Tuesday, March 30, 2004

It Isn’t The Fall

Paul Krugman writes today:

This administration’s reliance on smear tactics is unprecedented in modern U.S. politics — even compared with Nixon’s. Even more disturbing is its readiness to abuse power — to use its control of the government to intimidate potential critics.

To be fair, Senator Bill Frist’s suggestion that Mr. Clarke might be charged with perjury may have been his own idea. But his move reminded everyone of the White House’s reaction to revelations by the former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill: an immediate investigation into whether he had revealed classified information. The alacrity with which this investigation was opened was, of course, in sharp contrast with the administration’s evident lack of interest in finding out who leaked the identity of the C.I.A. operative Valerie Plame to Bob Novak.

And there are many other cases of apparent abuse of power by the administration and its Congressional allies. A few examples: according to The Hill, Republican lawmakers threatened to cut off funds for the General Accounting Office unless it dropped its lawsuit against Dick Cheney. The Washington Post says Representative Michael Oxley told lobbyists that “a Congressional probe might ease if it replaced its Democratic lobbyist with a Republican.” Tom DeLay used the Homeland Security Department to track down Democrats trying to prevent redistricting in Texas. And Medicare is spending millions of dollars on misleading ads for the new drug benefit — ads that look like news reports and also serve as commercials for the Bush campaign.

On the terrorism front, here’s one story that deserves special mention. One of the few successful post-9/11 terror prosecutions — a case in Detroit — seems to be unraveling. The government withheld information from the defense, and witnesses unfavorable to the prosecution were deported (by accident, the government says). After the former lead prosecutor complained about the Justice Department’s handling of the case, he suddenly found himself facing an internal investigation — and someone leaked the fact that he was under investigation to the press.

Where will it end? In his new book, “Worse Than Watergate,” John Dean, of Watergate fame, says, “I’ve been watching all the elements fall into place for two possible political catastrophes, one that will take the air out of the Bush-Cheney balloon and the other, far more disquieting, that will take the air out of democracy.” [New York Times]

John Dean is uniquely qualified to know how a vindictive and politically driven administration can mount an attack against an individual. His books on his experiences in Watergate, Blind Ambition and Lost Honor, are impressive in their depth of how far the Nixon administration and its Republican allies went thirty years ago to discredit him and therefore undercut his testimony against President Nixon and his cronies. Those of us who remember those years are having a creepy sense of deja vu, and a reminder of a lesson you learn in Physics 101: it isn’t the fall that kills you – it’s the landing.