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The REAL Hot 100

Do you know a smart, savvy young woman doing great work without receiving the recognition and resources she deserves? Well, then nominate her for this year's REAL hot 100. The project is now taking nominations as Ann recently announced on Feministing.com. If no one springs immediately to mind, check last year's list for inspiration. (The deadline is October 15.)

The REAL Hot 100 is a list of young women who are actively trying to make the world a better place. Founded in 2005 by a group of activists associated with Feministing to combat the lack of positive, strong images of young women in the media, the list recognizes and celebrates young women who are breaking barriers, fighting stereotypes, and making an impact in their communities and the nation--"not because of their physical beauty, but because of the beautiful way in which they look at the world." Last year's winners included a Protestant minister from Iowa, an aerospace engineer from Florida, a violin virtuoso from Tennessee, a burlesque performer in NYC, and a public-interest lawyer from DC.

Click here for more info, here to nominate a young woman you know and here if you want to make a tax-deductible donation to maintain and expand the project.

Challenging the Limits?

The Economist's cover last week asked, "Is America Turning Left?" The magazine's answer--a grudging yes. "...The American people seem to be reacting to conservative overreach by turning left. More want universal health insurance; more distrust force as a way to bring about peace; more like greenery; ever more dislike intolerance on social issues." (Sounds like a common sense program to me; after all, what passes for "left" in American politics is quite moderate by historical standards.) The cover story is catching up to a real and marked progressive shift in Americans' views.

Meanwhile, the forward march of conservatism has come to a screeching halt. Karl Rove, the architect of that never-to-be-had permanent GOP majority, leaves a White House, a party and a movement in shambles. A disastrous war, metastasizing corruption and cronyism, an incompetent and inhumane response to Katrina--no wonder even Republicans believe that Democrats are likely to sweep in '08, winning the White House and increasing their majority margin in both Houses. Republican Congressman Ray LaHood (Ill.), one of a slew of GOP House members retiring this year, was quoted last week in the New York Times lamenting, " I think our party's chances for winning the majority back next time are pretty bleak at the moment." Another GOP congressman Ralph Regula, hinted that he won't seek reelection; one of his main reasons--his bellwether state of Ohio was "moving towards more of a blue state."

Underlying that shift, in Ohio and in many other parts of the country, is greater support for the social safety net, more concern over income inequality, and a growing belief that military strength may not be the best way to secure peace. (Check out recent surveys by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.) But even while there is more fertile terrain for a progressive politics, there are also real limits to the political debate as it's playing out in the Presidential campaign. If those limits aren't actively, intelligently and passionately challenged by the emerging progressive movement--NGOs and activists, thinkers and think-tankers, labor and netroots, and magazines and citizens--we risk losing a critical opening. It is crucial that we use these next months to challenge candidates (and the Democratic Party leadership) to think more boldly and dissent more creatively from a failed conservative consensus of the last quarter century.

Yes, Democratic candidates are sounding more like Populists. They are talking about income inequality, discussing plans for universal healthcare, fair trade, energy independence and, of course, the burning issue of how to end the war. (Meanwhile, GOP candidates discuss the most effective ways to torture and who can sound most mean-spiritedly nativistic.)

Yet no leading Democratic Presidential contender is challenging a military budget that now equals the total amount spent by the rest of the world combined. No leading contender--despite a crumbling infrastructure--falling bridges, collapsing sewers, breached levees, overcrowded and aged schools, flooded subways--lays out a public investment agenda of appropriate scale. No leading contender champions a "Medicare for All" national health care program. No leading contender challenges America's role as global cop or this country's unsustainable global economic strategy. No leading contender is speaking openly about the need to exit the failed "war on terror" that has made our nation less secure. Who among the leading candidates is talking about a "real security" strategy--paying attention to surveys that show a growing number of Americans understand that overwhelming military power won't deal with the central challenges of this century: climate crisis, the worst pandemic in human history (AIDS), the spread of weapons of mass destruction, genocidal conflict and a global economy that is generating greater instability and inequality? Gilded age inequality is attacked and there are calls to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the very rich, but which leading candidate is proposing a return to real progressive taxation? Which candidate talks about challenges to corporate power and lays out a serious strategy to empower workers to win a fair share of their rightful profits? Corporations are shredding the social contract but no leading DemocratIc candidate is arguing for mandatory paid vacations or a national pension program to help workers salvage their ravaged futures? And while there is overwhelming opposition to the war--and a demand that the US end its involvement--every leading Democrat's plan would keep troops and bases in Iraq beyond 2009. Finally, who is talking about our failed criminal justice system--and the disastrous war on drugs? Affordable housing? A restoration of our Constitutional rights and liberties? Democracy reforms--public financing of campaigns, reliable voting machines with a paper trail, ending Jim-Crow like tactics to suppress the vote --which could challenge our downsized politics of excluded alternatives?

