Truth be told, I haven’t felt like celebrating this nation’s birth for years now. Not since George W. Bush took a robust economy left behind by President Bill Clinton and flushed it down the proverbial toilet with the help of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and a war of choice against Iraq that has already cost the lives of 3,588 young men and women in uniform. Not when Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General of the United States, remains in office despite having been complicit in a sleazy political plot to fire nine or more U.S. attorneys who didn’t do enough to cause trouble for Democratic incumbents and candidates in the run-up to last fall’s historic midterm election. Not when we have a vice president who, hoping to escape congressional oversight and protect his extraordinary power grabs, declares himself no longer “an entity within the executive branch” and thus exempt from regulations and even executive orders pertaining to that branch of the U.S. government. (Dick Cheney maintained that posture until U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel [D-Illinois] began making noise about cutting off the “$4.8 million needed annually to run Cheney’s office and home.”) And not when the prez blithely dismisses public opinion in order to commute the 30-month prison sentence given to Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who had been sentenced for perjury and obstruction of justice in the “Plamegate” CIA leak scandal. (For press reaction to that commutation, click here.) So much for Bush’s insistence, in his 1999 campaign biography, A Charge to Keep, that “I don’t believe my role is to replace the verdict of a jury with my own unless there are new facts or evidence of which a jury was unaware, or evidence that the trial was somehow unfair.”
This is not a good time for the United States. While Americans are not roundly hated abroad (thank goodness), our judgment in electing George W. Bush to the highest office in the land not once, but twice is seriously questioned. And even Republican’ts on Capitol Hill are abandoning the dramatically unpopular prez to save themselves from being tainted by the numerous scandals and the stink of incompetence that surround him. U.S. historians have already rendered their judgment on Bush Jr. as one of the worst presidents in American history (and maybe even worse than James Buchanan), and voters are impatiently looking forward to replacing Bush with someone who’s more savvy and less arrogant, as well as more concerned with the needs of average Americans.
So, rather than wave a flag and stuff my face with burgers today, I’d prefer to quote from a “special comment” delivered last night by Keith Olbermann on his MSNBC-TV program, Countdown. Recalling how Americans--Republicans and Democrats alike--were willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., Olbermann said that
We enveloped our president in 2001. And those who did not believe he should have been elected--indeed those who did not believe he had been elected--willingly lowered their voices and assented to the sacred oath of nonpartisanship.To see the video of Olbermann delivering this editorial, click here. The full text can be found here.
And George W. Bush took our assent, and reconfigured it, and honed it, and shaped it to a razor-sharp point and stabbed this nation in the back with it.
Were there any remaining lingering doubt otherwise, or any remaining lingering hope, it ended yesterday when Mr. Bush commuted the prison sentence of one of his own staffers.
Did so even before the appeals process was complete. Did so without as much as a courtesy consultation with the Department of Justice. Did so despite what James Madison--at the Constitutional Convention--said about impeaching any president who pardoned or sheltered those who had committed crimes “advised by” that president.
Did so without the slightest concern that even the most detached of citizens must look at the chain of events and wonder: To what degree was Mr. Libby told, “Break the law however you wish--the president will keep you out of prison”?
In that moment, Mr. Bush, you broke that fundamental compact between yourself and the majority of this nation’s citizens, the ones who did not cast votes for you.
In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the president of the United States. In that moment, Mr. Bush, you became merely the president of a rabid and irresponsible corner of the Republican Party.
And this is too important a time, Sir, to have a commander in chief who puts party over nation. This has been, of course, the gathering legacy of this administration. Few of its decisions have escaped the stain of politics. The extraordinary Karl Rove has spoken of “a permanent Republican majority,” as if such a thing--or a permanent Democratic majority--is not antithetical to that upon which rests our country, our history, our revolution, our freedoms.
Yet our democracy has survived shrewder men than Karl Rove. And it has survived the frequent stain of politics upon the fabric of government. But this administration, with ever-increasing insistence and almost theocratic zealotry, has turned that stain into a massive oil spill.
The protection of the environment is turned over to those of one political party who will financially benefit from the rape of the environment.
The protections of the Constitution are turned over to those of one political party who believe those protections unnecessary and extravagant and quaint.
The enforcement of the laws is turned over to those of one political party who will swear beforehand that they will not enforce those laws.
The choice between war and peace is turned over to those of one political party who stand to gain vast wealth by ensuring that there is never peace, but only war.
And now, when just one cooked book gets corrected by an honest auditor, when just one trampling of the inherent and inviolable fairness of government is rejected by an impartial judge, when just one wild-eyed partisan is stopped by the figure of blind justice, this president decides that he, and not the law, must prevail. ...
When President Nixon ordered the firing of the Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” on October 20th, 1973, Cox initially responded tersely, and ominously.
“Whether ours shall be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and, ultimately, the American people.”
President Nixon did not understand how he had crystallized the issue of Watergate for the American people. It had been about the obscure meaning behind an attempt to break in to a rival party’s headquarters, and the labyrinthine effort to cover up that break-in and the related crimes.
And in one night, Nixon transformed it. Watergate--instantaneously--became a simpler issue: a president overruling the inexorable march of the law, insisting--in a way that resonated viscerally with millions who had not previously understood--that he was the law.
Not the Constitution. Not the Congress. Not the courts. Just him. Just, Mr. Bush, as you did, yesterday.
The twists and turns of Plamegate, of your precise and intricate lies that sent us into this bottomless pit of Iraq; your lies upon the lies to discredit Joe Wilson; your lies upon the lies upon the lies to throw the sand at the “referee” of prosecutor [Patrick] Fitzgerald’s analogy, these are complex and often painful to follow and too much, perhaps, for the average citizen.
But when other citizens render a verdict against your man, Mr. Bush, and then you spit in the faces of those jurors and that judge and the judges who were yet to hear the appeal, the average citizen understands that, Sir. ...
Even Richard Nixon knew it was time to resign. Would that you could say that, Mr. Bush. And that you could say it for Mr. Cheney. You both crossed the Rubicon yesterday. Which one of you chose the route no longer matters. Which is the ventriloquist, and which the dummy, is irrelevant. But that you have twisted the machinery of government into nothing more than a tawdry machine of politics is the only fact that remains relevant.
It is nearly July Fourth, Mr. Bush, the commemoration of the moment we Americans decided that rather than live under a king who made up the laws, or erased them, or ignored them--or commuted the sentences of those rightly convicted under them--we would force our independence and regain our sacred freedoms.
We of this time--and our leaders in Congress, of both parties--must now live up to those standards which echo through our history. Pressure, negotiate, impeach: get you, Mr. Bush, and Mr. Cheney, two men who are now perilous to our democracy, away from its helm.
And for you, Mr. Bush, and for Mr. Cheney, there is a lesser task. You need merely achieve a very low threshold indeed. Display just that iota of patriotism which Richard Nixon showed on August 9th, 1974.
And give us someone--anyone--about whom all of us might yet be able to quote John Wayne, and say, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president, and I hope he does a good job.
READ MORE: “Bush and Cheney Walk, Too,” by Sidney Blumenthal (Salon); “A President Besieged and Isolated, Yet at Ease,” by Peter Baker (The Washington Post); “Impeachment,” by Digby (Hullabaloo); “The Tragic Collapse of America’s Standing in the World,” by Glenn Greenwald (Salon); “Authoritarianism Being Rejected in Favor of Liberty,” by Gene Lyons (Arkansas Democrat Gazette); “Libby Leniency Shows Bush Has Nothing to Lose,” by Margaret Carlson (Bloomberg.com); “Did Clinton Really Do It Too?” by Alex Koppelman (Salon).