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                                       politics + culture

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

crooks and cronies: a halloween massacre

Over the years this Ford shake-up, sometimes known as the Halloween massacre, became part of the Rumsfeld legend. Many other Republicans believed (and continued to argue for decades) that Rumsfeld had engineered the changes as a way of enhancing his own political prospects...[snip]

The reality was more prosaic than these conspiracy theories. By all accounts, notably including Ford's, the driving motivation behind the cabinet shake-up was the president's own intense antagonism toward Schlesinger. Ford felt his defense secretary was arrogant and condescending to him. When the president first outlined the series of changes, Rumsfeld balked at the idea of becoming secretary of defense, asking to think about it overnight. He wasn't sure he wanted to leave the White House.

Indeed, by Cheney's subsequent account, the president had to enlist him to persuade Rumsfeld to take the job at Defense. "Frankly, I had to talk [Rumsfeld] into it--long distance," Cheney said is a late-1970's interview. "...It was a strange situation. I went from a position where on Saturday I was Rumsfeld's deputy, to a place where on Sunday I was working for Ford trying ot get Rumsfeld to do something the President wanted him to do."

-James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans, 66-67, Viking 2004

If that story from James Mann's book doesn't evince a knowing grimace from you...a kind of Cheneyesque sense of the macabre moment we find ourselves in...this blast from another scandal past will get your dander up...and make you say, never again. On January 19th, 1994 prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh presented a final report on the Iran / Contra affair. David Johnston covered the wrap up in the New York Times:

At a news conference today, Mr. Walsh said a cover-up had kept significant information out of the hands of the Congressional investigators in 1987. He suggested that if Congress had gained access to the evidence he subsequently uncovered, Mr. Reagan's impeachment "certainly should have been considered."

As Mr. Walsh persevered on a trail that seemed to be growing cold, Republicans in Congress increasingly pressed him to step down and Mr. Walsh himself became an issue. In his defense, Mr. Walsh said today that he could not turn away from evidence of wrongdoing in the face of "extraordinary difficulties." [snip]...

...in his report Mr. Walsh said the exposure of the possibly illegal activities in the fall of 1986 generated what he described as "a new round of illegality." During Congressional hearings in 1987, "senior Reagan Administration officials engaged in a concerted effort to deceive Congress and the public about their knowledge of and and support for the operations." The prosecutor concluded that the President's most senior aides took part in a strategy that made Mr. North and two national security advisers, Robert C. McFarlane and Mr. Poindexter, "scapegoats whose sacrifice would protect the Reagan Administration in it its final two years.

Mr. Walsh said the strategy succeeded. He said he had "discovered much of the best evidence of the cover-up in the final year of the active investigation, too late for most prosecutions."

After reading the sources above and pondering this Washington Post article, A Palpable Silence at the White House: Few ready to Face effects of Leak Case it seems that we've got a convergence of Watergate, Iran/Contra and a potential Halloween massacre all rolled into one. This scandal threatens both an immediate cabinet shake up and poses, as it rolls out, a real threat to the Presidency, if not, like Watergate, creating a pressure cooker that threatens the President himself, then, like Iran / Contra, a scandal that may essentially hobble him. I'm sure the Republican goal is to limit Plamegate, like Bush's father did with the Iran/Contra affair, and try to play the game and the prosecutor out with as minimal damage as possible.

How much you want to bet that Patrick Fitzgerald studied up on how Lawrence Walsh got played in that go round? Let's hope so.

This situation has undercurrents that are at least as powerful as its surface waves. The Washington Post piece is fascinating for the names it drops and how it outlines an administration in crisis before and during this crisis...and an administration certainly facing an unprecendented shake up if it loses Rove and, at the same time, must defend itself from further investigations:

Out of the hushed hallway encounters and one-on-one conversations, several scenarios have begun to emerge if Rove or vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis Libby is indicted and forced out. Senior GOP officials are developing a public relations strategy to defend those accused of crimes and, more importantly, shield Bush from further damage, according to Republicans familiar with the plans. And to help steady a shaken White House, they say, the president might bring in trusted advisers such as budget director Joshua B. Bolten, lobbyist Ed Gillespie or party chairman Ken Mehlman...[snip]

Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. gets up each day at 4:20 a.m., arrives at his office a little over an hour later, gets home between 8:30 and 9 p.m. and often still takes calls after that; he has been in his pressure-cooker job since Bush was inaugurated, longer than any chief of staff in decades. "He looks totally burned out," a Republican strategist said.