It may be that the limits of the current debate are tough to break through in a Presidential election cycle. But for those who care about building a more just, fair and democratic society, for those who care about seizing the moment to build a real progressive politics, isn't it time to make sure that ideas and policies commensurate with the staggering challenges and burdens of these times are raised and debated? That's just what The Nation will be doing in this campaign year --and beyond. And look for a book out this Spring that I am co-editing with Robert Borosage, Co-Director of the Campaign for America's Future and Nation contributing editor. It will explore the failures of the conservative era, challenge the limits of the current debate and lay out bold ideas for these times.

For Rove to Imply He Didn't Leak Plame's Identity Is "Nonsense"

Karl Rove is working feverishly to rewrite history in the few remaining days before he is no longer taking taxpayer money to do the political work of the Bush-Cheney administration.

The White House political czar, who had never been a frequent guest on the talking-head shows where Washington insiders make news on otherwise slow Sundays, was front and center on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press" and Fox News Sunday. The interviews of Rove by NBC's David Gregory and Fox's Chris Wallace were lousy.

Obviously hoping to get Rove's help in landing heftier interviews with those who will remain on the administration's sinking ship longer than the man they referred to as "Bush's brain," Gregory and Wallace asked soft questions and then allowed Rove to dodge them. Indeed, when the discussion came close to getting serious about documented examples of Rove's dramatic abuses of his position, the soon-to-be-former presidential aide glibly responded, "nice try," or declared "I'm going to leave it there" -- essentially telling his supposed inquisitors that it was time to move on to the next topic.

Fortunately, in the discussion that followed the Rove interview on "Meet The Press," Gregory hosted veteran Time Magazine Washington reporter Matt Cooper.

Cooper bluntly described Rove's precise role in the scandalous -- and, depending on chosen interpretations of the law, treasonous -- leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. That 2003 leak came as part of an administration scheme to discredit Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who had revealed details about the misuse of intelligence prior to the launch of the Iraq War by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and others.

While Rove is busy evading questions about the abuse of his position to punish a political critic, and while Rove's defenders continue to peddle the lie that says their man was never in the lead when it came to leaking information about Plame, Cooper's comments again confirmed the dirty dealing in which Bush's political henchman engaged on behalf of the president and vice president.

Here is the significant section of the conversation between Gregory and Cooper:

DAVID GREGORY: Matt Cooper, let's pick up on an aspect of the interview with, with Karl Rove having to do with the leak case, the CIA leak case, that you were part of as well. And something that's very interesting, he, he went out of his way to say, "I would not have been a confirming source on this kind of information" and taking issue with, with Novak's testimony in his column that he knew who Valerie Plame was. He said he would never confirm that information. That's different from your experience with him.

MATT COOPER: Yeah, I, I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably. Look, Karl Rove told me about Valerie Plame's identity on July 11th, 2003. I called him because Ambassador Wilson was in the news that week. I didn't know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove and he said that she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD. I mean, to imply that he didn't know about it or that this was all the leak...by someone else, or he heard it as some rumor out in the hallway is, is nonsense.

DAVID GREGORY: But he makes no apologies to Valerie Plame.

MATT COOPER: Karl Rove never apologizes. That's not what he does.

Karl Rove will keep spinning for a few more days.

So, too, will Rove's apologists.

But spin is another word for "lie." And, while Rove has every reason to keep spinning, Cooper has no reason at all to do so. Additionally, while Rove avoids mention of precise dates and details with regard to the Wilson-Plame scandal, Cooper is forthcoming and specific.

The truth, as Matt Cooper has made plain, is that attempts by Rove and others to suggest that the political czar served honorably are simply "nonsense."

The question that remains -- for congressional investigators if they ever choose to get serious about their oversight responsibilities -- is not: Did Karl Rove intentionally leak the name of a CIA agent who worked in the sensitive area of investigating weapons of mass destruction? He did that. The question is: Who did Karl Rove consult with before making that leak? Did he talk with the vice president about a plan to discredit an administration critic? Did he talk to the president about leaking the identity of a CIA operative?

