The Agnew Factor
Those of us who have a keen appreciation of history are often afflicted with the image of a revolving wheel: the names and dates may change but the events remain the same, repeated with startling frequency.
We were stricken by the similarity of the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the fallacious charges of terrorist connections and weapons of mass destruction used to compel a spineless Congress into sanctifying full-scale invasions of Vietnam and Iraq, respectively.
We were stricken by the abusive provisions of the USA Patriot Act as a reminder of the McCarthy era, with its House Un-American Activities Committee: Are you now or have you ever been a member of a terrorist organization?
When the president divided the world into us and them and the vice president proclaimed a likely forty years of war on terrorism, we could not but be reminded of the Cold War, inflicting mass casualties on every continent of the earth save Antarctica.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pounded the drums of expanded war with Syria and Iran, we remembered Laos and Cambodia.
Now, as we await the indictments to be handed down by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the Plame Gate case, we are stricken by the parallels to Watergate. Yes, Watergate. This is no Monica Gate. This is not the story of over-zealous prosecutors investigating crooked real estate deals or the sexual escapades of the chief executive. At its very core, Plame Gate is the story of an abuse of executive power, involving the critical national security matter of exposing a covert agent for political retribution.
The through-line of both cases is the incredible arrogance of the White House.
In Watergate, Dick Nixon was so obsessed, so enamored of his own power, that he ordered a break in of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in an election he would win by the astonishing margin of forty-nine states to one. Needless to say, the outcome was never in question and Dick Nixon stooped to the level of a common criminal in an effort to pitch a perfect game.
If there is a better operational definition of arrogance, it escapes me.
In the case of Valerie Plame, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson was only one in a long line of British and American officials stepping forward to expose the lie of weapons of mass destruction. By the time former CNN hack and political demagogue, Robert Novak, published his column exposing the ambassador’s wife as a covert agent, the lie was already fully exposed and a thousand points of light were trained on the naked remains.
Clearly, the White House should have held to the Tony Blair line of defense: We were wrong for the right reasons. Saddam was a very bad man. History will absolve us of our past sins and the world will ultimately thank us for our transgressions.
They might in fact have laid the blame at Tony Blair’s door. After all, the lie was delivered in the name of British intelligence.
Instead, the Rove-Cheney machine attacked the messenger of a small truth: the yellow cake of Niger and the Saddam connection. In their tunnel-visioned zealousness, they exposed a covert agent, a clear violation of federal statute, and set off the chain of events that now threatens their own demise.
It is curiosity that kills the cat but it is arrogance that sinks the ship of state. It was arrogance that knocked Nixon from the pinnacle of imperial power and it is arrogance that now shakes the Bush White House to its core.
It was also the shadow of Watergate, combined with mounting opposition and escalating casualties that ultimately ended the Vietnam War.
Here we are again. The wheel of history continues to revolve and everything new is old. From the moment Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself and subsequently resigned, the wheel has turned with the force of the inevitable.
Nixon lost Haldeman, Ehrlichmann and Attorney General John Mitchell.
If Patrick Fitzgerald lives up to his reputation, Bush will soon add Karl Rove and Scooter Libby to his personal casualty list.
As we look back with patriotic pride on the events of Watergate, we cannot but recall the most critical development other than Nixon’s resignation, itself. It was the twelfth-hour, forced resignation of vice president Spiro Agnew.
The parallels to the current circumstance are striking in reverse.
Agnew was nothing if not a potent insurance policy for the president. No matter how much we despised Dick Nixon, the prospect of an archconservative hack, with no apparent talent, skill or meaningful experience in governing, ascending to the presidency was chilling.
In the Watergate White House, Nixon was the dark prince, the Machiavellian with a crooked smile, and the vice president was a stooge, a front man, and a hack -- in short, a man thoroughly unprepared to rule the most powerful nation on earth.
In the Plame Gate White House, the portrait is a mirror image. The dark prince behind the curtain, the man who holds the strings of power, is vice president Dick Cheney and the front man is King.
Perhaps no president in history deserves to be impeached more than one who leads a nation to war on a foundation of lies and deception, yet the prospect of bringing the dark prince to power chills us to the bone.
It is therefore a matter of great historical importance that the political hurricane of Plame Gate should be brought to bear on the home of the vice president before it proceeds to the Oval Office. Prosecution is unnecessary; a simple resignation will do.
Impeach Bush? Yes. But not before the vice president is safely shunted aside.
Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by CounterPunch, the Albion Monitor, Buzzle, Dissident Voice and others. Visit his website: Random Jack.
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