National Commentary

Nicholas F. Benton: Scooter Takes The Fall

Scooter Libby is only the latest victim of the Bush administration’s “fall guy” approach to every obscenity that it’s been found guilty of. Even Libby’s jurors concede that.

This worst U.S. presidential administration in the nation’s history has been incredulous in its ability to find lower level hacks to blame for one fiasco after another, including the Iraq invasion, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the Katrina aftermath, the disgrace at Walter Reed Hospital and other military and veterans’ facilities, Guantanamo and domestic spying.

In almost every one of these examples of administration incompetence and malfeasance, people have been fingered who had little to do with the actual decision making involved.

It is small consolation that this administration is fooling almost no one by now. It is still in charge, it is still hunkered down, wagons drawn, insisting on carrying out its original agenda without reservation.

The new Democratic majority in Congress is going to have to act very boldly, indeed, if this crime spree is ever going to be knocked off track.

Fully 78% of Americans, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday, believe there are higher-ups in the Bush administration culpable for the crime that Libby was convicted of. The evidence points directly at Vice President Cheney.

These Americans are impatient at the timid behavior of lawmakers who can no longer hide behind the fact they’re not in charge. The window of opportunity for the new Congress to act decisively in a way that wins the hearts and minds of the American public will, indeed, close rapidly if dissension, posturing and failures of nerve lead to timid behavior. Even GQ magazine devoted a major article to the case for impeaching Cheney.

The poll numbers show the American population is up in arms and frustrated by every new report of deepening chaos and death in Iraq, despite energetic efforts by so many pundits and news organizations to divert the public’s attention.

For example, if CNN’s Lou Dobbs devoted one half the attention he does to bogus immigration issues to, instead, the on-going daily misery and chaos that continues in the wake of Katrina and Rita, the new Congress might be compelled to make a real difference down there.

There is no doubt that the origin of the deepest problems facing the nation right now lies with six years of Bush administration treachery. Chronic and institutionalized lying, ignoring the rule of law and chiseling, these three factors taken together pretty well sum it up.

The lying was evident in the reasons given for going into Iraq. No, it is not true what Republican apologists now contend, that “We were all mistaken about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

Those, such as Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina on CNN Sunday, who say such things hope that America’s memory is short enough to overlook the fact that continued United Nations inspection efforts in Iraq failed to turn up any evidence, whatsoever, of such weapons prior to the Bush administration’s “smoke and mirrors” claims.

We now know, of course, who was right and who was wrong. No, we were not “all mistaken” about WMDs. On the other hand, there were the bald-faced liars like Cheney who said, on the record, that the administration “knows exactly where they are, in an area 30 miles south of Baghdad.”

With regard to domestic spying, torture in Abu Ghraib and endless detentions in Guantanamo, the courts eventually found all illegal. Bush knew they were all illegal from the start, but didn’t care, knowing it would take the courts years to rule. It worked. The net result was a slap on the wrist.

But maybe the worst of all is the chiseling. It is this, above all, which is an endemic, festering open sore on the American body politic. This led to doing the Iraq invasion “on the cheap,” to the horrific failure to respond to the level of need caused by Katrina, and now to the despicable conditions at Walter Reed.

These, clearly, define the worst the U.S. has yet endured from a president. It is a lot for a new Congress to fix. But the American public needs to see results. The burden is now on the Democrats to provide that before despair and cynicism settles in.

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