The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Justin Frank - Bush on the Couch

[from the wayback machine---on the eve of the '04 election]

Bush on the Couch
By Justin Frank
9/13/04

Dr. Frank is the author of Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (2004). He is a Washington, D.C.–based psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical School.

Book by Justin Frank If one of my patients frequently said one thing and did another, I would want to know why. If I found that he often used words that hid their true meaning, and affected a persona that obscured the nature of his actions, I would grow more concerned. If he presented an inflexible worldview characterized by an oversimplified distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, allies and enemies, I would question his ability to grasp reality. And if his actions revealed an unacknowledged – even sadistic – indifference to human suffering, wrapped in pious claims of compassion, I would worry about the safety of the people whose lives he touched.

For the last three years, I have observed with increasing alarm the inconsistencies and denials of such an individual. But he is not one of my patients. He is our President. He wants to remain our President for four more years, and he intends to do so on his own terms. On August 27, the eve of the Republican Convention, Bush said to New York Times reporters Sanger and Bumiller that “he would resist going ‘on the couch’ to rethink decisions.”

Since the Swift Boat controversy hit center stage in mid-August – both the ads and Bush’s refusal to take responsibility for them – we again see his reluctance to examine his conscience. Instead he remains mired in his long-standing pattern of denial and blame. Responsibility is something this president flees at all costs. It is a behavior pattern that began long before Bush became president, governor, or even a college student. It even began before Bush had become an alcoholic (he finally stopped drinking at age forty, with the help of his religion), though his response to criticism is typical of untreated alcoholics.

Bush was the first born child to a family that had long and moneyed traditions on both sides. When he was three and a half his sister Robin was born. It has been said that the nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” was written with the first-born child in mind. It seems to capture perfectly the irrevocable trauma felt with the second child is born: Nothing can put the first-born back together again. Of course, first-born offspring find different ways to manage this insult. Some can be suspicious and overly competitive; others can be overtly nice while covertly furious; still others always keep an eye on the second child, making sure he doesn’t get too much. First-born children keep careful track of how much food mother gives to their siblings.

But if the second-born dies, as Robin did when George was seven, then an entirely new and complex dynamic is set in motion. The first-born often has to disown his destructive fantasies and banish them into his unconscious. But such fantasies threaten his mental equilibrium and he has to do something with them. One solution is to project them outward, thereby experiencing people around him as destructive or a source of danger.

By the time Robin died Bush already had a mother who was emotionally elsewhere. Children resent it when the mother is absent, and Bush’s resentment would have grown stronger in the face of his mother’s grief after Robin’s death. If George’s feelings were never addressed – and it is clear from numerous family accounts that the parents didn’t have a funeral and never talked to George about the loss – his natural animosity toward his sister would have remained unresolved; he would have been left with a host of forbidden feelings that were too threatening to acknowledge, only furthering the process of having to disavow these unwanted aspects of himself. He was deprived of the opportunity to learn to mourn, to heal. In that deprivation lays the kernel of what has by now become Bush’s knee-jerk reaction of denying responsibility for anything that goes wrong. He can’t allow it to be his fault.

It is true that blame and denial are arguably as typical of politicians as of alcoholics, though the latter are generally more likely to involve family members in the process. But blame is also a reminder of one’s destructive impulse; the individual who hasn’t resolved his anxieties surrounding that impulse is particularly motivated to avoid confronting those anxieties, which he can accomplish by shifting responsibility to someone else, or denying it outright. Drinkers turn to alcohol to suppress anxiety.

The untreated alcoholic who has simply stopped drinking treats anxiety as an enemy, and with good reason: He is often more challenged by anxiety because he has lost his time-tested means of numbing its sting. He knows that anxiety is a threat to his abstinence – he fears anything that might lead him back to the bottle – but his years of drinking get in the way of learning other methods to manage uncomfortable feelings. Bush manages his anxiety through his inflexible daily routines – the famously short meetings, sacrosanct exercise schedule, daily Bible readings, and limited office hours. All public appearances are controlled and staged – even the ones that appear to be spontaneous. They have to be.

But when routines fail, denial kicks in as the treatment of choice to manage the potential development of internal chaos. The habit of placing blame and denying responsibility is so prevalent in George W. Bush’s personal history that it is apparently triggered by even the mildest threat; when Jay Leno, on the eve of Bush’s DUI revelation (just a week before the 2000 election), asked him if he’d ever done anything he was ashamed of, he replied, “I didn’t” – and proceeded to tell a humiliating story of his brother Marvin urinating in the family steam iron. Fast forward to the Swift Boat ads, taking a brief stop at his denial that he knew Ken Lay (“Kenny who?”) of Enron who was in fact a friend and major contributor to his campaigns; then to his blaming 9-11 for the failing economy when the market actually began to crash after he announced his tax cut plans; then to his inability to admit to any mistake he made after 9-11 (in the April 2004 press conference he couldn’t bring himself to accept even a modicum of responsibility for either the intelligence failures before 9-11 or for the war in Iraq), to his denial in May of knowing Iraqi information source Chalabi despite having invited him to sit just behind the First Lady at his 2004 State of the Union Address. Putting it all together, we see a pattern that I call the KWD – the Kenny Who Defense. He employs it whenever and wherever he can, whenever he feels threatened.