David Gregory and Chris Wallace failed to ask Karl Rove the relevant questions.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as well as other committees charged with checking and balancing these sorts of abuses, should now ask those questions. And if Rove claims executive privilege, the response should be that no president has the authority to convey upon a present -- or former -- aide the right to use an executive position in a secretive campaign to discredit a critic of the administration.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

More on Sheehan v Pelosi; Bush Dogs of War

Readers made some good points about my post questioning the wisdom of Cindy Sheehan's decision to run to Congress against Nancy Pelosi. Really, what's the harm? I think my problem wasn't so much with this particular race per se as with the general penchant of the left for the electoral politics of theatre: runs that have no hope of success by people who have no serious interest in being in government. I know that sounds terribly square. But beyond generating (maybe) a few headlines and offering likeminded voters a chance to raise a fist in the air, what is achieved? Is an organization built? is the ground prepared for a more powerful bid next time? Are ideas put into the political discourse that weren't there before? Is the winner pushed to the left? Too often, in fact almost always, the answer to these questions is no.

If Cindy Sheehan wants to make an anti-war gesture, running against Nancy Pelosi is one way to do it, so good luck to her. Still, to me, it would make more sense for Iraq war opponents to run where they have a chance to win, and against a more reprehensible congressperson, too. Chris Bowers at openleft.com has compiled a list of the 38 Democratic congresspeople -- he calls them Bush Dogs -- who voted with the Republicans both on funding the Iraq war and on warrantless wiretapping.

Some of these got significant Netroots support in 2006 ( I donated on line to Stephanie Herseth (SD) --one of only two women on the list, I'm happy to report). That's more than a little depressing in view of the large claims being made for the blogosphere as representing a whole new way of doing politics. Obviously the " just elect Democrats" philosophy has its limits, if it means putting in office Democrats who vote with the Bush Administration on these crucial foreign policy and civil liberties issues , and who will likely vote for God knows whatever awful legislation emanates from the White House next.

Some of these Bush Dogs come from heavily Republican districts, but Bowers identifies 16 on the list as vulnerable to pressure, including a threatened or real primary challenge . If antiwar activists want to take the fight to the ballot box, Bowers' list is a good place to start.

How Super Was Our Power Anyway?

Pick up the paper any day and you'll find tiny straws in the wind (or headlines inside the fold) reflecting the seeping away of American power. The President of the planet's "sole superpower" and his top diplomats and commanders have been denouncing Iran for months as the evil hand behind American disaster in Iraq as well as Afghanistan.

So imagine, when President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan arrived in Washington a couple of weeks back and promptly described Iran as "a helper and a solution" for his country, even as President Bush insisted in his presence: "I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force." At almost the same moment, Iraq's embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paid an official visit to Iran, undoubtedly looking for support in case the U.S. turned on his government. Maliki "held hands" with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and called for cooperation. In response, all President Bush could do was issue a vague threat: "I will have to have a heart to heart with my friend, the prime minister, because I don't believe [the Iranians] are constructive.... My message to him is, when we catch you playing a non-constructive role, there will be a price to pay." (Later, a National Security Council spokesman had to offer a correction, insisting the threat was aimed only at Iran, not Maliki.) Then, to add insult to injury, just a week after Bush and Karzai met in Washington, Ahmadinejad headed for Kabul with a high-ranking Iranian delegation to pay his respects to the Afghan president "in open defiance of Washington's wishes." Think slap in the puss.

What made this little regional diplomatic dance all the more curious was the fact that Karzai and Maliki are such weak (and weakening) American-backed leaders -- Maliki of a government in chaos whose purview hardly extends beyond the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, and Karzai, sometimes dubbed the "mayor of Kabul," as head of a government visibly losing control over even the modest areas it had ruled. In another age, each would have been dubbed an American "puppet" and yet, here they were, defying an American president in search of support from a hated regional power on whose curbing Bush has staked what's left of his presidency.

Meanwhile, the first joint Sino-Russian "military exercise" on Russian soil (witnessed by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin) had barely ended when Putin announced late last week, not from Russia but from the former Central Asian soviet socialist republic of Kazakhstan, that "regular long-range air patrols that ended after the Soviet Union collapsed" would now be resumed--and not just over Russian air space either. The planes in these patrols are nuclear-armed and "capable of striking targets deep inside the United States." Think of this as one way in which the Russian President, thoroughly irritated with the Bush administration's decision to implant elements of an American anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, was using military symbolism to reassert his country's right to Great Power status -- a status earned in recent years, thanks to its enormous energy reserves. All a State Department official could say in response was: "If Russia feels as though they want to take some of these old aircraft out of mothballs and get them flying again, that's their decision."

