What started as a common cold for selected Republican officeholders has turned into raging influenza for our democracy. The Democrats are already counting Congressional seats to be gained from the litany of GOP scandals, but we think they misunderstand the nature of this contagion.
Yes, we too would like to see the Democrats regain majorities in Congress and hope that becomes possible. But they–and the media as well–are partly responsible for the sorry state of affairs. Democratic leaders vent predictably over Tom DeLay’s alleged money-laundering and the disgraceful response to Hurricane Katrina yet remain subdued on the far larger transgressions associated with the war in Iraq. Republicans wrap themselves in “moral issues” while ignoring the Constitution-shredding immorality of lying to the country and Congress on the largest moral question of all–the decision to invade another nation, pre-emptively and based on fictitious claims.
As we go to press, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is nearing the end of his investigation into the Plame/CIA leak scandal, with indictments of several high-level Bush Administration officials widely predicted. As most readers know, the investigation stemmed from the leak to reporters of the name of Valerie Wilson, née Plame, at the time an undercover CIA agent. In leaking her name to journalists, officials are suspected of having violated the 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act and the section of the 1917 Espionage Act that prohibits leaks of classified information to unauthorized people. (Secondary charges stemming from the investigation, such as perjury or obstruction, are also possible.)
We have for years expressed grave doubts about these laws; they inhibit the free flow of information and have a chilling effect on the practice of responsible journalism, especially when government classifies far too much information in the first place. But the Plame investigation illuminates the larger scandal of the Bush Administration’s lying to the American people to sell us on an unnecessary war–a war that has cost the lives of 2,000 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, has fostered terrorism in the Middle East and has set Iraq on the path to civil war. Even if the Plame affair ends without a strong resolution, the far larger scandal of this war and all its associated horrors will be with us for years. The question of impeachment might sound unlikely at this hour, but it is not too soon to study up on the matter–see Elizabeth de la Vega’s exploration on page 11.
The Democrats and the media colluded in this awesome deception. Not only did most Democratic leaders vote to support the war; even at this late hour many of them–including Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Charles Schumer–refuse to come out clearly against it or to call for an end to the occupation. Echoing John Kerry’s disastrous comment during the 2004 campaign, Senator Schumer said recently on Meet the Press that even if he knew then what he knows now, he still would have voted for the war. And the major media joined in the post-9/11 culture of collusion. The New York Times–relying heavily on the inflamed dispatches of Judith Miller, now embroiled in the Plame investigation–was so irresponsible in the run-up to the war that it had to print an apology.
Deceit and misinformation is poison to an open society. We need a much tougher investigation of how the American people were misled on the purpose of this war. We need much tougher, more skeptical media. And we need the Democrats to act like an opposition party. Because without a genuine opposition, the disease of corruption and criminality threatens democracy itself.