All his disavowed destructiveness coalesces and requires management whenever anybody challenges him. He becomes instantly wary: Questions mobilize his anxiety and invite that exaggerated degree of rigidity he uses for self-protection. It is not a matter of intelligence per se, but a matter of paralysis when confronted with any question that requires thinking. When there is nobody in particular to blame he stumbles anyway, as he did at the Unity Conference on August 6 when asked to discuss the sovereignty of the Native American tribes. Mark Trahant, of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, noted that children study city, county, state and federal government but that Indian government is not part of that structure. In noting Bush’s unique experience as governor and president, he asked about Bush’s understanding of sovereignty and how to think about tribal conflicts in the twenty-first century. Bush hesitated, and then said, “Sovereignty means [pause] that you’re a sovereign – that you’ve been given sovereignty and can be viewed as a sovereign entity. Therefore the relationship between Government and tribes is one between sovereign entities.”

His relationship to his father makes all the more sense in light of the anxieties I have described. First, his father cast a giant shadow: he was a good student, a fine athlete, a war hero, a successful businessman. One grows up in awe of such a father – and given this particular son’s need already to disown his own feelings of destructiveness, he imbues his father – partly by projecting his own aggression onto the father – as a man of enormous power, making him more of a threat. And young George W. had few of his father’s qualities with which to defend himself. Being a cheerleader and a big fraternity drinker are just not the same thing. This situation can make a son feel rage, frustration, and shame.

One way Bush managed his feelings was through his humor, his sarcasm (not unlike his mother), and his need to be in charge of any undertaking. At times, being in charge meant mocking his father’s power (being stick-ball commissioner while his father had been an All-American first baseman is a good example). One particular power that George Sr. did not express, however, was the important paternal responsibility to help a son separate from his mother. I doubt the success of that endeavor with George Jr., as his father was absent for most of Bush’s childhood. And when he was present, George Sr. was absently reading or distant.

This particular son is driven by the need to retaliate – against his father and against a world full of enemies. He does so in a variety of ways – though the underlying motives are the same. He tells Bob Woodward that he needn’t consult his father before invading Iraq because he consults a stronger higher father; he regularly introduces Vice President Cheney as the greatest vice president in history, without mentioning that his father was VP for eight years; he dismantles international coalitions once valued by his father; he practices what his father called “voodoo economics” by implementing massive tax cuts for the rich, maintaining that deficit spending will revive the economy; and at the Republican Convention in New York, he doesn’t make a place for his own father – an actual ex-president – to speak. Each event taken on its face value is but an incident. When they are linked together they reveal a distinct pattern.

His drive to manage anxiety is paramount. That requires him to shift responsibility whenever possible. He can consciously deny blaming his father for having failed him in his time of greatest need as a child – in helping him both stand up to his mother and to let go of his need to be her cheerleader rescuing her from her unspoken grief. But unconsciously, the blame persists – crippling his ability to think. He remains a cheerleader, not a leader. The inability to take responsibility makes Bush genuinely unable to lead: he can bully others and seem to act decisively, but he retreats from threatened confrontation (he says “bring em on” only when embedded behind the Secret Service thousands of miles away from the battle). His need to remain in control makes him unable to think things through in order to lead from strength. His is a stage-managed strength, something we saw all too clearly during the week of the Republican Convention.

http://hnn.us/articles/7106.html

John Dean - Bush Is Becoming An Increasingly Dangerous President

If Past Is Prologue, George Bush Is Becoming An Increasingly Dangerous President
By JOHN W. DEAN
----
Friday, Apr. 21, 2006

President George W. Bush's presidency is a disaster - one that's still unfolding. In a mid-2004 column, I argued that, at that point, Bush had already demonstrated that he possessed the least attractive and most troubling traits among those that political scientist James Dave Barber has cataloged in his study of Presidents' personality types.

Now, in early 2006, Bush has continued to sink lower in his public approval ratings, as the result of a series of events that have sapped the public of confidence in its President, and for which he is directly responsible. This Administration goes through scandals like a compulsive eater does candy bars; the wrapper is barely off one before we've moved on to another.
Click here to find out more!

Currently, President Bush is busy reshuffling his staff to reinvigorate his presidency. But if Dr. Barber's work holds true for this president -- as it has for others - the hiring and firing of subordinates will not touch the core problems that have plagued Bush's tenure.

