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A Cancerous Tumor in the Body Politic -- Time for Surgery

By       Message Bernard Weiner       (Page 1 of 3 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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When White House Counsel John Dean in 1973 told Richard Nixon that there was a "cancer growing on the presidency," it wasn't totally clear if he was referring to the Watergate coverup inside the White House, or to the felonies committed by Nixon's closest aides, or, without coming right out and saying so, to the President himself.

But, clearly, something toxic was eating away at the President's legitimacy, Dean was suggesting, thus putting Nixon in potential legal jeopardy. Something had to be done to protect the presidency, if not the President, from the mortal danger symbolized by that cancer metaphor.

Nothing remedial was done; the coverup grew worse -- one lie and deception and crime piled on another -- and the cancer killed Nixon's presidency. With the Congress about to impeach him, he resigned in disgrace.

That medical metaphor is much on my mind these days, and not just when thinking about the Bush presidency. Someone close to our family recently was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Something potentially deadly was growing inside her body.

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The tumor had to be removed, and it was excised a few days ago. She appears to be recuperating well, but now steps will have to be taken (chemo, radiation, change in diet, etc.) to ensure that the cancer does not spread and that it will never return.

Going from the microcosmos to the macro, today there is a cancer growing in the body of the American polity. Its aggressive nature has forced its way into the social and political fabric of our lives, and is destroying both from within.

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This destructive malignancy was not removed at the first opportunity and has now spread and infected the entire culture and political apparatus. It is running rampant and is strangling the foundation upon which our nation rests, the Constitution. It has leaped national boundaries and is attacking other nations beyond our shores.

These foreign invasions and occupations are connected vitally to the domestic outbreak at home. It's a closed loop, with one infection feeding the other, and vice versa. (Oddly enough, attacks from foreign terrorists seem to aid the power-cancer internally.)

But unlike in the time of Watergate, these days there are no journalistic radiologists, such as Woodward and Bernstein, to identify the malignancy, no skillful oncologists, such as Constitution scholar Sen. Sam Ervin, to diagnose it, and no Congressional surgeons, such as Ervin and Howard Baker and Peter Rodino, to remove it through impeachment and conviction.


The American corpus, which just a few years ago, was relatively strong, is riven with social, political, economic and moral disease. The cancer, barely noticed by most Americans, was growing slowly all this time, away from direct public scrutiny, building its support network, infiltrating into various organs of power (the media, think tanks, propaganda ministries, electoral systems, education), and then, after decades, when the moment was ripe, the cancer erupted in the highest halls of power, in the White House.

The remedy of tumor removal/amputation -- via the surgery of impeachment -- could begin the process of healing. But this cancer is notoriously aggressive in maintaining itself in the face of assaults -- in this, it's reminiscent of an organized criminal enterprise -- mainly by growing and spreading into new areas where it attempts to control the situation.

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At moments, when it appears to be cornered, it exudes a toxic slime over its most notable critics and opponents. Examples: Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, John McCain, John Kerry, Cindy Sheehan, et al. A new candidate for those crosshairs is Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor who potentially could indict much of the inner circle of the Bush Administration in the Plamegate/Iraq War scandals.

There is also the possibility that the body politic, so turned off by the outrageous aggressiveness of the bullying cancer -- and the high costs of supporting its foreign wars abroad with blood and treasure -- will create enough antibodies to drive out the malignancy in a periodic election in, say, 2006 and/or 2008. (This assumes that the agents of the cancer no longer will be controlling the voting machines and computerized vote-counting processes.)


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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)

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