"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." Theodore Roosevelt
For 30 years, beginning with the Nixon presidency, advanced under Reagan, stalled with the elder Bush, a new political economy struggled to be born. The idea was pure and simple: centralization of power in the hands of the Republican Party would ensure that it never lost it again. Under George W. Bush, this new system reached its apotheosis. It is a radically novel social, political and economic formation that deserves study alongside capitalism and socialism. Neither Adam Smith nor Vladimir Lenin captures its essence, though it has far more elements of Leninist democratic-centralism than Smithian free markets. Some have referred to this model as crony capitalism; others compare the waste, extravagance and greed to the Gilded Age. Call it 21st century Republicanism.
At its heart the system is plagued by corruption, an often unpleasant peripheral expense that greases its wheels. But now multiple scandals engulfing Republicans - from suspended House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to White House political overlord Karl Rove - threaten to upend the system. Because it is organized by politics it can be undone by politics. Politics has been the greatest strength of Republicanism, but it has become its greatest vulnerability. The party runs the state. Politics drives economics. Important party officials are also economic operators. They thrive off their connections and rise in the party apparatus as a result of their self-enrichment. The past three chairmen of the Republican National Committee have all been Washington lobbyists.
An oligarchy atop the party allocates favors. Behind the ideological slogans about the "free market" and "liberty," the oligarchy creates oligopolies. Businesses must pay to play. They must kick back contributions to the party, hire its key people and support its program. Only if they give do they receive tax breaks, loosening of regulations and helpful treatment from government professionals. Those professionals in the agencies and departments who insist on adhering to standards other than those imposed by the party are fired, demoted and blackballed. The oligarchy wars against these professionals to bend government purely into an instrument of oligopolies.
Meanwhile, the grand jury in the Valerie Plame case prepares to conclude its work. In August, it called Rove's assistant Susan Ralston to testify. As it happens, she had formerly been Abramoff's assistant. And it was revealed that before she allowed people to meet with Rove, she cleared them with Norquist. Rove, for his part, often used Abramoff and Norquist as his conduits to DeLay. Now all the investigations are coming to a climax. Will it mean the decline and fall of the Rovean empire? "Rove is the ultimate center of everything," said Wittman. "All roads lead to Rove. If it's Rove, everything collapses. People say there is no indispensable man. That's not true." But more than the fate of one man or even a ring around him is at stake. For decades, conservatives created a movement to capture the Republican Party and remake it in their image. Under Bush, Republicanism as a system dominates. With astonishing arrogance and bravado, the Republican oligarchy wired politics and business so that they would always win. But in believing that they actually possessed absolute power they have overreached. Now their project teeters on the brink.