That is because the problems belong to the President - not his staff. And they are problems that go to character, not to strategy.

Barber's Analysis of Presidential Character

As I discussed in my prior column, Barber, after analyzing all the presidents through Bush's father, George H. W. Bush, found repeating patterns of common elements relating to character, worldview, style, approach to dealing with power, and expectations. Based on these findings, Barber concluded that presidents fell into clusters of characteristics.

He also found in this data Presidential work patterns which he described as "active" or "passive." For example, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were highly active; Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan were highly passive.

Barber further analyzed the emotional relationship of presidents toward their work - dividing them into presidents who found their work an emotionally satisfying experience, and thus "positive," and those who found the job emotionally taxing, and thus "negative." Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan, for example, were presidents who enjoyed their work; Thomas Jefferson and Richard Nixon had "negative" feeling toward it.

From these measurements, Barber developed four repeating categories into which he was able to place all presidents: those like FDR who actively pursued their work and had positive feelings about their efforts (active/positives); those like Nixon who actively pursued the job but had negative feelings about it (active/negatives); those like Reagan who were passive about the job but enjoyed it (passive/positives); and, finally, those who followed the pattern of Thomas Jefferson -- who both was passive and did not enjoy the work (passive/negatives).
Column continues below ↓

Interestingly, the category of presidents who proved troublesome under Barber's analysis is that of those who turned out to be active/negatives. Barber placed Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in this class.

In my prior column, I found that the evidence is overwhelming that George W. Bush is another active/negative president, and the past two years, since making that initial finding, have only further confirmed my conclusion.

Because active/negative presidencies do not end well, it is instructive to look at where Bush's may be heading.

Bush's "Active/Negative" Presidency

Recent events provide an especially good illustration of Bush's fateful - perhaps fatal - approach. Six generals who have served under Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have called for his resignation - making a strong substantive case as to why he should resign. And they are not alone: Editorialists have also persuasively attacked Rumsfeld on the merits.

Yet Bush's defense of Rumsfeld was entirely substance-free. Bush simply told reporters in the Rose Garden that Rumsfeld would stay because "I'm the decider and I decide what's best." He sounded much like a parent telling children how things would be: "I'm the Daddy, that's why."

This, indeed, is how Bush sees the presidency, and it is a point of view that will cause him trouble.

Bush has never understood what presidential scholar Richard Neustadt discovered many years ago: In a democracy, the only real power the presidency commands is the power to persuade. Presidents have their bully pulpit, and the full attention of the news media, 24/7. In addition, they are given the benefit of the doubt when they go to the American people to ask for their support. But as effective as this power can be, it can be equally devastating when it languishes unused - or when a president pretends not to need to use it, as Bush has done.

Apparently, Bush does not realize that to lead he must continually renew his approval with the public. He is not, as he thinks, the decider. The public is the decider.

Bush is following the classic mistaken pattern of active/negative presidents: As Barber explained, they issue order after order, without public support, until they eventually dissipate the real powers they have -- until "nothing [is] left but the shell of the office." Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Hoover, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon all followed this pattern.

Active/negative presidents are risk-takers. (Consider the colossal risk Bush took with the Iraq invasion). And once they have taken a position, they lock on to failed courses of action and insist on rigidly holding steady, even when new facts indicate that flexibility is required.

The source of their rigidity is that they've become emotionally attached to their own positions; to change them, in their minds, would be to change their personal identity, their very essence. That, they are not willing to do at any cost.

Wilson rode his unpopular League of Nations proposal to his ruin; Hoover refused to let the federal government intervene to prevent or lessen a fiscal depression; Johnson escalated U.S. involvement in Vietnam while misleading Americans (thereby making himself unelectable); and Nixon went down with his bogus defense of Watergate.

George Bush has misled America into a preemptive war in Iraq; he is using terrorism to claim that as Commander-in-Chief, he is above the law; and he refuses to acknowledge that American law prohibits torturing our enemies and warrantlessly wiretapping Americans.

Americans, increasingly, are not buying his justifications for any of these positions. Yet Bush has made no effort to persuade them that his actions are sound, prudent or productive; rather, he takes offense when anyone questions his unilateral powers. He responds as if personally insulted.

And this may be his only option: With Bush's limited rhetorical skills, it would be all but impossible for him to persuade any others than his most loyal supporters of his positions. His single salient virtue - as a campaigner - was the ability to stay on-message. He effectively (though inaccurately) portrayed both Al Gore and John Kerry as wafflers, whereas he found consistency in (over)simplifying the issues. But now, he cannot absorb the fact that his message is not one Americans want to hear - that he is being questioned, severely, and that staying on-message will be his downfall.

