Friday, June 08, 2007

Of Crimes and hubris...

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t Columnist
Thursday 07 June 2007

By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes:
Open, locks,Whoever knocks!
- Macbeth, Act IV, Scene I

There it was on the front page of Wednesday's edition of the Washington Post, big as life and twice as ugly: "In the West Wing, Pardon Is A Topic Too Sensitive to Mention."

The gist: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby got clocked with a 30-month prison sentence after being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame matter, and now squadrons of GOP die-hards are insisting that Bush pardon him before he goes to jail. On the surface, debate over whether or not to pardon Libby centers around how much more scandal and public disgrace this administration can endure. The Post story reports that several White House aides are deeply concerned that a Libby pardon risks "renewing questions about the truthfulness of the Bush administration."

Perish the thought.

Beneath this simplistic surface, however, boils a cauldron of deeper and far more complicated troubles. Bush, Cheney, the administration as a whole, and the entire Republican Party face the simultaneous eruption of several potential catastrophes, which, if they were to coalesce into one gargantuan avalanche, could very well render all prior problems quaint by comparison.

Peel the onion:

The General Vibe

The newest Pew Research Center poll shows Bush's overall popularity coming in just under that of scabies and bubonic plague. "For the first time in Pew Research Center polling," reports the Center, "disapproval of President Bush's job performance outnumbers approval by more than two-to-one (61 percent disapprove, 29 percent approve). Bush's job approval is down six points from April, and is three points below the previous low measured in November and December of 2006."

Within these dreary numbers looms a disaster the Bush folks fear above all: cratering support among their usually-reliable base. "The decline in Bush's support is most notable among Republicans," continues the Center's report. "Just under two-thirds (65 percent) of Republicans approve of the president's performance today, down from 77 percent in April. This drop is apparent among both the conservative and moderate wings of the party. The proportion of conservative Republicans giving a positive rating declined 12 points to an all-time low of 74 percent. The proportion of moderate and liberal Republicans giving a positive rating fell 11 points (to 52 percent), also an all-time low."

The Post's excellent analyst, Dan Froomkin, summed up the nub: "Even white evangelical Protestants are now as likely to disapprove of Bush as approve."

If this isn't bad enough, it also appears the newest fad among Republican officeholders and office seekers is to bash Bush every which way they can. The Tuesday night GOP debate in New Hampshire sounded, several times, a lot like an anti-war rally on the Washington Mall. Candidate after candidate, when not denouncing Evolutionary science or screeching about imminent terrorist-borne doom, slapped the administration around the room over Iraq, honesty, competence and the fact that Bush's scabrous reputation has become their collective problem.

The beatings are likewise being delivered by office-holding Republicans who have grown weary of hauling Bush's fetid water. Howard Fineman, in the latest edition of Newsweek, writes, "The Bush presidency is perilously close to flatlining. At this point in their tenures, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had job-approval ratings in the mid-50 percent range; in the most recent Newsweek Poll, Bush's hit an all-time low of 28. Established GOP figures in Blue States shun him, even when he comes to raise money in closed-press events. The invites aren't piling up from Red States, either. Since Bush never cultivated real allies in Congress, no one there feels guilty that he has none now."

The 800 Lb. Quagmire

The dismal approval ratings and dissipating party support Bush is dealing with can be laid, for the most part, on his Iraq catastrophe. Almost 4,000 American troops have been killed in an invasion and occupation that has only served to create civil war and chaos in that country. The surge isn't working, the violence is escalating, the costs are spiraling, and the only people left who approve of the whole thing are devoted Fox News watchers and defense industry CEOs. Oh, and Osama bin Laden, whose every wish has been granted by Bush's galactically destructive decisions and twisted priorities.

As if the Byzantine complications created by Iraq weren't bad enough already, a new wrinkle appeared in the last 72 hours. On Tuesday, the nationalist majority within the Iraqi parliament "passed a binding resolution that will guarantee lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the UN mandate under which coalition troops now remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December," according to an AlterNet report.

In other words, the very government that wants the US in Iraq, at least according to Bush, is laying the groundwork for an official, binding demand that the occupation be brought to an end. Bush's recently-floated comparison between America's occupation of South Korea and our occupation of Iraq - i.e. we've been in the former for 50 years, which makes it acceptable to be in the latter for an equal length of time - is about as close to literal truth as Bush is likely to get. This administration sent us into Iraq with the absolute intention of staying permanently, but the Iraqi government they've cobbled together appears to have other plans.

The Other Civil War

On the home front, the GOP is dealing with a potentially catastrophic rift within its coalition over how to deal with illegal immigration. The roots of this dilemma are found within the coalition's basic formulation.

On one side are the movement conservatives, the Evangelical activists, the anti-choice single-issue voters who can be depended on to vote en masse for any national Republican candidate who says the right things about fetuses and Jesus. These people amount to roughly 25 percent of the electorate that actually votes, making them the single most dependable voting bloc in Republican politics.

