A Cancerous Tumor in the Body Politic: Time for Surgery
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
When White House Counsel John Dean in 1973 told Richard Nixon that there was a
"cancer growing on the presidency," it wasn't totally clear if he was
referring to the Watergate coverup inside the White House, or to the felonies
committed by Nixon's closest aides, or, without coming right out and saying so,
to the President himself.
But, clearly, something toxic was eating away at the President's
legitimacy, Dean was suggesting, thus putting Nixon in potential legal jeopardy.
Something had to be done to protect the presidency, if not the President, from
the mortal danger symbolized by that cancer metaphor.
Nothing remedial was done; the coverup grew worse -- one lie and deception
and crime piled on another -- and the cancer killed Nixon's presidency. With the
Congress about to impeach him, he resigned in disgrace.
That medical metaphor is much on my mind these days, and not just when
thinking about the Bush presidency. Someone close to our family recently was
diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Something potentially deadly
was growing inside her body.
WHEN TUMORS MUST BE REMOVED
The tumor had to be removed, and it was excised a few days ago. She
appears to be recuperating well, but now steps will have to be taken (chemo,
radiation, change in diet, etc.) to ensure that the cancer does not spread and
that it will never return.
Going from the microcosmos to the macro, today there is a cancer growing
in the body of the American polity. Its aggressive nature has forced its way
into the social and political fabric of our lives, and is destroying both from
This destructive malignancy was not removed at the first opportunity and
has now spread and infected the entire culture and political apparatus. It is
running rampant and is strangling the foundation upon which our nation rests,
the Constitution. It has leaped national boundaries and is attacking other
nations beyond our shores.
These foreign invasions and occupations are connected vitally to the
domestic outbreak at home. It's a closed loop, with one infection feeding the
other, and vice versa. (Oddly enough, attacks from foreign terrorists seem to
aid the power-cancer internally.)
But unlike in the time of Watergate, these days there are no journalistic
radiologists, such as Woodward and Bernstein, to identify the malignancy, no
skillful oncologists, such as Constitution scholar Sen. Sam Ervin, to diagnose
it, and no Congressional surgeons, such as Ervin and Howard Baker and Peter
Rodino, to remove it through impeachment and conviction.
The American corpus, which just a few years ago, was relatively strong, is
riven with social, political, economic and moral disease. The cancer, barely
noticed by most Americans, was growing slowly all this time, away from direct
public scrutiny, building its support network, infiltrating into various organs
of power (the media, think tanks, propaganda ministries, electoral systems,
education), and then, after decades, when the moment was ripe, the cancer
erupted in the highest halls of power, in the White House.
The remedy of tumor removal/amputation -- via the surgery of impeachment
-- could begin the process of healing. But this cancer is notoriously aggressive
in maintaining itself in the face of assaults -- in this, it's reminiscent of an
organized criminal enterprise -- mainly by growing and spreading into new areas
where it attempts to control the situation.
At moments, when it appears to be cornered, it exudes a toxic slime over
its most notable critics and opponents. Examples: Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke,
John McCain, John Kerry, Cindy Sheehan, et al. A new candidate for those
crosshairs is Patrick Fitzgerald, the Special Prosecutor who potentially could
indict much of the inner circle of the Bush Administration in the Plamegate/Iraq
There is also the possibility that the body politic, so turned off by the
outrageous aggressiveness of the bullying cancer -- and the high costs of
supporting its foreign wars abroad with blood and treasure -- will create enough
antibodies to drive out the malignancy in a periodic election in, say, 2006
and/or 2008. (This assumes that the agents of the cancer no longer will be
controlling the voting machines and computerized vote-counting processes.)
CANCER CELLS GROW WILD WITH POWER
If we've learned anything about cancer, it is that it must be confronted and
dealt with. You can't deny its existence, or wish it away, or play nice with it
and hope it will ease up on you. Cancers are cells gone wild with their power.
When such a malignancy shows up in a human body, you cut it out, and then drive
a symbolic stake through its heart through chemo and radiation.
When a malignant tumor shows up in the polity, you follow the same
protocol. When the costs of denial become too great, when so much damage and
death and destruction is done in your name, then the cancer finally has to be
faced and dealt with. Society must mobilize itself for radical surgery, and then
through symbolic chemo/radiation -- reforms, re-asserting the primacy of the
rule of law and Constitutional protections, re-establishing the
checks-and-balances established by our Founding Fathers -- try to ensure that
one-party rule, authoritarian leadership, police-state measures,
"pre-emptive" wars, torture as state policy, incipient native fascism,
etc., do not have an easy chance to re-assert themselves again.
But in order to reach this Restoration-of-Constitutional
-Rule era, there first must be a general consensus on the nature of the disease,
indeed on the fact that there is a malignancy on the loose, and thus a
willingness to combat it. In the past two Presidential elections, it would
appear that more than half the population voted for someone other than the
cancer-party candidate, but the "official" election results (counted
by corporations in lockstep with those in power) said otherwise.
