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America’s Republican problem
Bush is only a symptom of a virulent infection

Only George W. Bush could get away with violating the spirit of the Constitution and the letter of federal law by spying without authorization on American citizens here at home and still see his poll numbers take a slight jump. After all, he has played the terror card often and adeptly since September 11.

Over the past couple of weeks, Bush has been standing tall and talking tough. And, in a limited way, it’s been working to his advantage. Bush has had the truly good news of high turnout under relatively peaceful conditions in Iraq’s most recent round of elections, and that accrues to his credit. But what seems to have helped Bush most is the simple act of repeating over and over that we are winning in Iraq. Like the good snake-oil salesman he is, Bush is betting he can continue to fool most of the people most of the time. Hell knows he’s done it before.

These days, however, reality keeps intruding. It’s gotten too hard to hide the fact that the US is mired in a smoldering civil war in Iraq. Most of the world is alienated from the US as a result. And, according to almost any major poll you consult, a majority of Americans are, if not alienated, at least disapproving of the war and Bush’s handling of it.

When the Washington Post and ABC News teamed up a little more than a month ago to take the nation’s political temperature, they found the prevailing sentiment to be "significant discontent." The Democrats appear to be gaining a slight edge over the Republicans, but it is tenuous indeed. Their principal advantage seems to be that they are not Republicans.

So, as George Bush enters his sixth year as president, and as the Republicans prepare to enjoy their 12th straight year of legislative dominance, it seems that together they have sucked the life and the spirit out of American public life.

A nation of optimists is beset by anxiety these days. And there is good reason for that. Bush’s first "victory" can be chalked up to a constitutional fluke — and to probable electoral theft in Florida. His second win was razor thin (50.7 percent to 48.3 percent), and again, it was marred by allegations of electoral irregularities in Ohio.

Bush and his gang of political bandits have gotten away with as much as they have by figuring that if they acted like big winners the nation would see them as big winners. And it worked, until the slow and steady drip of blood and despair in Iraq coupled with the dramatic carnage of Hurricane Katrina across the Gulf Coast destroyed their aura of invincibility.

But if the Bush White House is bad, the Republican Congress is worse. It’s been more than 100 years since the nation has seen greed, corruption, and arrogance on such a profligate scale. Earlier malefactors of great wealth like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie — who also had "friends" in Congress, of course — would blush at what goes on in Washington today.

Already Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a Republican from California, has resigned from the House of Representatives and pleaded guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes, including a Rolls Royce. Other lawmakers who got "contributions" from the contractors who are accused of bribing Cunningham are also under investigation. How do the Republicans get away with this party-of-the-common-man stuff anyway?

The Justice Department is investigating the shenanigans of super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose partner has already pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe a yet-to-be-identified congressman.

Four other congressmen — all Republicans — may be implicated. The most notorious of the quartet is former House majority leader Tom DeLay of Texas, who is already under indictment in his home state on charges of conspiracy to evade campaign-finance laws.

Whether the charges against DeLay will stick remains to be seen. But we do know that the money in question was used to hatch a highly unusual and much disputed congressional-redistricting plan in Texas that cost the Democrats five congressional seats. The US Supreme Court has decided to review the case.

Two other Abramoff partners are in hot water. One, a former spokesman for DeLay, has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud. The other, a former White House procurement director, was arrested in September for lying to investigators about his ties to Abramoff.

Then there’s Republican Senate majority leader Bill Frist, who is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission for selling stock in his family’s for-profit hospital chain just before the stock took a nosedive.

Crooks in Congress are nothing new. And over the years, the Democrats have had their share of them. But it appears that the Bush-era Republicans have succeeded in doing what that master political criminal, Republican president Richard Nixon, tried but failed to do: corner the market on graft. (Rest assured that if a number of Republicans do in fact fall, some Democrats would accompany them. But they’d be only window dressing.)

Bush and his buddies, like Tom DeLay and Karl Rove, have perfected the political con. They have all but raised it to the level of an art form. In the process they have robbed the nation of peace, promoted prosperity for the few at the expense of the many, and compromised liberty for all. It’s a sobering note on which to end the year. The nation will be better off if it awakens to a new year with a clear sense of what’s gone wrong. That way, we will have a chance to regain our honor and sense of purpose. ^


Issue Date: December 23 - 29, 2005
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