On the other side are the big-money GOP supporters, the captains of industry who write the campaign checks and generally, if anonymously, control most everything in the country. The movement conservatives get a lot of lip service from the GOP, but the check-writers are the most important constituency of the party.

Therein lies the problem. The current crop of right-wing GOP leaders owe their power to the straddle they've managed to maintain since the Reagan days; by keeping one foot firmly planted in both of these groups, the GOP has been able to exploit the movement base's dedicated activism (without actually doing much of anything to fulfill their desires) while making sure the big-money boys get pretty much whatever they ask for.

The movement faction hasn't quite realized the degree to which they are considered useful-idiot cannon fodder by GOP officeholders and the check-writing faction. Whenever the GOP needs to divide public sentiment or distract public attention, the movement people get deployed to scream about gay rights, the Ten Commandments, snowflake babies, or whatever happens to be available at the moment. By mouthing platitudes about these issues, the party fools the movement faction into thinking the party actually cares about them.

But now, there is this immigration debate, which threatens to rip the scales from the eyes of the movement faction. Battalions of GOP politicians have made careers out of spitting venom at illegal immigrants to gain support from the movement base. Simultaneously, however, those same politicians have been accepting gigantic campaign checks from the big-money faction, who absolutely depend on easy access to the dirt-cheap pool of slave labor availed to them by the existence of millions of undocumented immigrants within the US.

The problem for the GOP politicians, of course, is that their movement-faction constituents have bought into their demagoguery about illegal immigration to such a degree that, today, this issue is second only to abortion on their list of Hated Things. The issue has birthed a seething anger within the movement faction aimed at illegal immigrants in general, but now aimed also at any GOP politician who stands for anything besides mass deportations.

But there are all those checks to consider, right?

The money faction didn't spend all those precious ducats buying GOP politicians by the gross, only to have their pet politicos go and legislate that huge pool of cheap labor back across the border. This creates an unsolvable conundrum for the GOP. The movement faction wants border fences and draconian deportations, the money faction wants cheap labor to boost profits, and no conceivable legislative offering can untie this Gordian knot.

Satisfying one faction absolutely means betraying the other. If the GOP pushes for a hard-core immigration bill to satisfy the movement faction, the check-writers will be screwed and may retaliate harshly. If they choose to satisfy the money faction, the movement faction will quite literally detonate, and could decide to stay home when the '08 elections come around.

Cheney and the Angry Inch

The question of whether or not to pardon Libby presents perhaps the most dangerous tipping point facing the Bush administration. As with the immigration issue, a full-spectrum calamity will be exploded by either decision made on this.

Libby is looking at 30 months in prison if no pardon is forthcoming. US District Judge Reggie Walton, who imposed the sentence, has made it clear that allowing Libby to remain free pending appeals isn't something he feels compelled to do. The final decision on whether or not Libby will have to wear a prison jump suit while awaiting the outcome of the appeals process is slated to come down in exactly one week, on June 14.

If Judge Walton decides June 14 is go-to-jail day for Libby, and no Bush pardon is forthcoming, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will find himself gripping the handle of an awesomely formidable battle axe. Fitzgerald has made clear his belief that Libby broke the law, but did so to protect his boss, Dick Cheney. Fitzgerald will be able, under these circumstances, to offer Libby a choice: do hard time, or roll on your boss and spill the beans.

If that happens, and Libby decides to escape prison time by telling Fitzgerald what he knows, the cat will finally leap all the way out of the bag. The outing of Plame, the manipulation of WMD intelligence, the Office of Special Plans, the manipulation of terror alerts, the true intentions behind the decision to invade, and the whole smelly pile of fish heads will come spilling out onto the dock for all to see. Such an outcome might even pierce the veil surrounding Cheney's secret energy meetings from way back when; many people suspect that an invasion of Iraq, and a capture of their oil infrastructure, played a large part in the formulation of those plans.

Allowing such an outcome would present an unacceptable risk for Bush and Cheney, and thus pardoning Libby seems to be a no-brainer decision. But to do so risks the final fermentation of the growing dislike and distrust among the populace for the administration. A Libby pardon may well unleash the kind of terminal public backlash Nixon absorbed after the firing of Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal. Furthermore, such a backlash may well rope in all the other issues - the general disapproval already in place, the Iraq occupation, the unrest within the GOP coalition over immigration - and create an avalanche that would be almost impossible to survive.

June 14, simply put, is going to be a really, really big day.

Comes Birnam Wood to Dunsinane

The Weird Sisters who sealed Macbeth's fate enjoyed a talent for accurate prediction, but only in fiction. In fact, in today's America, any absolute predictions of imminent Republican immolation are both premature and uninformed. The GOP no longer holds the Congressional high ground, but are only a few seats short of it. They also enjoy the continued patronage of that aforementioned big-money faction, much of which controls not only a majority of the mainstream media, but the crafting of the message from that medium.

And yet tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps ever on in this petty pace. Any one of these troubles is trouble enough for the GOP, but to have all of them come together simultaneously portends the kind of total political calamity this country has not seen in generations.

Strap in.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. The Lantern has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is The Lantern endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

....And The Truth Shall Set Us Free

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