Wednesday, December 5, 2007

With Bush's Continued Outrageousness, Why Is the Result of the Presidential Election in Doubt?

Diane Sawyer (Jan Hooks): You still have a minute-twenty, Mr. Vice-President.

George Bush (Dana Carvey): Well, more has to be done, sure. But the programs we have in place are doing the job, so let's keep on track and stay the course.

Diane Sawyer: You have fifty seconds left, Mr. Vice-President.

George Bush: Let me sum up. On track, stay the course. Thousand points of light.

Diane Sawyer: Governor Dukakis. Rebuttal?

Michael Dukakis (Jon Lovitz): I can't believe I'm losing to this guy!

- An excerpt from a 1988 "Saturday Night Live" sketch of a Bush-Dukakis debate before that year's presidential election.

I read a Yahoo/AP article today on the administration's reaction to the release of a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded that Iran has not pursued a nuclear weapon since 2003, and I immediately thought of the "Saturday Night Live" moment outlined above. It seems to me that we're again living in a time where the actions of the government and the electorate seem out of step with common sense.

Last week I wrote a piece on why I thought Hillary Clinton wasn't electable. I have since had discussions with several people about which Democratic presidential hopeful has the best chance of winning, and which Republican candidate would be the most dangerous opponent. The result, for me, has been a kind of pessimism and exhaustion on the topic, not to mention a building feeling of anger.

I can't help thinking to myself, "After all that the Bush administration has done in the last seven years to tear this country apart, why is the election so close? Why isn't there more outrage?" When Jon Lovitz, as Michael Dukakis, looked into the camera in the SNL sketch and pleadingly expressed, with complete disbelief, what so many of me and my friends were thinking, it summed up the moment perfectly. And it sums up how I'm feeling now.

The history major in me realizes that, in 1988, a short, ethnic, soft-spoken, stoic, intellectual governor of Massachusetts had no shot against a tall, gregarious Texan who was a sitting vice president in a popular administration, regardless of the fact that the Texan was really from Connecticut and obviously lacked the substance of his opponent. But it didn't make Bush Sr.'s victory go down any easier. And I'd like to hope that we'll be smarter in 2008 than we were in 1988, but more and more, I'm thinking that we haven't learned a thing.

Of course, the 1988 sense of outrage was nothing compared to what I felt at the elections of George W. Bush, who not only came off as less intelligent than his father, but is a far more dangerous ideologue, putting his partisan, right-wing, often religion-derived beliefs ahead of minor details like facts, competency and the law.

So, after the disaster that Iraq turned into, complete with cherry-picked intelligence, a total lack of planning and a lack of respect for the soldiers being asked to make tremendous sacrifices in the name of Bush's discredited beliefs (including enduring appalling conditions at Walter Reed Hospital), along with incidents of failure and disgrace, from Hurricane Katrina to the outing of an undercover CIA agent as part of partisan gamesmanship, and, most of all, a strategy of striking fear and uncertainty in Americans as a way of rolling back basic rights and freedoms and consolidating executive power, I am left with the same feeling I had on that Saturday night in 1988, feeling like, "I can't believe I'm losing to this party." Only this time, the emotion is exponentially worse, like it's trained with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa for a few months and partook in some of that magic flaxseed oil.

While I might have complained in the Hillary Clinton piece about how bad the Democrats are at picking presidential candidates, as I watch the continued disgraceful behavior of the White House, I get even more upset that the electorate isn't massively rallying around changing the party in charge of the executive branch. Or, from another point of view, why, finally, after seven years of incompetence and utter mismanagement, the country is not looking for substance over flash and competence and intelligence over pretty faces and fear mongers (and, sometimes, candidates who are both, yes I'm talking to you, Mitt).

The Yahoo/AP article on Iran really set me off. It contains this paragraph:

"The administration is worried that the new National Intelligence Estimate — representing a consensus of all U.S. spy agencies — weakens its leverage over Iran and its ability to build global pressure on Tehran to stop its uranium enrichment program."