Others, including Rove, Bolten, counselor Dan Bartlett, senior adviser Michael J. Gerson and press secretary Scott McClellan, have been running at full tilt since 1999, when the Bush team began gearing up in Austin for the first campaign.

At the same time, the innermost circle has shrunk in the second term, mainly to Vice President Cheney, Card, Rove, Bartlett, Libby and, on foreign policy issues, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley. Aides who joined the White House staff after last year's reelection, such as communications director Nicolle Devenish (who now goes by her married name, Nicolle Wallace), domestic policy adviser Claude Allen and political director Sara Taylor, have brought fresh perspectives and earned Bush's trust but do not share the long history with him that he values....[snip]...

At the heart of all those discussions is Rove. With the deceptive title of deputy chief of staff, Rove runs much of the White House, including its guiding political strategy and many of its central policy initiatives. "Karl is the central nervous system right now, and that's obviously a big thing -- not only politically, but now he's in that big policy job," a former White House official said.

At the White House and among its close allies, discussion about Rove's fate is verboten -- in part out of fear and in part out of ignorance about what his legal vulnerability actually is. No one in the White House wants to talk about an indictment. As another former official said, "No one wants to believe anything's going to happen." Nor do people easily discuss other staff changes. "Anyone who talks about that kind of stuff should be shot," said a third Republican with close ties to the White House.

For me, it comes down to this. There will be enormous pressure to characterize the scandal threatening Bush's presidency and his staff as somehow dangerous and unpatriotic. There will be voices that will argue that since Watergate, American politics have become in some way "criminalized" and that presidential second terms, in the current conditions, are simply legal gauntlets that no one can survive.

I disagree. The lesson is the reverse. Cheney and Rumsfeld had front row seats to Watergate. With Gerald Ford, they orchestrated the "shake up" that moved Kissinger and Schlesinger "out" and themselves "in." George W. Bush had a front row seat for the final two years of Reagan's presidency. He saw how his father worked it and how Bush pere avoided being drawn into legal complicity in Iran / Contra by running out the clock and using pardons and executive privelege. The players in this affair know all about governmental scandal, about lying to the public, and about the political and legal jeopardy involved. They did what they did...made a war in Iraq in 2003...not simply because they could, but because, on some deep level, because they knew how to and used that knowledge with a kind presumption of impunity. It's time for that impunity to end, once and for all.

In my view, PlameGate must be about transparency. It must be about the public getting to know the truth, and making lasting reform that shines a light on the workings of our government, in particular, our foreign policy, the funding of our government and the conduct of the executive branch. This story is not simply about this scandal, but about the politics and history that lie behind it...the business as usual mindset that, in the entire post-WWII era, has given us scandal after scandal, war after war, and embedded a fundamental culture of deceit in Washington. This is the modus operandi that led us into the War in Iraq. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson called Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld a "cabal." That's a strong word. It implies that the guys who "were really running things" in the Ford White House became the guys who are "really running things" in Shrub's. It's true. We need to face that. It's the same cast of characters over and over again.

It seems to me that PlameGate is an opportunity for the United States to deal with a whole range of issues that, from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the present day have given us an utterly corrupt foreign policy and broken domestic politics to boot...policies and politics that have led to a war that cost thousands of American soldiers their lives in the service of the same mindset and illusions that led us into Viet Nam. Corruption as tainted and foul as what cost Nixon his job, and left tens of thousands of citizens stranded in New Orleans. A politics that has seated the GOP at the heart of our nation's government...and turned that government into the rule of corrupt cronies and bogus conservatives.

Something is deeply broken in our government. It is not the prosecutors. It is not the protestors. It's not the grieving mothers. It's not the families huddled at the Superdome and the Convention Center.

The answer is as simple as this. There are crooks and cronies running the White House and Washington D.C. We've known these crooks for a good long time. They are deeply connected to the military-industrial complex, to the status quo. It's time, not just to run the bastards out, but to reform this broken system. To make politics serve the people for once. To make honesty, common sense and openness a permanent part of our government, not a hollow posture taken by politicians.

If you ask me, on the most basic level, it's time for us Democrats to reform ourselves so that we can get about the business of reforming our country. It's time for a new generation to take over politics in this country.

It's as simple as that.

It's not the scandals and investigations that are hurting this country. It's the liars and crooks and the phony politicians who are running things who are hurting this country. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.



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