Meanwhile, halfway across the globe, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's government was reportedly on the verge of announcing a new deal with Putin's Russia. Having already purchased Russian jets, helicopters, and whole plants to build Kalashnikov assault rifles (in the face of an embargo on American arms), it would now buy 5,000 advanced Dragunov sniper rifles. Again the deploring sounds from Washington were remarkably mild, though the frustration level is obviously high.

When it comes to discovering regular signs like these of the visible decline of American global power, you can actually do this exercise yourself. Just keep an eye on your daily paper--or start by checking out the latest sweeping piece, "America on the Downward Slope," by Middle Eastern expert Dilip Hiro, most recently author of Blood of the Earth, The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources. "When viewed globally and in the great stretch of history," he concludes, "the notion of American exceptionalism that drove the neoconservatives to proclaim the Project for the New American Century in the late 20th century--adopted so wholeheartedly by the Bush administration in this one--is nothing new.... No superpower in modern times has maintained its supremacy for more than several generations. And, however exceptional its leaders may have thought themselves, the United States, already clearly past its zenith, has no chance of becoming an exception to this age-old pattern of history."

In 2002, the Bush administration issued its National Security Strategy of the United States of America, a document of ultimate hubris in which its strategists essentially claimed that the U.S. was planning to remain the global superpower for an eternity. They were going to feed the Pentagon so much money that it would be bulked up into the distant future--and so, capable of suppressing any potential superpower or bloc of powers that might emerge. How long ago that seems. With the black hole of Iraq sucking all Bush administration efforts into its vortex, much of the globe has, it appears, been quietly released to enhance its power at the expense of the sole superpower, now sliding down that slippery slope.

Obama Attacked for Being Right About Afghanistan

The Republican National Committee has for some time now made itself the mouthpiece for extreme pro-war rhetoric, despite the fact that substantial numbers of Republicans – some of whom sit in Congress – oppose the Bush-Cheney administration's misguided approach to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. In this context, the RNC spends most of its time attacking Democrats who express sentiments no more radical than those mentioned by mainstream Republicans.

The current target of the RNC's comically over-the-top wrath is U.S. Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The RNC is furious with Obama for pointing out the obvious with regard to the worst excesses of the Afghanistan occupation.

Obama recently said of that occupation: "We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous pressure over there."

This is hardly a militant viewpoint. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly expressed shock and anger at the U.S. bombing of villages and the killing of civilians. "While the people of Afghanistan stand firmly with the international community in their effort to defeat terrorism," Karzai said after one particularly horrific incident in which 16 civilians were killed and dozens or women and children were injured, "it must be ensured that civilians are not affected during the operations."

Karzai has gone so far as to summon the commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan to his office in order to deliver a demand that "incidents (bombing raids that kill civilians) must not be repeated."

Unfortunately, as Karzai made clear during his recent visit to the U.S., the crisis continues. And, as a result, resentment regarding the U.S. occupation is rising among the people of Afghanistan. That creates even greater danger for U.S. troops on the ground.

Obama is highlighting this very real concern at a time when it may still be possible to take steps to address it. He may not be arguing for the best approach – wiser analysts of the turbulent region dispute the notion that sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan is the answer – but there is no question that his references to air-raiding villages and killing civilians comes in the context of an ongoing and important diplomatic discussion.

No reasonable observer could miss Obama's point: That the United States government should be concerned about the mounting civilian death toll in Afghanistan -- and about the sense on the part of Afghan leaders and citizens that more could be done by our military to prevent those deaths -- for both humanitarian and political reasons.

Yet, the RNC has ginned up its considerable propaganda machine – with predictable echoes from party apparatchiks in the media – to suggest that Obama's statement is at best naïve and at worst an affront to U.S. troops and the war or terror.

"Obama's Assessment Of U.S Troop Efforts In War On Terror Demonstrates His Extreme Careless And Inexperienced Nature," screams the latest of several memos attacking the senator that have been distributed to major media outlets under the guise of an "RNC Research Briefing."

The "briefing" complains that: "Inexperienced Obama Fails To Acknowledge Major Accomplishments In Afghanistan."

