We have to go back to the early 1970s to find rubble so satisfactorily piled up around our imperial government. In fact, when the bodies are counted, the collapse in Nixon’s second term may well pale in comparison to the Götterdämmerung of the Bush dynasty.
In Nixon’s case, top officials and aides forced into resignation, and in many cases prison, included the Vice President, the head of the FBI, two attorneys general and four senior White House staffers.
On March 1, 1974, a grand jury named President Nixon, among others, as an unindicted co-conspirator, for obstructing justice by suppression of evidence such as the White House tapes. In August of that year Nixon resigned.
Yes, it was quite a holocaust at the top executive level. But many imperial institutions sailed through the crisis unimpaired, supposedly ennobled by it. Kissinger’s sway over State Department and Empire was enhanced.
The Supreme Court sailed on, led by Nixon’s chosen instrument, Warren Burger. Both the Senate and House of Representatives gained a heroic aura as the TV cameras turned Sam Ervin and even Howard Baker into saviors of the Republic. The Democratic Party emerged with credit and huge majorities in November 1974. Most of all, the Fourth Estate was anointed (mostly by itself) as the vanquisher of despotism.
Contrast this to the inferno that now threatens the Imperial Establishment on every front. Since Nixon-time the Republic has had thirty-one years to run to seed–fatter and more corrupt. Already the most powerful politician in Washington, House majority leader Tom DeLay, is under indictment and in consequence stripped of his official position. The future looks grim for Senator Bill Frist, who faces SEC and Justice Department probes for insider trading.
On Capitol Hill there’s open warfare among various factions of the Republican Party, focused for now on Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. With midterm elections looming and Bush’s approval ratings tumbling, the collapse of discipline will only accelerate amid the general panic.
The Bush high command is in utter disrepute, openly attacked by Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, as a dictatorial “cabal.” The Plame scandal has threatened to take out the whole of Vice President Cheney’s senior staff and to have the Vice President himself named as unindicted co-conspirator. Bush’s deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, is in serious trouble, less and less able to counsel his boss, whose presidency hangs over the precipice of total ruin.
Consider the gloomy vista from Bush the Unlucky’s Oval Office, where even the birds in the Rose Garden are omens of yet another national crisis (scheduled to provide another bonanza for the drug companies, which a Senate subcommittee just voted to hold free of any liability if their flu vaccines have the same lethal potential they did in the days of the swine flu).
In Iraq the war is faring disastrously and stateside it’s increasingly unpopular. In the Homeland the hurricanes have blown away all remaining public illusions masking the venality of the President and his associates. The economy is rickety and a long-feared end to the housing boom may be upon us. Symbolizing the growing sense that the jig is up, Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan is heading into retirement just before the roof falls in.
Internationally, the United States has rarely been more despised. The armed forces are demoralized and the reserve system, in ruins.
Is there any institution not compromised, not held in popular contempt? This crisis has no Woodward or Bernstein to lend it luster. The journalist’s name on every lip is that of Judith Miller, tagged as co-conspirator in the fomentation of a war that has seen the deaths of 2,000 Americans thus far. The New York Times is in a state of civil war, just like the Republican Party.
There’s no sign that the Democratic Party is gaining any traction from the Republican collapse. With good reason. Never has a party been offered so many opportunities and taken so little advantage from them. So far as the war is concerned, powerful Democrats like Joseph Biden and Hillary Clinton are calling for more troops.
In 2005 it is impossible to link the Democrats with a single courageous stand or even constructive idea. In October the party’s top strategists–mesmerized by the twenty-first century’s answer to the Framers, George Lakoff’s childish nostrums–were wrangling over two possible slogans: “Together, we can do better” and “Together, America can do better.”
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 older Americans lined up in mid-October to file for bankruptcy before the old wipe-the-slate-clean Chapter 7 law expired. Over half of these bankrupts have been ruined by health costs. The new bankruptcy law, written by the banks and credit card companies, made it through Congress only with the help of Democratic votes in the Senate, which were duly forthcoming, as they always are.
If a Democrat, John Kerry, had captured the White House in 2004, would it have made a difference? Yes. The imperial machine would probably be running more smoothly. The war in Iraq would have been given a new infusion of malign energy. You doubt this? Listen to Professor Juan Cole, liberal Democratic guru on Iraq. It’s hard to keep up with his somersaults, but Cole says to The Nation Institute’s Tom Engelhardt that for the United States to “up and leave” Iraq would be to become an accomplice to genocide. He counsels the heightened use in Iraq of “special forces and air power.” In other words, assassinations and saturation bombing. Come home, Robert McNamara, all is–yet again–forgiven.
It’s not the role of radicals to call for the election of a more efficient strategist and engineer of a bloodthirsty and rapacious empire, Kerry’s only claim on the voters’ attention anyone remembers. So let us give thanks that Bush is in the White House, and holding the imperial fleet on a steady course to the rocks.