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"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


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Sunday, October 02, 2005

In The Beginning, There Was Abramoff

Frank Rich:
Those who still live in the reality-based community, however, may sense they're watching the beginning of the end of something big. It's not just Mr. DeLay, a k a the Hammer, who is on life support, but a Washington establishment whose infatuation with power and money has contaminated nearly every limb of government and turned off a public that by two to one finds the country on the wrong track.

[...]

The bottom line, Mr. Ferguson wrote, was a culture antithetical to everything conservatives had stood for in the Gingrich revolution of 1994. Slaying a corrupt, bloated Democratic establishment was out, gluttony for the G.O.P. and its fat cats was in. Mr. Abramoff and his gang embodied the very enemy the "Contract With America" Congress had supposedly come to Washington to smite: " 'Beltway Bandits,' profiteers who manipulate the power of big government on behalf of well-heeled people who pay them tons of money to do so." Those tons of Republican money were deposited in the favors bank of K Street, where, as The Washington Post reported this year, the number of lobbyists has more than doubled (to some 35,000) since the Bush era began in 2000. Conservatives who once aspired to cut government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" - as a famous Norquist maxim had it - merely outsourced government instead to the highest bidder.

Mr. DeLay's latest plight is only a tiny detail within this vast Boschian canvas of depravity. If this were Watergate - and Watergate itself increasingly looks like a relatively contained epidemic of corruption - the Texas grand jury's indictment of the congressman and his associates would be a sideshow tantamount to the initial 1973 California grand jury indictment of the Nixon aide John Ehrlichman and his pals in the break-in at Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office; Watergate's real legal fireworks were still in the wings.

[...]

The most important plot development of the past two weeks, in fact, has nothing to do with Mr. DeLay (as far as we know). It was instead the arrest of the administration's top procurement officer, David Safavian, on charges of lying and obstructing the investigation of Mr. Abramoff. [...] The mother of all investigations, of course, remains the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's pursuit of whoever outed the C.I.A. agent Valerie Wilson to Robert Novak and whoever may have lied to cover it up. The denouement is on its way.

[...]

We have to hope that the law will get to the bottom of these cases and start to connect the recurring dots. But while everyone is innocent until proved guilty, the overall pattern stinks and has for a long time. It's so filthy that the Republican caucus couldn't even find someone clean to name as Mr. DeLay's "temporary" stand-in as House majority leader last week. As The Washington Post reported in 2003, Roy Blunt, the Missouri congressman who got the job, was found trying to alter a homeland security bill with a last-minute provision that would have benefited Philip Morris-brand cigarettes. Not only had the tobacco giant contributed royally to Mr. Blunt's various campaign coffers, but both the congressman's girlfriend (now wife) and his son were Philip Morris lobbyists at the time.

This is the culture that has given us the government we have. It's a government that has spent more of the taxpayers' money than any since L.B.J.'s (as calculated by the Cato Institute, a libertarian research institution), even as it rewards its benefactors with tax breaks and corporate pork. It's a government so used to lying that Mr. DeLay could say with a straight face that the cost of Katrina relief could not be offset by budget cuts because there was no governmental fat left to cut. It's the government that fostered the wholesale loss of American lives in both Iraq and on the Gulf Coast by putting cronyism above patriotism.

The courts can punish crooks, but they can't reform democracy from the ground up, and the voters can't get into the game until 2006. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the key players both in the White House and in the leadership of both houses of Congress are either under investigation or joined at the hip to Messrs Rove, DeLay, Abramoff, Reed or Norquist. They seem to be hoping that some magical event - a sudden outbreak of peace and democracy in Iraq, the capture of Osama bin Laden, a hurricane affording better presidential photo ops than Rita - will turn things around. Dream on.

The one notable anomaly is John McCain, who retains a genuine hunger for reform, a rage at the corruption around him and the compelling motive of his presidential ambitions to push him forward; it's his Indian Affairs Committee, after all, that exposed the hideous Abramoff cesspool to public view last year. The Democrats, bereft of leadership and ideas (though not of their own Beltway bandits), also harbor a number of would-be presidents, but they are busier positioning themselves politically than they are articulating actual positions that might indicate what a new governmental order would look like. While the Republican revolution is dead, it says everything about the power vacuum left in its wake that Geena Davis's fictional commander in chief has more traction, as measured in Nielsen ratings and press, than any of the real-life contenders for that job in D.C.

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