Other Presidents - other leaders, generally - have been able to listen to critics relatively impassively, believing that there is nothing personal about a debate about how best to achieve shared goals. Some have even turned detractors into supporters - something it's virtually impossible to imagine Bush doing. But not active/negative presidents. And not likely Bush.

The Danger of the "Active/Negative" President Facing A Congressional Rout

Active/negative presidents -- Barber tells us, and history shows -- are driven, persistent, and emphatic. Barber says their pervasive feeling is "I must."

Barber's collective portrait of Wilson, Hoover, Johnson and Nixon now fits George W. Bush too: "He sees himself as having begun with a high purpose, but as being continually forced to compromise in order to achieve the end state he vaguely envisions," Barber writes. He continues, "Battered from all sides . . . he begins to feel his integrity slipping away from him . . . [and] after enduring all this for longer than any mortal should, he rebels and stands his ground. Masking his decision in whatever rhetoric is necessary, he rides the tiger to the end."

Bush's policies have incorporated risk from the outset. A few examples make that clear.

He took the risk that he could capture Osama bin Laden with a small group of CIA operatives and U.S. Army Special forces - and he failed. He took the risk that he could invade Iraq and control the country with fewer troops and less planning than the generals and State Department told him would be possible - and he failed. He took the risk that he could ignore the criminal laws prohibiting torture and the warrantless wiretapping of Americans without being caught - he failed. And he's taken the risk that he can cut the taxes for the rich and run up huge financial deficits without hurting the economy. This, too, will fail, though the consequences will likely fall on future presidents and generations who must repay Bush's debts.

What We Can Expect From Bush in the Future, Based on Barber's Model

As the 2006 midterm elections approach, this active/negative president can be expected to take further risks. If anyone doubts that Bush, Cheney, Rove and their confidants are planning an "October Surprise" to prevent the Republicans from losing control of Congress, then he or she has not been observing this presidency very closely.

What will that surprise be? It's the most closely held secret of the Administration.

How risky will it be? Bush is a whatever-it-takes risk-taker, the consequences be damned.

One possibility is that Dick Cheney will resign as Vice President for "health reasons," and become a senior counselor to the president. And Bush will name a new vice president - a choice geared to increase his popularity, as well as someone electable in 2008. It would give his sinking administration a new face, and new life.

The immensely popular Rudy Giuliani seems the most likely pick, if Giuliani is willing. (A better option for Giuliani might be to hold off, and tacitly position himself as the Republican anti-Bush in 2008.) But Condoleezza Rice, John McCain, Bill Frist, and more are possibilities.

Bush's second and more likely, surprise could be in the area of national security: If he could achieve a Great Powers coalition (of Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France, and so on) presenting a united-front "no nukes" stance to Iran, it would be his first diplomatic coup and a political triumph.

But more likely, Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - hoping to rev up his popularity. (It's a risky strategy: A unilateral hit on Iran may both trigger devastating Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, with high death tolls, and increase international dislike of Bush for his bypass of the U.N. But as an active/negative President, Bush hardly shies away from risk.) Another rabbit-out-of-the-hat possibility: the capture of Osama bin Laden.

If there is no "October Surprise," I would be shocked. And if it is not a high-risk undertaking, it would be a first. Without such a gambit, and the public always falls for them, Bush is going to lose control of Congress. Should that happen, his presidency will have effectively ended, and he will spend the last two years of it defending all the mistakes he has made during the first six, and covering up the errors of his ways.

There is, however, the possibility of another terrorist attack, and if one occurred, Americans would again rally around the president - wrongly so, since this is a presidency that lives on fear-mongering about terror, but does little to truly address it. The possibility that we might both suffer an attack, and see a boost to Bush come from it, is truly a terrifying thought.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the president.

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/scripts/printer_friendly.pl?page=/dean/20060421.html

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sean Wilentz - The Worst President in History?

The Worst President in History?

One of America's leading historians assesses George W. Bush

SEAN WILENTZ


George W. Bush's presidency appears headed for colossal historical disgrace. Barring a cataclysmic event on the order of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, after which the public might rally around the White House once again, there seems to be little the administration can do to avoid being ranked on the lowest tier of U.S. presidents. And that may be the best-case scenario. Many historians are now wondering whether Bush, in fact, will be remembered as the very worst president in all of American history.

From time to time, after hours, I kick back with my colleagues at Princeton to argue idly about which president really was the worst of them all. For years, these perennial debates have largely focused on the same handful of chief executives whom national polls of historians, from across the ideological and political spectrum, routinely cite as the bottom of the presidential barrel. Was the lousiest James Buchanan, who, confronted with Southern secession in 1860, dithered to a degree that, as his most recent biographer has said, probably amounted to disloyalty -- and who handed to his successor, Abraham Lincoln, a nation already torn asunder? Was it Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson, who actively sided with former Confederates and undermined Reconstruction? What about the amiably incompetent Warren G. Harding, whose administration was fabulously corrupt? Or, though he has his defenders, Herbert Hoover, who tried some reforms but remained imprisoned in his own outmoded individualist ethic and collapsed under the weight of the stock-market crash of 1929 and the Depression's onset? The younger historians always put in a word for Richard M. Nixon, the only American president forced to resign from office.

