On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush donned a flight suit and landed in a jet on the Abraham Lincoln’s flight deck off the coast of San Diego. There, in front of sailors and camera crews, the President of the United States pranced around with a banner behind him that said, “Mission Accomplished.”
A year later, as we note in our lead editorial this week, “Bush is unable to admit error and continues to promote a false triumphalism. Instead of leveling with the American people about his administration’s miscalculations, he forbids the release of pictures showing the caskets of dead troops returning home, and instead of discussing options for ending a war that should never have been waged, he offers nothing but insulting and insensitive ‘stay the course’ rhetoric.”
Perhaps the most egregious lesson that we should take away from May 1st is that this administration routinely abuses its power and regularly tramples democracy without batting an eye.
In his excellent forthcoming book, Losing America, Senator Robert Byrd delivers a wakeup call to all citizens. Charging that Bush is destroying our civil liberties and undermining the Constitution’s checks and balances, Byrd warns that “In times of war or crisis, it becomes very easy to cloak everything under the unassailable mantle of national security, or even the more euphemistically effective ‘patriotism.'”
Part of the blame for an executive branch that has broken free of accountability lies with Congress, which cravenly capitulated to Bush’s White House in the run-up to war. When Bush lied about the presence of WMD in Iraq, Congress–including, sadly, too many Democrats—ignored the truth and handed the President a blank check in voting for the resolution authorizing war against Iraq. (Click here to read The Nation’s Open Letter to Congress on the eve of that vote.)
But the real villains in this pre-war period wasn’t Congress; they were, of course, Bush and his top lieutenants. They not only lied about WMD in Iraq, they also deceived the public about Saddam’s Al Qaeda connections–and we now know that the Bush Administration illegally diverted funds earmarked for Afghanistan to Kuwait and Iraq. It is also increasingly clear that Bush’s scheme has parallels with Reagan’s deceptions in the Iran Contra arms-for-hostages scandal.
Bush, in truth, disdains free and fair debate and abhors honesty in government, principles that form the foundation of democracy. In his new book Worse than Watergate, John Dean convincingly argues that Bush is a greater danger than even the notoriously paranoid Nixon. “No one died for Nixon’s so-called Watergate abuses,” observes Dean.
On the all-important domestic front, Bush and his cronies have lied about the cost of the new Medicare law and stonewalled the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. In front of the Supreme Court last Tuesday, Bush’s lawyers defended Vice-President Cheney’s right to keep his Energy Task Force a secret and asserted blanket immunity for the executive branch from almost any public scrutiny. Meanwhile, at John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, Jose Padilla and other so-called “enemy combatant” detainees are forbidden from even seeing a lawyer or appearing in a court of law.
Another example of Bush’s thuggish abuse of power comes from Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity (Carroll & Graf). Wilson, a former US ambassador, alleges that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Cheney’s Chief of Staff, or Elliot Abrams illegally leaked the identity of his wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA agent involved in counter-espionage as political payback for Wilson going public with his doubts that Saddam Hussein ever tried to purchase enriched uranium from the small African nation of Niger.
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently observed that this administration constituted “a sort of elected dictatorship.” While I consider “selected dictatorship” a more appropriate phrase, (can’t forget Florida!), Krugman’s point is crucial: This administration will abuse any law and assert any privilege to attack its critics and achieve its goals. If democracy gets trampled underfoot, then Bush’s attitude is, simply,tough.
So not only will Bush’s reelection campaign be on the line in November, but American democracy will be on the ballot, too. If Americans are serious about guarding their civil liberties, maintaining their freedoms, and increasing their security, they must heed Byrd, Dean and Wilson’s powerful warnings to the republic–and vote to re-defeat Bush and re-install democracy in November.