Read the sentence carefully. It says, in a very matter-of-fact, dispassionate way, that the administration is upset that the facts have interfered with Bush's agenda on Iran. Remember, it's not the New York Times or Washington Post that has printed an article on Iranian behavior, but rather, the report is the product of the U.S. intelligence agencies of the federal government. The attitude from the administration seems to be, "We know Iran is bad, we know we have to go after them, so why would you possibly release any information that gets in the way of that?"

This lack of respect for the facts has been a hallmark of this administration. And instead of being outraged by Bush's continuous lack of respect for freedom and democracy, it seems as if people have just gotten used to it, like it's something that has to be accepted and tolerated. It doesn't.

You don't have to be a political science major to know that Iran is not a friend of America and has to be monitored closely. Reasonable people can differ as to how much of a threat Iran poses and what actions should be taken to keep Iran in check. But shouldn't that discussion be based on all of the facts available? And shouldn't the discussion be led by the facts, not have facts cherry-picked to make the case for an already-determined conclusion?

More to the point, didn't we learn anything from Iraq? As much as the administration would love you to believe that the military successes of the recent surge have made the previous four-and-a-half years of failure go away, the bottom line is that the drop in violence has not led to significant political reconciliation. The goal wasn't making things calmer for a few months, but to make things calmer so that the Iraqi political process could move forward. That hasn't happened. In the bigger picture, the death, destruction, financial cost, moral cost, security cost, loss of respect in the world, and damage to the U.S. military and its ability to engage in other parts of the world (including Afghanistan, where earlier victories are being reversed by a resurgent Taliban) can lead to only one logical conclusion: The decision to invade Iraq was hasty, misguided, and damaging, and if America could get a do-over, it would undoubtedly be the right decision to go back to 2003 and try a different policy.

But despite this, it seems like the administration is at it again, running the same game plan, but this time substituting "Iran" for "Iraq." Only this time, not only is the U.S. weakened by its Iraqi misadventure, but it is up against a more powerful opponent. What was the purpose of a Senate resolution designating the Iranian Republican Guard as a terrorist organization, even though the U.S. list of terrorist entities doesn't contain any other governmental entities? The only conclusion to be drawn is that it is a justification for future action. Do Americans want to go to war with Iran? I highly doubt it. So why isn't there more of an outcry?

The Yahoo/AP article contains the following quote from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

"I am not going to comment on that comment except to say that what the National Intelligence Estimate shows, and the transparency with which the administration released it, is what it means to live in a democracy and I hope one day that the people of Iran will live in a democracy too."

I almost choked on my breakfast reading that one. Didn't the article say, a few paragraphs earlier, that the White House was angry about the release of the report? In a few hundred words, the administration went from censors to proponents of free speech quickly enough to induce whiplash. More importantly, the Bush administration has a long and thorough record of stamping out speech. This DNC summary from June 2005, complete with citations to major newspapers for its facts, does a good job of hitting some of the high points, including the administration redacting parts of an EPA report that supported the existence of global warming, moving to censor scientific reports that conflicted with its policies, and requiring a second report on drilling in the Arctic when the first report went against certain White House claims. And, of course, that summary does not even go into the administration's handling of Iraq intelligence (and the lack of weapons of mass destruction), the stonewalling of requests for the identities of the people advising the vice president on energy policy, and the complete shut-down of cooperation on the probes into the firing of the U.S. Attorneys and the leak of Valerie Plame's identity to the media, just to name a few glaring instances.

When Rice can stand up and brag about the transparency of the Bush presidency and the full weight of the press and the American citizenry doesn't come crashing down on her duplicity, all I can do is summon the Lovitz SNL line and wonder what has to happen before people pay attention.

We are at a dangerous time in our history. From Islamic extremism to global warming, and from the rising power of China to the lurking problems with the U.S. economy, and with a U.S. culture that values bargains over sacrifice and ignorant bliss over an effort to become informed, the nation faces an uncertain time. We have some big choices to make, and if we choose wrong, the results can be calamitous.

I hope it doesn't take one of these calamities to finally get people's attention. The last thing we need is current SNL cast member Darrell Hammond, doing his drone-heavy Al Gore characterization, looking into the camera and saying, "I can't believe they didn't listen to me." If it gets that far, it could be too late.