Now, though, George W. Bush is in serious contention for the title of worst ever. In early 2004, an informal survey of 415 historians conducted by the nonpartisan History News Network found that eighty-one percent considered the Bush administration a "failure." Among those who called Bush a success, many gave the president high marks only for his ability to mobilize public support and get Congress to go along with what one historian called the administration's "pursuit of disastrous policies." In fact, roughly one in ten of those who called Bush a success was being facetious, rating him only as the best president since Bill Clinton -- a category in which Bush is the only contestant.

The lopsided decision of historians should give everyone pause. Contrary to popular stereotypes, historians are generally a cautious bunch. We assess the past from widely divergent points of view and are deeply concerned about being viewed as fair and accurate by our colleagues. When we make historical judgments, we are acting not as voters or even pundits, but as scholars who must evaluate all the evidence, good, bad or indifferent. Separate surveys, conducted by those perceived as conservatives as well as liberals, show remarkable unanimity about who the best and worst presidents have been.

Historians do tend, as a group, to be far more liberal than the citizenry as a whole -- a fact the president's admirers have seized on to dismiss the poll results as transparently biased. One pro-Bush historian said the survey revealed more about "the current crop of history professors" than about Bush or about Bush's eventual standing. But if historians were simply motivated by a strong collective liberal bias, they might be expected to call Bush the worst president since his father, or Ronald Reagan, or Nixon. Instead, more than half of those polled -- and nearly three-fourths of those who gave Bush a negative rating -- reached back before Nixon to find a president they considered as miserable as Bush. The presidents most commonly linked with Bush included Hoover, Andrew Johnson and Buchanan. Twelve percent of the historians polled -- nearly as many as those who rated Bush a success -- flatly called Bush the worst president in American history. And these figures were gathered before the debacles over Hurricane Katrina, Bush's role in the Valerie Plame leak affair and the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Were the historians polled today, that figure would certainly be higher.

Even worse for the president, the general public, having once given Bush the highest approval ratings ever recorded, now appears to be coming around to the dismal view held by most historians. To be sure, the president retains a considerable base of supporters who believe in and adore him, and who reject all criticism with a mixture of disbelief and fierce contempt -- about one-third of the electorate. (When the columnist Richard Reeves publicized the historians' poll last year and suggested it might have merit, he drew thousands of abusive replies that called him an idiot and that praised Bush as, in one writer's words, "a Christian who actually acts on his deeply held beliefs.") Yet the ranks of the true believers have thinned dramatically. A majority of voters in forty-three states now disapprove of Bush's handling of his job. Since the commencement of reliable polling in the 1940s, only one twice-elected president has seen his ratings fall as low as Bush's in his second term: Richard Nixon, during the months preceding his resignation in 1974. No two-term president since polling began has fallen from such a height of popularity as Bush's (in the neighborhood of ninety percent, during the patriotic upswell following the 2001 attacks) to such a low (now in the midthirties). No president, including Harry Truman (whose ratings sometimes dipped below Nixonian levels), has experienced such a virtually unrelieved decline as Bush has since his high point. Apart from sharp but temporary upticks that followed the commencement of the Iraq war and the capture of Saddam Hussein, and a recovery during the weeks just before and after his re-election, the Bush trend has been a profile in fairly steady disillusionment.

* * * *

How does any president's reputation sink so low? The reasons are best understood as the reverse of those that produce presidential greatness. In almost every survey of historians dating back to the 1940s, three presidents have emerged as supreme successes: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. These were the men who guided the nation through what historians consider its greatest crises: the founding era after the ratification of the Constitution, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and Second World War. Presented with arduous, at times seemingly impossible circumstances, they rallied the nation, governed brilliantly and left the republic more secure than when they entered office.

Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties -- Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Hoover and now Bush -- have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off. In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures -- an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology that abjures deviation from dogma as heresy, thus preventing any pragmatic adjustment to changing realities. Repeatedly, Bush has undone himself, a failing revealed in each major area of presidential performance.

* * * *

THE CREDIBILITY GAP

No previous president appears to have squandered the public's trust more than Bush has. In the 1840s, President James Polk gained a reputation for deviousness over his alleged manufacturing of the war with Mexico and his supposedly covert pro-slavery views. Abraham Lincoln, then an Illinois congressman, virtually labeled Polk a liar when he called him, from the floor of the House, "a bewildered, confounded and miserably perplexed man" and denounced the war as "from beginning to end, the sheerest deception." But the swift American victory in the war, Polk's decision to stick by his pledge to serve only one term and his sudden death shortly after leaving office spared him the ignominy over slavery that befell his successors in the 1850s. With more than two years to go in Bush's second term and no swift victory in sight, Bush's reputation will probably have no such reprieve.

