The Great Pretender

Deception has been central to George W. Bush's strategy from the time he proclaimed himself a "compassionate conservative" until after his crew seized power in 2000. It's about time the nation called him to task for the lies.

Deception and denial has been so deep at the Bush White House that Larry Lindsey lost his job as economic adviser in December 2002 for telling the truth, that war with Iraq could cost $200 billion. Lindsey's candor conflicted with the story line at the time that taxes could be cut painlessly. Now we're looking at a $500 billion deficit next year and Bush proposes to spent another $87 billion on Iraq and Afghanistan on top of $79 billion already spent on Iraq. Still no word of backtracking on those tax cuts for the rich.

Bush lied repeatedly in the runup to the war as well as on economic issues. (See Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them for chapter and verse.) Colin Powell at best stretched the truth with the United Nations Security Council. Donald Rumsfeld has almost made a sport of dodging the truth in his press conferences. Vice President Dick Cheney was most recently caught out on a series of lies in a Sept. 14 Meet the Press appearance.

No less an authority than John Dean, former legal counsel to Richard Nixon, wrote in that Bush could be impeached for sending the nation to war under false pretenses. "To put it bluntly, if Bush has taken Congress and the nation into war based on bogus information, he is cooked. Manipulation or deliberate misuse of national security intelligence data, if proven, could be 'a high crime" under the Constitution's impeachment clause. It would also be a violation of federal criminal law, including the broad federal anti-conspiracy statute ... which renders it a felony 'to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose.'" (See writ.news.findlaw.com/dean for the June 6, 2003 column.)

If Bill Clinton committed an impeachable offense in 1998, then Dubya should be in the Senate dock today, defending the lies he and his underlings told. But it isn't going to happen -- not with this Congress. The congressional leaders who drove the Clinton impeachment discarded any pretense of integrity. Their lack of probity about events surrounding 9/11 and now their credulity about the reasons for the war in Iraq lead to the conclusion that the last nine years of Republican control of the House have been driven entirely for partisan advantage and 9/11 was a gift to help them bludgeon dissent.

Whether the GOP resorts to recount, recall or redistricting to keep their advantage, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has showed he will take and keep power by whatever means are at hand, including the alarming attempt to involve Homeland Security forces in the Texas re-redistricting debacle.

Republican voters need to develop a conscience in their party that answers to a higher authority than Wall Street. (A devotion to graven images of the 10 Commandments in courthouses doesn't count toward moral authority.) The late Sen. Pat Moynihan used to call the reactionary social agenda of the Republican Party "Bubba bait." Well, Bubba -- as well as bishops, priests and preachers -- needs to stop biting that bait. If they can't stand Democrats at least they should demand that the GOP show some concern about the middle class that is watching good manufacturing jobs go overseas while the working poor can't make ends meet at the minimum wage.

In the meantime, urge good Democrats to run for Congress next year to do battle with the Great Old Pretenders.

Welcome To The Show, General

So retired Gen. Wesley Clark is in the presidential race. Already he has had to backtrack on a Sept. 18 statement that if he had been in Congress he "probably" would have voted for the congressional resolution last fall authorizing George W. Bush to wage war on Saddam Hussein. On Sept. 19 he clarified that he "would never have voted for this war."

Earlier this year Howard Dean showed that the presumptive favorites in the Democratic presidential race -- John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards -- were vulnerable. The Vermont governor seized on the late Sen. Paul Wellstone's line that he "represents the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," although in truth he represents the centrist but antiwar wing of the Democratic Party. In truth, congressmen Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich best represent the traditional progressive Democratic constituencies, with their main differences over the blank check Congress gave Bush for the war in Iraq.

But the Democratic wing belongs to whomever can get the nomination, and with an Internet-savvy campaign Dean has built up an impressive network of grassroots support and millions of dollars in contributions. Heading into Labor Day, the traditional start for the next year's election, Dean was leading in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire. He appeared to be set up as the man to beat on the Democratic side. Clark may be just the man to beat him.

Many Democrats see Clark. a war hero and former NATO commander, as the candidate best able to take on the Great Pretender in the general election. Polls seem to back up that view. Newsweek's poll shows that Clark already is practically even with Bush in a head-to-head matchup. But voters know little about Clark's views because he has said little. He wants to keep tax breaks for the middle class while repealing the breaks for high-income Americans, but on other subjects, such as health care and education, his positions have not been revealed, so Clark needs to be probed by voters as well as his Democratic rivals. According to Newsweek's Howard Fineman, Clark wanted to join the Bush team after 9/11 and his experience in building military coalitions and the investment firm he worked for with strong Bush ties suggested it was a good possibility, but he was told Karl Rove, the president's political mastermind, had blocked the idea. Last January, at a conference in Switzerland, Clark reportedly told two prominent Republicans, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Marc Holtzman, "I would have been a Republican if Karl Rove had returned my phone calls." Soon thereafter, in fact, Clark quit his day job and began seriously planning to enter the presidential race as a Democrat.

Kucinich the Green Choice

Greens have a candidate they can support in the Democratic primary: Dennis Kucinich. The Cleveland congressman even calls himself a Green Democrat. His campaign focuses on many of the themes that rouse Greens, such as opposition to the war in Iraq, support for labor and a commitment to fair trade rules that protect labor and the environment. He supports sustainable agriculture and rural communities. He's even a vegetarian. Yet he barely registers on the national consciousness.

Greens could change that. Ralph Nader in July urged Democrats to vote for Kucinich, telling D.C. reporters "there would be less reason" for him to make another run for president if Kucinich captured the Democratic nomination. David Cobb, a Green organizer who is preparing his own Green presidential run next year, said at the Campus Greens conference in August he would abandon his plans if the Democrats nominate Kucinich or Sharpton. (He is not counting on that to happen.)

If Greens hope to have a constructive impact on the presidential race, they should get involved in the Democratic nominating process and support Kucinich now. If they can't move the race for the Democratic nomination to the left, they can hardly hope to have a better impact in the general election by putting up a marginal candidate. -- JMC

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