Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What did she know, when did she know it, and was she able to do anything about it?

Nancy Pelosi is spinning like a top over the Bush torture program. If it is Tuesday there is yet another “explanation” coming from the Speaker of the House. Was she briefed; if she was briefed how deep dark and dirty was the briefing?

At the time of George W. Bush’s decent into madness of “enhanced interrogation.” Nancy Pelosi was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Thus dead eye Dick Cheney was required to toss a few crumbs of information about his and W’s interrogation policy.

Now Dead Eye Dick Cheney at the time was not the chatty, logorrhea suffering, Republican PR disaster he is today. No this was the Dark Lord of NeoCons, the power behind the throne. This was the tight-lipped, super secretive master of the dark art of bureaucratic power. Cheney kept the information flow to an absolute minimum. Nancy Pelosi would have to been a very persistent person to get much information out of Dick Cheney.

The next consideration for Pelosi had to me how much she really wanted to know in the first place. With knowledge comes responsibility and the default for most beltway denizens is to avoid responsibility like a Hasidic Jew avoids pork products. They want to be in a position where they can take credit for success but not the blame for failure. While it can not be proven that Pelosi cynically positioned herself in such a way it does make generic sense that a politician in her position would do so.

Pelosi knows how the game of power is played in DC. She knows that to get along you have to go along. It was no secret that she was aiming for the very top slot in Congressional hierarchy. To pick a fight with a consummate infighter like Dick Cheney would have ended her run for a leadership position. Pelosi was definitely aware of Bush’s sky-high approval ratings. She was also aware of how the 99.9% of the media were singing W’s praises. Pelosi was also aware that the mood of the country was vengeful. Appeals to the better angels of our nature would not get much support. Most Americans at the time would have tortured Abu Zubeta on general principle never mind getting any useful information on him.

Politically there was no up side to pushing back on Cheney. Even if Pelosi was able to convene a secret oversight committee, no small feat by an opposition party that was supine to Bush’s every whim and with a Republican majority in lock-step against such a move, what then? Remember this is Dead Eye Dick we are talking about.

The Vice President would have gone after Pelosi with every dirty trick in the book and she had to know that. Remember Dick Cheney vaporized the career of an important CIA asset because her husband had the gall to write a Op-Ed in the New York Times. Because of that one article both Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie Plame Wilson were dragged through the mud and their service to the nation tossed on the ash heap. Both became the targets of rumor, innuendo, and sundry brickbats tossed at them. The Wilson affair is best seen as a warning shot across the bow to anyone who would dare cross Dick Cheney.

This is because Dick Cheney had a very special role in Bush’s Administration. Besides doing most of the heavy lifting for W. Cheney also was Luca Brasi to W’s Don Corleone. Cheney was the enforcer and his very public kneecapping of the Wilsons must have given pause to any member of the legislature who may have had ideas of mounting a challenge to the Bush Administration. Even when the Democrats finally got a majority in congress they were still fearful of the damage Cheney could do. Cheney had long ago signaled that he would stop at nothing to inflict political revenge.

Of course the irony is that the dance that Pelosi did with the devil is now being slowly revealed. The calculations that were made at the zenith of Bushite power are now being exposed to the light of day. Under that harsh light Congresscritters are now skittering about for shelter from that blinding beam. Some like Harry Reid, the amazing spineless man, the acme of milk toast mediocrity, are trying to hide under the supposed efficacy of torture. Others try to distance themselves by pleading cluelessness. Almost none are willing to do their constitutionally mandated responsibility and investigate the Bush torture regime.

This is because an investigation will reveal their supine response to George W. Bush’s demands. It will also reveal the aversion that Congress has to any kind of responsibility or accountability. Congress since the glory days of Watergate has been a willing contributor to its evisceration. If it acted at all it was out of shear partisan spite, as it did in the presidency of Bill Clinton. In the years of the Regan Revolution the only effective opposition was put up by Republicans of a Democratic president. Even then responsibility was never the watchword of Congressional oversight. Instead the Republicans indulged in eight years of pointless political theater aimed at the gutting of a Democratic president and his policies.

But for shear abandonment of responsibilities one really does have to look at the George W. Bush years for the ultimate example. It was especially egregious right after 9/11. Congress gave W all he wanted and a wee bit more by passing the Patriot Act and the FISA “reform”. Even then Cheney was not satisfied and massively violated the few limitations of the Patriot Act. What did Congress do? Even after the 2006 election where the Republican Party in general and George W. Bush in particular were repudiated the Congress gave Cheney and Bush a get out of jail free card with yet another “reform” of FISA. Congress was unable to say no to a massive violation of the fourth amendment perpetrated by the Executive branch of the government.

Like the people they represent most representatives are willing to do almost anything just to see Cheney and Bush just go away. Nancy Pelosi is just a little more willing than most people because she rather not go over that patch of ground again. She knows there is no way she comes up looking good if a through investigation of her actions were made. She dodged her responsibilities; she acquiesced to the executive far too easily. She was unwilling to sacrifice her own personal ambitions for the good of the nation. She is in a bind now because to tell the unvarnished truth, that she did not stand up to Bush because she saw (it is possible correctly) that there was nothing to be gained from a principled stand. A principled stand instead would have probably gotten her kicked off the intelligence committee and the subsequent demonizing of Pelosi by Republicans would have ended her chances for any leadership position for all time. The final kick in the head would be that Bush and Cheney would have continued with their lawless behavior despite Pelosi’s stand.

This is not to excuse Pelosi’s behavior. Pelosi was not a profile in courage then and she is not one now. She failed to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. Still she is very typical of deep corruption that afflicts our government these days. It not just about the money even though that is a large contributor to our governmental malfunction; no it is more than just that. It is an obsession with gaining and staying in office. It is the willingness to do anything to get re-elected. It is an unwillingness to do anything that might damage their chances of re-election. It is an absolute aversion to any kind of accountability. If one is accountable for ones actions that means you can be sacked. It means you can loose the perks and prerogatives of office. Thus almost every representative looks for the easy way out. They try to leave as few fingerprints behind as possible. They always build an escape hatch or have some explanation how they did not really support some failed policy or how they supported some wining strategy. They do not hold each other responsible for correct behavior and thus Congressional Ethics has become an oxymoron. Because they can not even hold their fellow legislators liable they certainly can not hold the executive accountable, oversight becomes a joke.

Still the solution to this situation is not so difficult. Pelosi must stand for re-election every two years. If the voters of San Francisco feel that Pelosi failure to uphold the prerogatives of her office was a sufficient breech of her trust they can always throw her out of office. They had a chance in 2008 by voting for Cindy Sheehan in the Democratic Primary. The voters had to know how Pelosi had taken impeachment off the table and how that short-circuited the only means the Congress really had to hold Bush to account. Still the voters re-elected her by comfortable margins. Thus they rewarded Pelosi’s inaction and maybe unwittingly put their stamp of approval on Bush’s lawless rule.
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