Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Wouldn’t it be funny if the scandal that the administration says it wants to go away were actually the one it is content to let play, while the scandal White House strategists say they embrace is actually the one they desperately need to suppress?

Scottie McClellan has repeatedly used the phrase “Let’s move on” when fielding questions about Deadeye Dick Cheney’s drunken man-shoot, while everyone from the Kenedy County sheriff ABC “newsman” Terry Moran have said this case is settled. Meanwhile, Karl Rove continues to brag that a fight over White House-sponsored illegal domestic spying is a tussle that the Republican Party welcomes. But behavior seems to say something very different.

While just about every step by the administration, the VPOTUS, and, now, its freakish mouthpieces seems to fan the flames of the South Texas prairie fire for which we should probably be coining a “-gate” moniker already, just about every administration worker bee who wasn’t tied up with public testimony has been privately lobbying Congress to keep inquiries on NSA spying at bay.

Under the cover of his shoot-‘em-up scandal, the Dark Prince made an unheralded trip to Capitol Hill a week ago, where he put the hurt on Senate Republicans reportedly leaning towards a “yea” on West Virginia Democrat John D. Rockefeller’s call for a Senate intelligence committee inquiry into the administration’s spying ways. But that wasn’t quite enough, it seems. As reported in today’s Washington Post, Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE) had a chit-chat with committee Chair Pat Roberts (R-KS), and they either expressed dissatisfaction with the Attorney General Abu Gonzalez’s assurances or, at least, a desperate need for political cover.

This led, as reported in the New York Times, to a frantic full-court press, this time from such WH habitués as Harriet Miers and Andy Card, which resulted in the Republicans on the intelligence committee voting to adjourn rather than letting Rockefeller’s motion come up for a vote. (Note to Snowe and Hagel—and Lincoln Chafe, for that matter—we are fed up with these fence-straddling votes; if you want to be a “renegade” or an “independent,” you have to stand for something—otherwise, you’re still a Republican hack.) The Post described Republican scrambling as “frenzied,” and designed to spare the administration “the outcome it most feared” Hardly the “bring it on” challenge issued by Kommander Karl.

No, the duck-and-cover that might have served Harry Whittington well is instead being practiced by key Republican lawmakers—and the prize for such artful dodging isn’t exactly mantelpiece quality. The Sunday Los Angeles Times ran an editorial that called the committee chaired by Pat Roberts “the Senate Coverup Committee.”

Although the committee is officially charged with overseeing the nation's intelligence-gathering operations, its real function in recent years has been to prevent the public from getting hold of any meaningful information about the Bush administration. Hence its never-ending delays of the probe into the bogus weapons intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. And its squelching, on Thursday, of an expected investigation into the administration's warrantless spying program.

And Roberts’s usually supportive hometown paper wasn’t impressed with the Senator’s Bush-coddling, either. As reported by Glenn Greenwald, the Wichita Eagle called it “troubling” that Roberts was “fast gaining the reputation in Washington, D.C., as a reliable partisan apologist for the Bush administration on intelligence and security controversies.” The editorial concluded:

What's bothering many, though, is that Roberts seems prepared to write the Bush team a series of blank checks to conduct the war on terror, even to the point of ignoring policy mistakes and possible violations of law.

That's not oversight—it's looking the other way.

Pat Roberts considers himself presidential material in 2008, but it is hard to imagine how much traction he can get as a Bush lapdog when the current President is now polling under 50% favorable in all but six states. The alternative would be to let questions (forget answers) about the Bush Administration’s extra-legal activities see the light of day and the pages of the Congressional Record. By Rove’s calculations, that’s the kind of publicity Roberts should welcome, but it seems that even though Pat doesn’t do his own thinking on intelligence issues, he still does his own math.

What’s missing from this equation, as Greenwald points out, is a vocal chorus of Democrats to keep pressing the point and rallying the opposition. I understand it might be hard to make civil rights as “sexy” as terror, but a lack of civil rights protections has demonstrable (and, I think, still unpopular) consequences, and breaking the law is still breaking the law (which, I think, also carries some weight).

Rather, occasional grumblings aside, Democrats have not mounted the kind of rival full-court press needed to break through the administration’s noise machine. Nor can Democrats seem to beat more than one scandal-drum at a time. No, I don’t think Cheney’s act of deconstructing Harry’s face is, in itself, as bad for America as a dozen other dark moments authored by the Veep, but I do think the metaphor of a reckless and secretive man who thinks himself above the law is a powerful one. And wouldn’t the lawlessness of a drunken hunting accident and its cover-up sound powerful bad for the country when coupled with the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in the name of national security. . . and all of the secrecy, obfuscation, threats, and recriminations that have come each time a crime is uncovered?

Instead, we are treated to a scandal of the week, or a personal cause célèbre for an individual Democrat, but rarely a sustained and coordinated attempt to demonstrate what the Dems stand for and will work together against. When it comes to the NSA’s domestic spying, it seems that while Republican’s know better than to embrace this issue, the Democrats are the ones that are listening Karl Rove and running the other way.

And, while running the other way is what anyone should do if they see Dick Cheney actually holding a shotgun, after the gun has been discharged and the cocktails are once again flowing (once again? as if they had stopped), isn’t it time to run that gauntlet, pick up that glove, and take seriously the challenge of punking the Republicans right out of power?


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