Suggesting that a well-regarded member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who has lived abroad, earned international acclaim for his writing and speaking on global issues and traveled extensively in regions of the world rarely visited by presidential candidates is "inexperienced" is ridiculous rhetoric on the part of the RNC. But the Republican briefers are right about one thing: Obama did fail to acknowledge all the "accomplishments" of the Bush-Cheney administration in Afghanistan.

The Illinois senator made no mention, for instance, of the friendly-fire killing U.S. Army Corporal Pat Tillman in Afghanistan and the ambitious efforts of military commanders and their civilian counterparts to portray that death as the result of an enemy attack – in an apparent effort to use the former pro-football player's service to gin up support for the occupation and to encourage military recruitment efforts.

This "accomplishment" is now the subject of a congressional inquiry that recently heard Tillman's brother, Kevin, himself a veteran, say of the cover-up: "The deception surrounding this case was an insult to the family: but more importantly, its primary purpose was to deceive a whole nation."

As the RNC attacks on Obama illustrate, efforts to deceive the whole nation continue.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"

The Enormous Cost of War

The National Priorities Project (NPP), a research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand how their tax dollars are spent, continues to be an invaluable resource when it comes to translating the costs of the Iraq War.

$456 billion has now been appropriated for the war through September 30, and that's a difficult number to get a handle on. But as I've written previously (here and here), NPP spells out exactly what every state and district has paid towards this catastrophe and describes the spending priorities that could have been met with those same resources.

For example, $456 billion could have provided over 48 million children with health care coverage for the length of the War; built 3.5 million affordable housing units; 45,800 elementary schools; hired 8 million additional public school teachers for a year; paid for nearly 60 million kids to attend Head Start; or awarded 22 million 4-year scholarships at public universities. Instead, we find our nation speeding towards what Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz estimated as a final price tag – somewhere between $1 trillion and $2 trillion.

But the hope is that as Americans become more aware of the costs of this war in treasure (as well as lives), constituents will increasingly pressure their representatives to break with the President and end this tragic course. That's why other antiwar groups are beginning to make good use of NPP's data too.

This week, MoveOn.org released its own report on the cost of the Iraq war relying exclusively on NPP's cost of war information and trade-off data by state and congressional district. MoveOn will use this information as the basis for actions in 160 cities, educating constituents and pressuring Members of Congress to end the War.

Also throughout this week, USAction Education Fund is releasing reports outlining the damage done to 25 states by the "upside-down priorities of the Bush administration and previous, Republican-led Congresses," and what the current Congress is trying to do to repair that damage. The report uses NPP's data on the cost of the Iraq war, and its analysis of how Congress' proposed spending bills would impact each congressional district. The USAction Education Fund report will be used to urge members of Congress to override President Bush's threatened vetoes of modest spending increases in all domestic programs, from children's health care to the Food Stamp Program.

In a released statement, NPP executive director Greg Speeter said: "Our information is all about giving people what they need to hold their Congresspeople accountable for their actions. We're pleased to see our data making that possible in such coordinated and widespread efforts."

And coordinated, widespread efforts are exactly what we need to bring an end to this war.

Exxon vs. Reason

I've written before about efforts to force ExxonMobile to join the growing mainstream Big Oil acceptance of the need for renewable energy. Well, there have been some successes but ExxonMobil is still the only oil giant refusing to invest in renewable energy.

Oil companies like Shell and BP are investing billions of dollars in clean, alternative energy sources that will bring down consumer costs, create new jobs and help save the environment. Meanwhile, ExxonMobil dismisses renewable energy despite repeated Congressional studies showing that we can wean ourselves of our oil dependence by increasing the use of homegrown power from wind and solar, geothermal, and biomass sources.

Instead, ExxonMobil dumps its staggering profits ($10.26 billion in '06, just shy of 2005's record $10.36 billion.) into more long-term oil and gas projects, including some of the dirtiest forms of hard-to-get oil around.

Given ExxonMobil's short-sighted and selfish position on one of the most pressing issues of our time, including its continued funding of global warming denial groups, it's critical to spread the word of the corporation's misdeeds.

Yes, the company has at least rhetorically bowed to reason and acknowledged that global warming is a "serious issue." This public position was undercut however in May of 2007 when ExxonMobil president Rex Tillerson told shareholders that there are still too many "unknowns" to warrant meaningful and immediate action (or investment in renewable energy). So visit the Exxpose Exxon website to see how you can help call out and combat Exxon's dirty doings.

