me be frank: it has been a long political nightmare.
For some of us, daily life has remained safe and
comfortable, so the nightmare has merely been
intellectual: we realized early on that this administration
was cynical, dishonest and incompetent, but spent
a long time unable to get others to see the obvious.
For others - above all, of course, those Americans
risking their lives in a war whose real rationale
has never been explained - the nightmare has been
all too concrete.
is the nightmare finally coming to an end? Yes,
I think so. I have no idea whether Patrick Fitzgerald,
the special prosecutor, will bring more indictments
in the Plame affair. In any case, I don't share
fantasies that Dick Cheney will be forced to resign;
even Karl Rove may keep his post. One way or another,
the Bush administration will stagger on for three
more years. But its essential fraudulence stands
exposed, and it's hard to see how that exposure
can be undone.
do I mean by essential fraudulence? Basically,
I mean the way an administration with an almost
unbroken record of policy failure has nonetheless
achieved political dominance through a carefully
cultivated set of myths.
record of policy failure is truly remarkable.
It sometimes seems as if President Bush and Mr.
Cheney are Midases in reverse: everything they
touch - from Iraq reconstruction to hurricane
relief, from prescription drug coverage to the
pursuit of Osama - turns to crud. Even the few
apparent successes turn out to contain failures
at their core: for example, real G.D.P. may be
up, but real wages are down.
point is that this administration's political
triumphs have never been based on its real-world
achievements, which are few and far between. The
administration has, instead, built its power on
myths: the myth of presidential leadership, the
ugly myth that the administration is patriotic
while its critics are not. Take away those myths,
and the administration has nothing left.
Katrina ended the leadership myth, which was already
fading as the war dragged on. There was a time
when a photo of Mr. Bush looking out the window
of Air Force One on 9/11 became an iconic image
of leadership. Now, a similar image of Mr. Bush
looking out at a flooded New Orleans has become
an iconic image of his lack of connection. Pundits
may try to resurrect Mr. Bush's reputation, but
his cult of personality is dead - and the inscription
on the tombstone reads, "Brownie, you're doing
a heck of a job."
the Plame inquiry, however it winds up, has ended
the myth of the administration's monopoly on patriotism,
which was also fading in the face of the war.
can shout all they like that no laws were broken,
that hardball politics is nothing new, or whatever.
The fact remains that officials close to both
Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush leaked the identity of
an undercover operative for political reasons.
Whether or not that act was illegal, it was clearly
the Plame affair has also solidified the public's
growing doubts about the administration's morals.
By a three-to-one margin, according to a Washington
Post poll, the public now believes that the level
of ethics and honesty in the government has declined
rather than risen under Mr. Bush.
the Bush administration has lost the myths that
sustained its mojo, and with them much of its
power to do harm. But the nightmare won't be fully
over until two things happen.
politicians will have to admit that they were
misled. Second, the news media will have to face
up to their role in allowing incompetents to pose
as leaders and political apparatchiks to pose
a sad commentary on the timidity of most Democrats
that even now, with Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin
Powell's former chief of staff, telling us how
policy was "hijacked" by the Cheney-Rumsfeld "cabal,"
it's hard to get leading figures to admit that
they were misled into supporting the Iraq war.
Kudos to John Kerry for finally saying just that
as for the media: these days, there is much harsh,
justified criticism of the failure of major news
organizations, this one included, to exert due
diligence on rationales for the war. But the failures
that made the long nightmare possible began much
earlier, during the weeks after 9/11, when the
media eagerly helped our political leaders build
up a completely false picture of who they were.
the long nightmare won't really be over until
journalists ask themselves: what did we know,
when did we know it, and why didn't we tell the
Posted: October 31,