The Eve of Destruction

George Bush is getting four more years to remake the world in his image. (Too bad for us, he already started.)

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?

Then there's the implicit dare, which frames the issue in the administration's favor whether they "win" or "lose" the proximate fight: Go ahead, Democrats, make our day. Vote against them. Then we can show you up as the obstructionists to America's national security you are.

The administration may even have made plans for when the bottom drops out—for when the inevitable indictable offenses see the light of day. That's where Alberto Gonzales, White House über-loyalist, comes in. Formally, any investigation of a federal criminal offense is conducted by the Justice Department, and no indictment can go forward without Gonzales's say-so. Under the old set of rules, we might have been able to count on political pressure to force the appointment of a special prosecutor, as occurred in the investigation of the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name to the media. But that's exactly the set of rules this gang has set its sights on upending.

Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea, welcome to the Next Four Years: to George Walker Bush's revolutionary second term, where nothing is done by accident, and no sin can be too brazen.


"For the first time in six decades, the Social Security battle is one we can win . . . "

That phrase is a gun, and it's smoking. Written by Karl Rove deputy Peter Wehner in a leaked memo, it establishes as intention what administration officials have heretofore been most eager to cover up. What the Republican Party failed to do 60 years ago is to stop any federal program of guaranteed old-age insurance from existing. Social Security established a principle unacceptable to many Republicans: that government economic programs help people, and can become wildly popular. Now, however, Wehner writes, "We have it within our grasp to move away from dependency on government. . . . We can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of our country."

The smoking gun isn't pointed just at your grandmother.

When Americans have at a minimum almost a third of their retirement contribution in corporate investments—we now send 6.2 percent of our income to Social Security, and Bush's plan would have us putting four of those 6.2 points into the stock market—we will all be part of, in the apparently benign coinage of Republican propagandist Grover Norquist, the "investor class."

Blogger Nick Stoller describes the consequences thus:

"When someone like Eliot Spitzer uncovers a major corporate scandal, a Republican will be able to say, 'He's attacking your retirement fund.'

"When the employees of a company try to unionize, a Republican will be able to say, 'They are attacking your retirement fund.' " (He will also be able to say they are attacking their own retirement fund.)

"When a community refuses to let a Wal-Mart build in their neighborhood, a Republican will be able to say, 'They're attacking your retirement fund.' "


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