The Worst House Speaker in American History

Dennis Hastert, who served eight years as the most lamentable Speaker of the House in the chamber's history, began a slow exit from the Congress Friday. It was on that day that the former wrestling coach, who attained the speakership not on the basis of any political skills or policy expertise but because he was willing to front for the unpalatable Tom DeLay, announced his decision not to seek reelection from the Illinois district that has elected him since 1986.

Among the fifty men and one woman who have held the speakership since a German-born pastor named Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg filled the position for the First Congress, there have been more than a few disappointments. Aside from the indicted, the disgraced and the disreputable, there have been the indefensible -- like Howell Cobb, who used his pre-Civil War speakership to promote the extension of slavery. Cobb would eventually find his true calling as the speaker of the Provisional Confederate Congress and the acting president of the southern states that seceded from the U.S. in treasonous defense of human bondage.

Could the shambling, ineffectual and frequently inarticulate Hastert really have been a worse Speaker of the House than a crude proponent of slavery, or a crook like Jim Wright or a conniving partisan like Newt Gingrich? Absolutely.

Even the worst of his predecessors had respect for the House as a institution of Congress, the separate but equal legislative branch of the federal government. Hastert displayed no such understanding or commitment. He made the House during the three congresses in which his speakership coincided with the administration of George Bush and Dick Cheney -- ironically, a man as a House member in the Reagan era coveted the post of Speaker and co-authored a history of the position -- something less than it was ever meant to be.

The House that Hastert built was neither a check nor a balance on the excesses of the Bush presidency. Hastert's House allowed the president to go to war and then initiate the long-term occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan without declarations, it rubber-stamped the administration's anti-Constitutional assaults on civil liberties, it made no complaint when the president attached signing statements that effectively exempted him from hundreds of laws that had been passed by the chamber.

Hastert's House was a crude and unworkable place, where members who sought to uphold their oaths to "defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic" were held up to ridicule and forced to hold hearings on issues involving the most extreme abuses of presidential authority -- lying to the Congress and the American people about matters of war and peace -- in basement rooms.

As a man, Hastert was as cruel and uncaring about the fate of the American people he was uniquely empowered to serve as he was about the interns dispatched to the office of Florida Congressman Mark Foley. Hastert's objection to the use of federal funds to rebuild predominantly African-American sections of New Orleans where thousands of homes and lives had been wrecked by Hurricane Katrina -- "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed" -- was so brutal that he was forced to publicly amend his comments with a claim that "I'm not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated." But the lack of an adequate response to the needs of New Orleans by Hastert and his colleagues would confirm that the Speaker's initial reaction was a truer expression of his sentiments than the apologia.

Ultimately, however, the greatest horror of Hastert's House was not confirmed by its specific failures to serve the American people who most needed a Congress to counter the malignant neglect of the Bush-Cheney administration. Rather, it was defined by the remaking of an essential legislative chamber as nothing more than an extension of the executive branch of the government. The damage to the Congress has been severe, as has been the damage to the Republic.

Since the opposition Democrats were handed control of both the House and Senate in the realigning election of 2006, some steps have been taken to restore a proper balance. There have been more debates. A few committees have begun to investigate the lawlessness of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and other members of the administration. There is even talk, among the more principled members of the chamber, of censuring or impeaching the president or vice president. But the work is far from done. The House of current Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains too careful, too deferent and too dysfunctional in its dealings with a unitary executive branch. On most matters, President Bush and Vice President Cheney continue to get their way without much of a fight -- witness the decision of the Congress to allocate more money for the continuation of the Iraq occupation than the White House had requested. And the administration continues to treat the House and Senate with a disdain that is writ large across radical demands of executive privilege.

Even as Hastert prepares to exit Congress, the threat posed by his approach to the speakership continues. That threat is rooted in the prospect that he has created a model for House leadership -- or the lack thereof -- that will be reasserted at future moments when the legislative and executive branches are under the common control of a single party. Indeed, if a House led by Pelosi were to be as subservient to a White House occupied by Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as was the House of Hastert to the administration of Bush and Cheney, the illusionary "leader" from Illinois will continue to define how the separation of powers operates long after he exits the Capitol.

There is a cautionary tale here for Pelosi. She should not let this remain the era of the weak Congress that it was under the fundamentally flawed leadership of Dennis Hastert. She should make it clear, to Bush an to his successor, that with Hastert gone, the speakership and the House will be restored to its proper place in the federal hierarchy.

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John Nichols' new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders' Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"