The problems besetting Bush are of a more modern kind than Polk's, suited to the television age -- a crisis both in confidence and credibility. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam travails gave birth to the phrase "credibility gap," meaning the distance between a president's professions and the public's perceptions of reality. It took more than two years for Johnson's disapproval rating in the Gallup Poll to reach fifty-two percent in March 1968 -- a figure Bush long ago surpassed, but that was sufficient to persuade the proud LBJ not to seek re-election. Yet recently, just short of three years after Bush buoyantly declared "mission accomplished" in Iraq, his disapproval ratings have been running considerably higher than Johnson's, at about sixty percent. More than half the country now considers Bush dishonest and untrustworthy, and a decisive plurality consider him less trustworthy than his predecessor, Bill Clinton -- a figure still attacked by conservative zealots as "Slick Willie."

Previous modern presidents, including Truman, Reagan and Clinton, managed to reverse plummeting ratings and regain the public's trust by shifting attention away from political and policy setbacks, and by overhauling the White House's inner circles. But Bush's publicly expressed view that he has made no major mistakes, coupled with what even the conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr. calls his "high-flown pronouncements" about failed policies, seems to foreclose the first option. Upping the ante in the Middle East and bombing Iranian nuclear sites, a strategy reportedly favored by some in the White House, could distract the public and gain Bush immediate political capital in advance of the 2006 midterm elections -- but in the long term might severely worsen the already dire situation in Iraq, especially among Shiite Muslims linked to the Iranians. And given Bush's ardent attachment to loyal aides, no matter how discredited, a major personnel shake-up is improbable, short of indictments. Replacing Andrew Card with Joshua Bolten as chief of staff -- a move announced by the president in March in a tone that sounded more like defiance than contrition -- represents a rededication to current policies and personnel, not a serious change. (Card, an old Bush family retainer, was widely considered more moderate than most of the men around the president and had little involvement in policy-making.) The power of Vice President Dick Cheney, meanwhile, remains uncurbed. Were Cheney to announce he is stepping down due to health problems, normally a polite pretext for a political removal, one can be reasonably certain it would be because Cheney actually did have grave health problems.

* * * *

BUSH AT WAR

Until the twentieth century, American presidents managed foreign wars well -- including those presidents who prosecuted unpopular wars. James Madison had no support from Federalist New England at the outset of the War of 1812, and the discontent grew amid mounting military setbacks in 1813. But Federalist political overreaching, combined with a reversal of America's military fortunes and the negotiation of a peace with Britain, made Madison something of a hero again and ushered in a brief so-called Era of Good Feelings in which his Jeffersonian Republican Party coalition ruled virtually unopposed. The Mexican War under Polk was even more unpopular, but its quick and victorious conclusion redounded to Polk's favor -- much as the rapid American victory in the Spanish-American War helped William McKinley overcome anti-imperialist dissent.

The twentieth century was crueler to wartime presidents. After winning re-election in 1916 with the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War," Woodrow Wilson oversaw American entry into the First World War. Yet while the doughboys returned home triumphant, Wilson's idealistic and politically disastrous campaign for American entry into the League of Nations presaged a resurgence of the opposition Republican Party along with a redoubling of American isolationism that lasted until Pearl Harbor.

Bush has more in common with post-1945 Democratic presidents Truman and Johnson, who both became bogged down in overseas military conflicts with no end, let alone victory, in sight. But Bush has become bogged down in a singularly crippling way. On September 10th, 2001, he held among the lowest ratings of any modern president for that point in a first term. (Only Gerald Ford, his popularity reeling after his pardon of Nixon, had comparable numbers.) The attacks the following day transformed Bush's presidency, giving him an extraordinary opportunity to achieve greatness. Some of the early signs were encouraging. Bush's simple, unflinching eloquence and his quick toppling of the Taliban government in Afghanistan rallied the nation. Yet even then, Bush wasted his chance by quickly choosing partisanship over leadership.

No other president -- Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR in World War II, John F. Kennedy at critical moments of the Cold War -- faced with such a monumental set of military and political circumstances failed to embrace the opposing political party to help wage a truly national struggle. But Bush shut out and even demonized the Democrats. Top military advisers and even members of the president's own Cabinet who expressed any reservations or criticisms of his policies -- including retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill -- suffered either dismissal, smear attacks from the president's supporters or investigations into their alleged breaches of national security. The wise men who counseled Bush's father, including James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, found their entreaties brusquely ignored by his son. When asked if he ever sought advice from the elder Bush, the president responded, "There is a higher Father that I appeal to."

