the Bush-Cheney administration has trashed every traditional goal of conservatism – fiscal order, economic nationalism, educational excellence , and made lethal inroads into individual privacy and personal liberty, how long will it take for conservatives and libertarians to conclude how disastrous this administration is to their respective movements?

For all his reputed brilliance, Fitzgerald cannot eclipse the fact that Bush was reelected by America, after failing to defend the country on 9-11, after taking us to unprovoked war, after promoting detention without trial, after sanctioning torture, after kicking off an unremitting orgy of death and degradation. These stains will remain long after the moths are done with the infamous blue dress. At best, Fitzgerald may provide proof of the administration’s cynicism, but it is not proof that has ever been lacking. What is vanished is courage, all up and down the political establishment. The old Tamil saying has it right: one can wake up a person from the soundest sleep, but it is impossible to wake someone pretending to sleep.

Fitzgerald’s findings may yet cramp the Administration’s final years, but by turning what should be a political judgement into a technical one, showing up the cravenness of the entire political establishment. Imagine for a minute that Fitzgerald finds no evidence of any wrongdoing. Does that change much? After all, it is clear that Cheney knew about Valerie Plame. Did he or did he not tell Bush when the story broke?  If not, shouldn’t Bush fire him? And if he did…? A few days back, the New York Daily News had a story about Bush chewing out Rove shortly after the story broke, when it became known to him that Rove had been involved in the Valerie Plame matter. Basically, Bush did nothing to seek out and punish whoever had leaked out a national security secret.

Why then have the members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, not called Bush on the carpet even on this specific matter which, from all accounts, is a dereliction of national security? Why are they not, even now, clamoring for impeachment hearings?

By failing to resist (or pretending not to notice, or colluding with) the central tendency of the Bush presidency to reduce politics to business by other means, the political class continues to fail America. Every politician who does not daily indict this administration in word and deed, and call for the impeachment of both top figures, is as culpable as the Administration itself, to use Bush’s own ‘for us or against us’ dictum.

So why is this riveting the country’s attention? Because the story follows the familiar theme so beloved of Hollywood and John Grisham — the lone hero struggling against a sinister web of evil, where everything comes down to one last battle on the edge of the cliff . Now playing at a TV set near you: Fitzgerald Against the Machine.

But when institutions have been hollowed out, consigning checks on unbridled power to hopes of individual heroism and goodness, we have doubly arrived, to the promised land of the Reagan revolution, and at the doorstep of the third world.

NIRANJAN RAMAKRISHNAN is a writer living on the West Coast. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com. He can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com.