The neo-cons and their friends in the Republican machine have turned their sights to the new war on 'big ' government as we know it and they are winning. Installing the most unqualified and incompetent cronies in positions of power and responsibility dooms the whole department to failure. The failure is offered up as an object lesson in why 'big ' government doesn 't work. Then the PR machine is turned up, with help from the press, to unabashedly point to the failure of the big, bad government, full of red-tape and wasteful bureaucracy, which they say without a blush should be replaced by private enterprise, where we the public 's money won 't be wasted with bureaucracy and bloated budgets. You 'd almost believe it until you remember Halliburton, Tyco, Enron, big tobacco, and various corporate bailouts paid for courtesy of Uncle Sam (yes, Sam I am; we have met the enemy and it is US). The complicated Medicare "benefits " are just one of many government programs doomed to failure in the same pattern of deceit.
What made the Nixon lies so destructive was the obstruction of the democratic process; his lies were designed to conceal his own activities in organizing political espionage and repression. These included the attempt to subvert all opposition by using illegal wiretapping and burglarizing the headquarters of the main opposition party. In Iran-Contra, Oliver North, other Reagan aides, and some would say Reagan himself, the lies were put forth to cover up American involvement in an illegal war against Nicaragua, the illegal arming of Iran, and other illegal covert operations.
Clinton 's lies, on the other hand, were attempts to cover up philandering behavior and perhaps (underscore the perhaps since none of the other charges levied against him ever had enough evidence to even prosecute and it wasn 't for lack of trying) petty financial corruption and cronyism, all chump change in the scheme of business and politics as usual. While the charges were personal and petty, Clinton wasn 't innocent and was tried first in the press and then in the House. In both Watergate and Iran-Contra (both Republican scandals), the issue was usurpation of power and the diminishing of people 's rights. In Clinton 's scandal, the personal became political.
Attempts to subvert the rule of law started with the functioning of the White House plumbers during Watergate and were followed by the Iran-Contra paramilitary "enterprise," perhaps the beginning of our outsourcing of the military mercenaries. Once the Democrats were in power, the Republican apparatchiks moved ahead full speed and borrowed the same techniques except that now they operated out of the independent counsel's office to mine information against Clinton. In this case, the illegal recording of telephone calls was carried out not by White House political operatives looking for information on their opponents, but by politically motivated enemies of Clinton (e.g., Linda Tripp, working undercover for the independent counsel).
If there were ever a time in our history that we need the powers of the press to act as the Fourth Estate, this is the moment. Unfortunately for the public, the press is full of cowards and the powers sitting in office are working overtime to chip away the rights of what 's left of a free press with bogus national security claims and court orders to buy them time while they install new judges who will agree with their privileged assessment. Though the press dutifully reports the Abramoff scandal by following the lead of the latest FBI or justice department probe, all public information, there is very little real digging of the facts and nothing to counter the spin of business as usual. (Compare this to the thousands of pages of sordid details of Clinton 's sexual liaisons.) Rather, the media carefully invoke (with a straight face) their own updated version of the equal protection clause thou shalt be Balanced. Caution is the name of the game. So terrified are they of the possibility of making a mistake, they don 't dare make obvious connections, lest they be accused of speculation, recklessness, incompetence, or even treason. Careers could be ruined.
Why is it that DeLay doesn 't look like a worried man? Or Jack, or Grover or Ralph or the multitude of Congress members who seem to have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar? Why, might one reasonably ask, aren 't we hearing the worried songs in the halls of Congress and on K Street? The man in the black hat has agreed to sing, yet Congress is whistling Dixie. Here 's the dirty secret: Much of what took place was/is legal.
The Republican machine has been volleying for power for the past two decades, organizing, positioning and manipulating so that when they finally were able to take over both the executive and legislative branches, they could drag out the big guns and empty the war chest into the pockets of selected friends in Congress. Pssst. Let 's not forget what legislators do for a living: they write the laws. Guess what? A lot of the laws have been carefully crafted with tiny print that says that at least some of the activities of Abramoff and his pals are not exactly illegal. Unethical? Surely. Immoral? No doubt. But unethical and immoral are not the same as illegal and it 's the illegal part that eventually forces people to don the orange jumpsuit and make restitution (though often without accompanying destitution). The mumbling in Congress about lobbying reform is the perennial closing of the barn door after the horse is out. Even Alito isn 't likely to allow running over the Constitution to reverse the prohibition of ex post facto laws.
Yes, folks, the party is not over for the Moral Majority. The very people who want to paint the world in black and white have engineered laws that are covered in shades of gray, installing judges in their own image, judges who can interpret the gray as legal, i.e., within the confines of the law that 's their job, after all. Conveniently, the claim of "well I thought it was legal, my lawyer interpreted it as legal " will pass muster in the gray shadows of doubt.
The spin of "They 're all corrupt " is just that spin. The current scandals won 't turn on "what is is, " they will turn on what "legal " is. With a complicit media afraid of not presenting a 'balanced " picture, there are no distinctions made between those who picked Jack 's pocket and those who received a small campaign contribution from organizations he was remotely and in some cases covertly connected to. What better way to preempt the "balanced " charge. The web of deception is a tangled mess. Some smart journo hopefully will dig deeper and provide us with a chart that connects the lines (they are no longer dotted lines, they are solid), so a more enlightened public can see how they 've been had. Until then, the trail is too littered for a public that has no stomach for details, a public that wants everything spoon fed in 30-second sound bites else the hand reaches for the remote. Poof switch to football, where foul is foul and goals still lie neatly between two straight lines. Besides, who knows what will titillate at halftime.
© Lynne Glasner 2006
Lynne Glasner is a freelance writer/editor based in New York City. She is the editor of Danny Schechter 's forthcoming book When News Lies (SelectBooks). Her essays have appeared in OpEd columns and on Commondreams. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org