'Go bleep yourself," Vice President Dick Cheney told Sen. Patrick Leahy last week, after what was supposed to be a friendly gathering on the Senate floor.
The men had exchanged words because Cheney was still bristling over the Vermont Democrat's charge that the vice president's old firm, Halliburton, was profiteering from the war in Iraq, while Leahy was miffed at Cheney's accusation that his refusal to confirm a judicial nominee was "anti-Catholic."
Watergate and Abscam taught us that our public officials are often ungentlemanly in private, but Cheney's public profanity shocked some people. It showed just how ugly things are between Bush administration officials and anyone who dares to criticize them. It's as if there's a new level of arrogance that says: "We can do what we damned well please, and if you don't like it, well, bleep you!"
Cheney is the administration's pit bull, and his Halliburton connection is a major sore point for the Bushies. Despite the General Accounting Office's repeated requests for information about who attended a 2001 meeting Cheney headed on energy policy, he has steadfastly refused to turn it over. Americans have the right to know if their country's energy policy is being set by the big oil companies. But Cheney claimed executive privilege.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court seemed to side with the administration on this point, which could only embolden them more. But there've been many other examples of the Bushies going their own way, and saying their critics be damned. Such as the way they keep insisting that certain things are true, despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary. So what if a commission of distinguished citizens conducted a thorough investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks and found absolutely no link whatever between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. President George W. Bush and Cheney just keep saying there was one.
Attorney General John Ashcroft is another administration stonewaller. For weeks a Senate committee has been trying to get him to hand over documents that might shed light on whether the administration gave the green light to the torture of war prisoners. But Ashcroft has refused. Yet the documents surfaced anyway, and they're making the Bush administration look bad.
I can't remember a recent White House that was so hostile to Congress, or to any form of criticism or dissent. Ashcroft has refused to answer questions about the application of the Patriot Act, which has allowed hundreds of wartime detainees to be held incommunicado for months or years, without access to lawyers and without formal charges, contrary to the most basic principles of our Constitution. The president only had to declare that the Constitution doesn't apply to them.
Which is like saying "bleep the Constitution and the Congress that has oversight of these things."
Disdain for anyone who questions the way they do business suffuses this administration, even going so far as its supporters on the Supreme Court. To the amazement of many, Justice Antonin Scalia rebuffed all demands that he recuse himself from the energy task force case because of his social ties to the vice president.
"It's acceptable practice to socialize with executive branch officials when there are not personal claims against them," Scalia said.
The usual checks and balances that are supposed to exist between the branches of government have been distorted under this administration. The tragedy is that when there's no room for dissent when officials are deciding on important issues, all of us wind up bearing the consequences. This administration thumbs its nose at Congress, and when private citizens beg to differ, it blows them off. The Bushies are like schoolyard bullies, and, like most bullies, when you stand up to them, they run off in a snit, as Cheney did the other day.
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