Friday, January 21, 2005

Why, This Is Hell. Nor Are We Out of It 

Today's Article That Practically Everyone Else Has Linked To Already is "Eve of Destruction" by Rick Perlstein, whose Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus is one of the essential books on the rise of the modern "conservative" movement:
You might wonder—were you someone unfamiliar with or in denial about the ways of the Karl Rove Mafia—how George W. Bush could blunder into nominating someone as attorney general so obviously implicated in the most legally questionable and morally indefensible practices of his administration. You might wonder, too, how the administration seemed to be caught unawares by the bottomless pit of scandal in the past of its initial nominee for Homeland Security secretary.

Or you could realize that such nominations were not blunders, but intentional: that they were made not in spite of Alberto Gonzales's and Bernard Kerik's unsuitability for high office but precisely because of them. Keeping embarrassing facts on file about confederates is the best way to grip them into loyalty like a vise.

It would seem an incredible notion to contemplate, until you examine who it was Bush chose to replace Kerik once his nomination fell through: Michael Chertoff, who as assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's criminal division engineered the plan to preventively detain immigrants of Arab descent after 9-11. In 2003, the Justice Department's own inspector general warned that the program raises serious legal liability questions, and Justice Department officials apparently recommended that Chertoff hire a lawyer. Now he's been promoted. Sopranos fans will recognize the maneuver: Taking someone with skeletons in his closet close to your breast is just like Tony's embrace of the apparently upstanding suburban New Jersey sporting goods dealer with the secret gambling addiction, specifically to have someone to pick clean when the necessity arose.

Forcing a guy who knows he's dirty but knows his bosses are dirtier to sweat out a congressional hearing is a perfect way to test his loyalty. It's also a great way to test Congress's mettle—to probe just how atrophied the opposition party's willingness to oppose has become. What's more, once you've got them through the ordeal, you've stockpiled one more scapegoat to toss into the fire in case Congress ever gets hot on the trail of the higher-ups who issued the orders. And it establishes a record for a future defense: Once Congress has confirmed a Gonzales or a Chertoff, how can it then turn around and call the things done by a Gonzales or a Chertoff unlawful?
What Perlstein sees in our immediate future: Social Security privatization, if it passes, used as a weapon to undercut unions, environmental regulators, and watchdog agencies such as the SEC ("they're attacking your retirement fund!"); the privatization of education; pre-emptive war galore, with the rest of the world uniting against us as we knock over one oil-rich domino after another; more terrorist attacks; perhaps even the collapse of the American economy, "if Beijing chooses to call in its loans to us and make the dollar a worthless currency."

Who will be held accountable for the coming disasters? No one. As you know, the "accountability moment" is already behind us, and besides, it's the Attorney General who has the power to appoint special prosecutors. By the time the chickens catalogued above come home to roost, Alberto Gonzales will be securely ensconced at the DoJ, and of course no indictments will go forward without his approval.

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