The damage control cycle has started, and the frantic spinning shows how low the Republicans have sunk. You have to give a big E for effort to William Safire, who said on Meet the Press on Sunday that "there's always a narrative in Washington," and since the current "narrative" is the travails of the Bush Administration, the "new" narrative will shortly be Bush's comeback. How heartening to think that any time a White House is in trouble it follows, like the night follows the day, that the President will arise triumphant in the next news cycle. Not to be a nattering nabob of negativism, but surely Safire, as a former Nixon White House staffer, can remember a few exceptions to this cheery rule.
Last week, the Republicans were floating the notion that perjury and obstruction of justice are not serious crimes(quick, everyone, erase your memories of these same rightwingers' high dudgeon during the Clinton impeachment). Then came Friday's press conference by the straight-shooting special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, which obliterated that strategy. Fitzgerald demonstrated in his indictment of Scooter Libby both an unavoidably distasteful pattern of lying in this Administration, and the gravity of the underlying issue. Fitzgerald hasn't nailed down Libby for intentionally unmasking a covert CIA agent, he explained (the law is written in such a way as to make that a difficult feat). But in the details of Libby's conversations with reporters divulging that agent's identity, the seriousness and seaminess of what Libby did is clear.
The new Republican talking point is that Libby alone is responsible for his own bad behavior. Yet the indictment points out that he first learned Valerie Plame's identity from Dick Cheney. And the gossip Libby helped generate, attempting to discredit Joe Wilson by unmasking his wife, had a malicious aim that benefited the whole Administration--not Libby as an individual.
Dick Cheney is clearly aware of the implications. Why else were we treated to the surreal spectacle of CNN's split-screen coverage of the Fitzgerald press conference on one side, and the Vice President's forced grin against a backdrop of U.S. troops on the other. Just as Fitzgerald finished speaking and began to take questions from reporters, the Vice President appeared, marching out in front of the troops, who on CNN served as silent photo-op fodder for Cheney to appear to be doing his job as a patriotic leader--not hiding in his undisclosed location, plotting to stab another public servant in the back.
The credibility of the entire Administration is in a shambles. White House spokesman Scott McClellan has become a figure of derision for his obvious misrepresentation of the facts in the Plame/ Wilson case, as well as the Iraq war.
The President is, as the usually cautious David Broder put it on Sunday, "in full retreat."
Not only the indictment but the disastrous aftermath of the hurricanes and the resignation of Harriet Miers as Bush's Supreme Court nominee, following a serious rift within the President's party over her nomination, have the Bush Administration on the ropes.
While the rightwingers who broke ranks celebrate the withdrawal of Harriet Miers, as a demonstration of their own power within the Republican Party, more moderate voices insist that Miers, as a Bush crony, was simply not qualified for the Supreme Court job. Both factors came into play. But a third part of the story is the simple fact that everyone in Washington smells blood: from the awakening press corps who are asking more pointed questions of McClellan, to the far right leaders who refused to fall in line for Miers, to the Beltway pundits who are no longer reliably loyal to the President. A 38 percent approval rating and a spate of bad news are cracking the facade of power, and that's a hard trend to reverse--William Safire to the contrary notwithstanding.
Above all, the 2000th U.S. troop killed in Iraq and an investigation that continues to shine a bright light on the rank dishonesty that got us into this ill-conceived war in the first place are turning more Americans more resolutely against this President.
If only there were an equally resolute--and organized--opposition party to lead them.
Ruth Conniff covers national politics for The Progressive and is a voice of The Progressive on many TV and radio programs.
© 2005 The Progressive