All the while, Bush and the most powerful figures in the administration, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were planting the seeds for the crises to come by diverting the struggle against Al Qaeda toward an all-out effort to topple their pre-existing target, Saddam Hussein. In a deliberate political decision, the administration stampeded the Congress and a traumatized citizenry into the Iraq invasion on the basis of what has now been demonstrated to be tendentious and perhaps fabricated evidence of an imminent Iraqi threat to American security, one that the White House suggested included nuclear weapons. Instead of emphasizing any political, diplomatic or humanitarian aspects of a war on Iraq -- an appeal that would have sounded too "sensitive," as Cheney once sneered -- the administration built a "Bush Doctrine" of unprovoked, preventive warfare, based on speculative threats and embracing principles previously abjured by every previous generation of U.S. foreign policy-makers, even at the height of the Cold War. The president did so with premises founded, in the case of Iraq, on wishful thinking. He did so while proclaiming an expansive Wilsonian rhetoric of making the world safe for democracy -- yet discarding the multilateralism and systems of international law (including the Geneva Conventions) that emanated from Wilson's idealism. He did so while dismissing intelligence that an American invasion could spark a long and bloody civil war among Iraq's fierce religious and ethnic rivals, reports that have since proved true. And he did so after repeated warnings by military officials such as Gen. Eric Shinseki that pacifying postwar Iraq would require hundreds of thousands of American troops -- accurate estimates that Paul Wolfowitz and other Bush policy gurus ridiculed as "wildly off the mark."

When William F. Buckley, the man whom many credit as the founder of the modern conservative movement, writes categorically, as he did in February, that "one can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed," then something terrible has happened. Even as a brash young iconoclast, Buckley always took the long view. The Bush White House seems incapable of doing so, except insofar as a tiny trusted circle around the president constantly reassures him that he is a messianic liberator and profound freedom fighter, on a par with FDR and Lincoln, and that history will vindicate his every act and utterance.

* * * *

BUSH AT HOME

Bush came to office in 2001 pledging to govern as a "compassionate conservative," more moderate on domestic policy than the dominant right wing of his party. The pledge proved hollow, as Bush tacked immediately to the hard right. Previous presidents and their parties have suffered when their actions have belied their campaign promises. Lyndon Johnson is the most conspicuous recent example, having declared in his 1964 run against the hawkish Republican Barry Goldwater that "we are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves." But no president has surpassed Bush in departing so thoroughly from his original campaign persona.

The heart of Bush's domestic policy has turned out to be nothing more than a series of massively regressive tax cuts -- a return, with a vengeance, to the discredited Reagan-era supply-side faith that Bush's father once ridiculed as "voodoo economics." Bush crowed in triumph in February 2004, "We cut taxes, which basically meant people had more money in their pocket." The claim is bogus for the majority of Americans, as are claims that tax cuts have led to impressive new private investment and job growth. While wiping out the solid Clinton-era federal surplus and raising federal deficits to staggering record levels, Bush's tax policies have necessitated hikes in federal fees, state and local taxes, and co-payment charges to needy veterans and families who rely on Medicaid, along with cuts in loan programs to small businesses and college students, and in a wide range of state services. The lion's share of benefits from the tax cuts has gone to the very richest Americans, while new business investment has increased at a historically sluggish rate since the peak of the last business cycle five years ago. Private-sector job growth since 2001 has been anemic compared to the Bush administration's original forecasts and is chiefly attributable not to the tax cuts but to increased federal spending, especially on defense. Real wages for middle-income Americans have been dropping since the end of 2003: Last year, on average, nominal wages grew by only 2.4 percent, a meager gain that was completely erased by an average inflation rate of 3.4 percent.

The monster deficits, caused by increased federal spending combined with the reduction of revenue resulting from the tax cuts, have also placed Bush's administration in a historic class of its own with respect to government borrowing. According to the Treasury Department, the forty-two presidents who held office between 1789 and 2000 borrowed a combined total of $1.01 trillion from foreign governments and financial institutions. But between 2001 and 2005 alone, the Bush White House borrowed $1.05 trillion, more than all of the previous presidencies combined. Having inherited the largest federal surplus in American history in 2001, he has turned it into the largest deficit ever -- with an even higher deficit, $423 billion, forecast for fiscal year 2006. Yet Bush -- sounding much like Herbert Hoover in 1930 predicting that "prosperity is just around the corner" -- insists that he will cut federal deficits in half by 2009, and that the best way to guarantee this would be to make permanent his tax cuts, which helped cause the deficit in the first place!

