Comfortable and Furious



Whenever a new book arrives that exposes the fraud, corruption, and arrogance of the Bush Administration, I am a happy man indeed, as it signals a desire on the part of at least some Americans to remove this unparalleled S.O.B. from office. It seems that with each week, another anti-Bush title hits the shelves, whether from a former insider or an outside observer with a political axe to grind. And while I try to read most of these titles (just for the sheer glee of seeing that rat bastard ripped limb from limb), there is the danger that deja vu will set in; an inevitable repetitiveness that doesn’t make the material any less valid, only not as exciting from the reader’s standpoint. One of the most recent arrivals, John Dean’s Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, is a well-written (and relatively brief) summation of official secrecy and mendacity in the current White House, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that most of it was all-too-familiar. Dean says it well, mind you, but it’s nothing I haven’t heard before. It’s a shame, too, because if any man alive understands presidential secrecy more than Dean, I’d be hard-pressed to find him. After Dean’s previous two books (Warren Harding and The Rehnquist Choice), I am a committed fan of his work (and of his refreshing perspective, as he is a Republican who finds the current administration abhorrent in the extreme), but I can’t say this book is a stunner.

As one would expect, Dean presents a compelling and well-documented case for Bush’s lies and insulated White House. As Dean believes that Bush and Cheney are co-presidents (with Cheney pulling the strings in more cases), he relates the history of Cheney’s disturbing actions stemming from his work in the Ford Administration to the present day. More specifically, though, Dean discusses Cheney in the context of his health, a matter of great secrecy that has never been fully revealed. It demonstrates Bush’s fanatical need to remain close to the real brains of the outfit that he would have such contempt for the public as to hide and distort the well being of elected officials. FDR and JFK also kept numerous secrets about their physical conditions, but I would be the first the criticize their arrogance, especially in terms of FDR, for we were at war and he was in no condition to lead effectively that final year. Given how much power Cheney has (more than any other VP in history), it is understandable that he remain accountable to the public. By hiding the real state of his health, it lends credibility to those who believe his long absences are due to his heart problems rather than “national security.” And if it were the latter, that should cause greater alarm as most VP’s are free to roam without much concern (as with Dan Quayle — as tempting a target as he remained, was there ever really a threat to his life?)

Dean also discusses the financial secrecy of Cheney, from his Halliburton days to rumors of bribery with foreign governments. What about Cheney’s big stock haul, conveniently cashed in before revelations came to light about asbestos-related lawsuits? Or what about the absurd claim that Cheney’s financial windfall during the 1990s had nothing to do with government, as he put forth in the 2000 VP debates? That quote alone should give us an insight into the vicious black heart of Dick Cheney, as he fails to recognize that all of Halliburton’s contracts are military related and the result of foreign policy decisions made by — who else? — the federal government. Is the Pentagon not a government agency in his twisted, hateful mind? Cheney is also taken to task for the refusal to release documents associated with his secret energy group meetings. Again, these issues have been discussed elsewhere, but they remain important and conspicuously absent from most media inquiries. As Dean states, if the public is unaware of who is crafting policy that affects us all (and, more importantly, why) then any pretense of a democracy is lost. Covering one’s ass is not — repeat after me kiddies, NOT — national security. But in our post-9/11 world, Bush has been allowed by a compliant press corps to transform everything — foreign or domestic, public or private — into a matter of the gravest security concern. Dean accurately labels this the stinkiest form of bullshit.

For a man who worked with Nixon to label the Bush White House as the most leak-obsessed is saying something just a tad frightening. The Bushies are so fixated on keeping everything from the eye of public scrutiny that they have avoided a paper trail and even keep key officials out of the loop to allow for the old standby, “plausible deniability.” While Dean emphasizes that it is dangerous to believe Bush is an oblivious idiot, he does state that on some matters, he is kept ignorant and isolated in order to prevent conflicting reports. How better to explain why Bush has his news pre-selected (and managed into bite-size bits) and has given fewer press conferences than any President in recent memory? Without questions, there can be no answers.

But as Dean states over and over again, this is a White House that seeks to re-establish the Imperial Presidency and so weaken Congress that it never again challenge the President on certain matters (usually foreign policy and intelligence work). This desire stems from another disturbing idea — that Republicans genuinely believe that the Presidency is their birthright and all Democrats are illegitimate. Democrats can have Congress if they choose, for they are too close to the people, while the Executive branch can wall itself off in the Oval Office and craft policy in the utmost secrecy. It is this attitude that reveals the extreme Right’s bitter contempt for democracy. While Bush pretty much does what he is told (although I agree with Dean that he has a sneaky, ambitious side that should not be underestimated), the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft wing craves power to such an extent that they would be quite comfortable leading a banana republic. Being accountable to the public is simply not a concern of this White House. Yes, as I’ve said elsewhere, they hate you! So by all means vote Bush/Cheney in 2004!

From stonewalling investigations, to punishing those who dare criticize the Administration (Valerie Plame Wilson, anyone?), to outright lies about reasons for war (we all know the details by now), the case is extensive and clear beyond anyone’s imagination. They also lie with a professional zeal about the environment (from the air quality at Ground Zero to the Orwellian “Clear Skies” initiative that made regulations voluntary), Medicare budgets, the benefits of tax cuts, and job creation. You know, things slightly more important than a Presidential blowjob. But worst of all, at least in terms of accountability and the verdict of history, is Executive Order 13223, issued on November 1, 2001, which effectively repeals the 1978 Presidential Records Act. Outside of the dubious timing (Reagan’s papers were due to be released, which just might reveal controversial details about Bush Senior), such a blatant violation of Congressional intent does the following (according to Dean):

  • Former presidents can keep their papers sealed indefinitely.
  • Vice presidents have the authority to invoke executive privilege (which is unprecedented).
  • The burden shifts from former presidents seeking to withhold their papers to the person seeking presidential papers, to show justification why that person should have access to them.
  • Any request for access to a former president’s papers must be approved by both the former president and the incumbent president!
  • “Representatives of former presidents” may invoke executive privilege after a former president is dead.

As Dean concludes, “…presidential scholarship as it now exists will largely end.” I seem to recall other governments resorting to this level of secrecy, but I thought the United States fought against the ideals of the Soviet Union. We now have a group of men (and women who likely are men when the pantsuits come off) who honestly believe that what is good for 0.002% of the population is good for the country, and you’d better like it or, predictably, you’ll be “with the terrorists,” or declared an enemy combatant, or have your reputation reduced to tatters. Dean is justifiably pissed about all of this and unlike other other authors in the Fuck Bush genre, he’s seen this shit from the inside. Take his warnings to heart — we DO NOT want a second term. Send the fuckers packing.