A couple of months ago gas prices started a precipitous drop. The media, especially on the local level, began to talk about how this should make average Americans pleased, easing as it would, strain on the average American budget. Indeed, this was "good news for consumers." Even now, right wing media outlets like the ever-reliable Washington Times insist that falling gas prices should be the thing that Americans consider when going to the polls this fall. Forget about Osama! That was all just "sturm and drang." The irony of the position of the Times was clear: while they laughed off notions that the Bush administration, the Saudis or the oil companies could manipulate oil prices, the Times certainly believe that Republicans should be rewarded at the polls for something we had just been told they had no control over. The logic was puzzling, to say the least.
But the gas-price happy face wasn't working. Not only was it facile to imagine that widely common concerns about a terrible war would be assuaged by cheap gas, a poll showed that a large segment of the American population actually believed that prices were being manipulated for just this purpose. The voting public, it seemed, was not going to be bought off so easily, whether the manipulation was real or imagined.
With the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaching and gas prices failing to perform at the polls, Disney/ABC introduced to the American public a fanciful tale not yet revealed in all the previous anniversaries: 9/11 was all Bill Clinton's fault. This caused a storm of outrage from Democrats, with Clinton actually writing a letter to ABC president Robert Iger, demanding the show be corrected or withdrawn from the schedule. That didn't happen, and despite the show appearing to have almost no effect, Fox News then jumped into the manufactured fray and asked Clinton directly: why, why didn't you do more to stop bin Laden? Chris Wallace, whose gelatinous jowls appeared to actually quiver while Clinton dressed him down, was ill-prepared for the response. Unable to assail Clinton on the facts, Fox quickly moved to portray Clinton as having "lost it." But that wasn't playing well either. Hundreds of posters to YouTube uploaded the interview and almost without fail titled the clip something along the lines of "Clinton smacks Fox." Within a day, Fox News had Youtube remove the offending clip, claiming copyright infringement.
Subsequent to this attempted yet failing smear of the Democrats - the Path to 9/11 ostensibly reinforcing the Democrats-are-weak-on-national-security meme - a surreptitious leak of a new National Intelligence Estimate on global terrorism wreaked the expected havoc on the Bush administration and its performance both in Iraq and the larger War on Terror «. Though it revealed nothing surprising to anyone paying attention, the leaked NIE brought the wrongheadedness of the White House once again to the front pages. Bush countered by releasing more of the report, which, rather than discounting the leaked portions, made many wonder whether Bush had read any of the report at all. His counter-release did nothing but confirm what had already been exposed. And all the while Bush continued to mouth his oft-repeated platitude that the "world is safer," shocking numbers of people would be dying in Iraq and Afghanistan every day, just as they had doing for years.
Once the NIE episode played for awhile, it was clear that Republicans were on the defensive and, in a truly bizarre maneuver, brought out the now infamous "torture" bill, or as they and the media would euphemistically label it, the detainee bill. It is indeed indicative of the times, and of this Republican Congress in particular, that rushing a bill that would give virtually unlimited power to the president would be viewed as a winner before the election. But it did have one instructive purpose: it once again put the Democrats on defense. In more normative times, it is indeed hard to imagine that anyone at anytime could be put on the defensive when faced with a bill that would eliminate habeas corpus protection and allow the Executive to define what torture would and would not be, but these are those times and the Democrats are those ones.
Apart from being a political distraction from the losing argument over the NIE and failed nature of the entire Iraq debacle, the torture bill had one real purpose and that was to grant the Bush administration and their employees retroactive immunity for potential past war crimes. The Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision had certainly pronounced them guilty of such and with the potential loss of at least one majority in Congress, the push had to come for this legislation should the Democrats win a majority. Apparently, Republicans were not themselves sure that their various electioneering efforts around the country would guarantee the needed victory; there is always one variable they simply cannot control and that is the voters themselves. Large turnouts (unlikely in a mid-term election but this one seems especially critical) and large discrepancies in exit polls would prove, even to this country, that something was seriously wrong with the vote count. And more doubt than ever about the electoral process was fostered with all the bad publicity Diebold received lately. Even Fox News was covering the hack-ability of Diebold voting machines.
And so, at the dawn of the 21st century, the American public were witness to the strange sight of an American Congress "debating" the need for presidential decrees of torture, indefinite detention, secret tribunals and scrubbing habaes corpus for prisoners. Tossed into this unholy mix was a provision for self-pardoning for any past and future crimes. Except there would be no future crimes. Everything would be legal as long as the President said so. And the position assumed by the so-called opposition was to provide no opposition at all.