IMPEACHMENT IN THE CARDS?
According to the latest polls, the American population has lost any faith
that the Bush Administration knows what it's doing in Iraq, and increasingly
they believe that the war -- which, as the top-secret, leaked Downing Street
Memos verify, was based on gross lies and deceptions -- wasn't worth it.
The public is a bit more willing to grant Bush a break in terms of
fighting terrorism, though it believes his imperial adventures abroad are making
it more, not less, likely that terrorists will attack the U.S. again. But with
the corporate-owned mass media more or less serving as a propaganda arm for the
Administration, and with Rove and his cohorts constantly playing the fright
card, the American public, but by a smaller percentage all the time, tends to
acquiesce to Bush&Co.'s anti-terror line.
If Bush's war in Iraq continues its disastrous slide into catastrophe, or
if a huge number of Bush indictments come down from the Plamegate grand jury
(especially if Rove, Cheney and Bush are either indicted outright or listed as
unindicted co-conspirators), critical mass may be achieved to demand impeachment
hearings in the Congress, especially if the Republicans were to lose their
majority in the House.
As a way of aiding that critical mass grow, it seems appropriate to close
this piece with the insights of the fellow that opened it: John W. Dean. If
there's anyone who appreciates what can happen to our democratic republic when
an arrogant president thinks he's above the law, it is Dean. He wrote a book
that examines the Bush presidency in that light, "Worse Than Watergate: The
Secret Presidency of George W. Bush" (Little, Brown).
Dean was known as a relatively circumspect, mild-mannered traditional
Republican, but what he has seen firsthand and learned from others about the
Bush-Cheney White House revolts his stomach. Check out these excerpts:
DEAN: "WORSE THAN WATERGATE"
"Their secrecy is extreme -- not merely unjustified and excessive but
obsessive... It has given us a presidency that operates on hidden agendas. To
protect their secrets, Bush and Cheney dissemble as a matter of policy... Cheney
openly declares that he wants to turn the clock back to the pre-Watergate years
-- a time of an unaccountable and extra-constitutional imperial presidency. To
say that their secret presidency is undemocratic is an understatement."
"Cheney formed what is, in effect, a shadow NSC [National Security
Council]...It is a secret government -- beyond the reach of Congress, and
everyone else as well...Cheney knew that terrorism was the perfect excuse, an
ideal <i>raison d'etre,<-i> for his 'let's rule the world'
philosophy. Politically, it would be much easier to be seen as shooting back
instead of shooting first, given the caliber of weapon Cheney sought to wield.
But he and his team did far worse than simply waiting for an attack that would
kill a sufficient number of Americans...It is reasonable to believe that they
planned to exploit terrorism before 9/11 handed them the issue ready-made for
exploitation -- a fact they obviously want to keep buried."
"Not since Lyndon Johnson hoodwinked Congress into issuing the Gulf of
Tonkin Resolution, which authorizes sending American troops to Vietnam, has a
president so deceived Congress about a matter of such grave national importance.
...Bush and Cheney took this nation to war on <i>their>-i> hunches,
their unreliable beliefs, and their unsubstantiated intelligence -- and used
deception with Congress both before and after launching the war. ...The evidence
is overwhelming, certainly sufficient for a prima facie case, that George W.
Bush and Richard B. Cheney have engaged in deceit and deception over going to
war in Iraq. This is an impeachable offense."
"Their secrecy helps corporations and industries that are major
contributors. But with a deadly difference. Bush and Cheney have, from the
outset of their presidency, shown utter disregard for the human consequences of
their actions, both at home and abroad. ... What Bush and Cheney are doing to
the environment to curry favor with their contributors is far worse than
anything Nixon's 'responsiveness program' ever did. The Bush-Cheney presidency
is engaged in crimes against nature, not to mention failing to faithfully
execute the laws of the land."
ENDANGERING OUR DEMOCRACY
"The Bush-Cheney secrecy and style of governing carries with it potential
consequences that are far worse than any political scandal. Their secret
presidency is a dangerous threat to democracy in an age of terrorism. ...Bush
and Cheney have picked up where Nixon left presidential power. They seek to free
the presidency of all restraints. They want to implement their policies -- a
radical wisdom they believe serves the greater good -- unencumbered by those who
view the world differently."
"When the moment comes and terrorists surprise America with an even
greater spirit-shattering attack than 9/11, Bush and Cheney will simply push
aside the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, inflame public passions with
tough talk to rally support...and take this country to a place it has only been
once. For eleven weeks during the outset of the Civil War, President Lincoln
became what scholars have euphemistically called a constitutional dictator. But
with terrorism it will likely not be so brief. Bush once quipped, 'If this were
a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the
dictator.' George Bush, however, is no Abraham Lincoln."
In short, the time has long since passed when the political scalpels need to
excise the malignant tumor that had lodged itself into our public life. If we
don't act, and soon, that cancer might well destroy us all. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught American politics and international relations
at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco
Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
To comment, write [email protected]
Copyright 2005 by Bernard Weiner.