Various theories were advanced by lefties and liberals in some vain attempt to proffer an air of legitimacy to the Democrats and their shameful abrogation of their congressional responsibility. One described that, rather than fight the bill in Congress with the only tool available to them, the filibuster, Reid had determined that the bill would be revoked once the Democrats won big in November. Turning tail on torture was really a clever ploy designed to actually beat back the Republican assault on 800 years of jurisprudence. To say the least, such a notion is fanciful and is based on two incredibly faulty assumptions: one, that Democrats will win majorities and, two, that Democrats will actually have the balls to repeal the odious bill should they accomplish one. To portray the Democrats as being both too afraid to stand up to the torture bill for fear of being labelled "soft on terror" before the election - like they haven't been to this point - and strong and defiant should they win in November is, to say the least, conflicted. Delusional would be more appropriate.
While it does seem like the most tenable notion (what else is there?), if this was the Democrats' gambit, that party is in even worse shape than already imagined. And once more, we have been treated to the sight of the American parties playing an egregious game of political gamesmanship by undermining international law and one of the foundations of western civil society. We already know the Republicans are a lost cause in taming Bush. But anyone who would wish to support some kind of opposition to the juggernaut of unitary executive power has now been hopelessly let down by this Democratic party. How are they not aware that they have been called cowards and will be called so again and again, regardless of how they voted on this bill? How do they see cowering in the face of name-calling as a strategy for victory? While you may puzzle at this, the Democrats do not.
With Republicans failing in their quest for more "soft-on-terror" ammunition -- Democrats having limply capitulated on the torture bill -- the next round of counter measures began that would refocus attention on the Bush administration and the Iraq debacle. Oddly, that refocus would be supplied by someone long viewed as an unofficial Bush hagiographer, Bob Woodward. While many Bush critics were simply annoyed that it took Woodward this long to come to the conclusion that Iraq was lost and the White House was a shambles - normative policy making apparatus having long since left the building, if it was ever there - the release of State of Denial did serve to bring attention back to Iraq and, interestingly enough, back to the lies of Condoleezza Rice and the failings of the White House in the lead up to 9/11. This was not simply piling on and one revelation that came out of the publicity was a panicked meeting that resulted from then CIA director George Tenet and CIA counterterrorism deputy, J. Cofer Black rushing to the White House on July 10, 2001 in an effort to convey the import of intelligence that was indicating a serious threat level. They insisted their concern upon Rice, who promptly did nothing.
To this day, ABC's Path to 9/11 proves a weeping wound, not for Clinton, but for Bush and especially Condoleezza Rice, who came out the day after Clinton's interview on Fox News and claimed that the Bush administration had done "at least as much" as the Clintons had done in the eight years previous. She also lied about other things, but the essentials of this new narrative had been formed with that ludicrous statement. Once again, the White House was taking white heat about their bungling, both pre and post 9/11 and this was primarily due to Woodward's book and, ironically enough, ABC's Christianist-produced, commericial-free fiction, The Path to 9/11, the very thing that was supposed to make Clinton look bad.
Interestingly, and just as things started to head south for the Bush administration on the 9/11 story and the refocus on Rumsfeld and Iraq that Woodward's book had introduced, the enigmatic appearance of old emails implicating Republican Mark Foley in an internet sex scandal shifted focus away from Iraq yet again. The salacious nature of this newest revelation quickly turned heads and soon swamped all other attentions when it emerged that the GOP House leadership had apparently known of Foley's unseemly predilections for, not months, but years and failed to take action. Assuredly, Iraq once again disappeared from the headlines as the scandal moved like some talking head wildfire, scorching the airwaves with literally minute-by-minute updates of new IM messages dug up from years ago.
The provenance of the newest scandal is entirely unknown and considering that several media outlets, including Fox News, had known that Foley was under some suspicion for sometime and failed to take much note of it before causes a certain head scratching. The media seemed entirely uninterested in following the story a year ago but now someone, somewhere, decided that this was ripe for exploit. Naturally enough, the Foley scandal left a sagacious Sean Hannity pondering whether the timing of this "new" information about Foley could be "political." This man is considered a "pundit"? Truly, it is time to put that battered word to rest; it has been ravaged beyond recognition.
The question is, whose politics is it? While Hastert and various conservative stooges immediately began to wail about a "Democratic hit job," and a "liberal conspiracy," such a notion is entirely risible. The only hit job Democrats are capable of these days is the kind that winds up taking out ... the Democrats. The "liberal media" stick also made its requisite appearance, which merely illustrated that conservatives still haven't figured out what the real bias in the media actually is: sex. And the more indecorous, the better. No one, no one, is going to get in the way of our infotainment system and its mercenary tendencies when sex is involved. How much better does it get? A self-righteous, socially conservative Republican pederast Co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus who was molested by a clergyman as a teenager. That's Bingo! in TV land.
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