The rest of what remains of Bush's skimpy domestic agenda is either failed or failing -- a record unmatched since the presidency of Herbert Hoover. The No Child Left Behind educational-reform act has proved so unwieldy, draconian and poorly funded that several states -- including Utah, one of Bush's last remaining political strongholds -- have fought to opt out of it entirely. White House proposals for immigration reform and a guest-worker program have succeeded mainly in dividing pro-business Republicans (who want more low-wage immigrant workers) from paleo-conservatives fearful that hordes of Spanish-speaking newcomers will destroy American culture. The paleos' call for tougher anti-immigrant laws -- a return to the punitive spirit of exclusion that led to the notorious Immigration Act of 1924 that shut the door to immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe -- has in turn deeply alienated Hispanic voters from the Republican Party, badly undermining the GOP's hopes of using them to build a permanent national electoral majority. The recent pro-immigrant demonstrations, which drew millions of marchers nationwide, indicate how costly the Republican divide may prove.

The one noncorporate constituency to which Bush has consistently deferred is the Christian right, both in his selections for the federal bench and in his implications that he bases his policies on premillennialist, prophetic Christian doctrine. Previous presidents have regularly invoked the Almighty. McKinley is supposed to have fallen to his knees, seeking divine guidance about whether to take control of the Philippines in 1898, although the story may be apocryphal. But no president before Bush has allowed the press to disclose, through a close friend, his startling belief that he was ordained by God to lead the country. The White House's sectarian positions -- over stem-cell research, the teaching of pseudoscientific "intelligent design," global population control, the Terri Schiavo spectacle and more -- have led some to conclude that Bush has promoted the transformation of the GOP into what former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips calls "the first religious party in U.S. history."

Bush's faith-based conception of his mission, which stands above and beyond reasoned inquiry, jibes well with his administration's pro-business dogma on global warming and other urgent environmental issues. While forcing federally funded agencies to remove from their Web sites scientific information about reproductive health and the effectiveness of condoms in combating HIV/AIDS, and while peremptorily overruling staff scientists at the Food and Drug Administration on making emergency contraception available over the counter, Bush officials have censored and suppressed research findings they don't like by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Agriculture. Far from being the conservative he said he was, Bush has blazed a radical new path as the first American president in history who is outwardly hostile to science -- dedicated, as a distinguished, bipartisan panel of educators and scientists (including forty-nine Nobel laureates) has declared, to "the distortion of scientific knowledge for partisan political ends."

The Bush White House's indifference to domestic problems and science alike culminated in the catastrophic responses to Hurricane Katrina. Scientists had long warned that global warming was intensifying hurricanes, but Bush ignored them -- much as he and his administration sloughed off warnings from the director of the National Hurricane Center before Katrina hit. Reorganized under the Department of Homeland Security, the once efficient Federal Emergency Management Agency turned out, under Bush, to have become a nest of cronyism and incompetence. During the months immediately after the storm, Bush traveled to New Orleans eight times to promise massive rebuilding aid from the federal government. On March 30th, however, Bush's Gulf Coast recovery coordinator admitted that it could take as long as twenty-five years for the city to recover.

Karl Rove has sometimes likened Bush to the imposing, no-nonsense President Andrew Jackson. Yet Jackson took measures to prevent those he called "the rich and powerful" from bending "the acts of government to their selfish purposes." Jackson also gained eternal renown by saving New Orleans from British invasion against terrible odds. Generations of Americans sang of Jackson's famous victory. In 1959, Johnny Horton's version of "The Battle of New Orleans" won the Grammy for best country & western performance. If anyone sings about George W. Bush and New Orleans, it will be a blues number.

* * * *

PRESIDENTIAL MISCONDUCT

Virtually every presidential administration dating back to George Washington's has faced charges of misconduct and threats of impeachment against the president or his civil officers. The alleged offenses have usually involved matters of personal misbehavior and corruption, notably the payoff scandals that plagued Cabinet officials who served presidents Harding and Ulysses S. Grant. But the charges have also included alleged usurpation of power by the president and serious criminal conduct that threatens constitutional government and the rule of law -- most notoriously, the charges that led to the impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, and to Richard Nixon's resignation.

Historians remain divided over the actual grievousness of many of these allegations and crimes. Scholars reasonably describe the graft and corruption around the Grant administration, for example, as gargantuan, including a kickback scandal that led to the resignation of Grant's secretary of war under the shadow of impeachment. Yet the scandals produced no indictments of Cabinet secretaries and only one of a White House aide, who was acquitted. By contrast, the most scandal-ridden administration in the modern era, apart from Nixon's, was Ronald Reagan's, now widely remembered through a haze of nostalgia as a paragon of virtue. A total of twenty-nine Reagan officials, including White House national security adviser Robert McFarlane and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, were convicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, illegal lobbying and a looting scandal inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Three Cabinet officers -- HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, Attorney General Edwin Meese and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger -- left their posts under clouds of scandal. In contrast, not a single official in the Clinton administration was even indicted over his or her White House duties, despite repeated high-profile investigations and a successful, highly partisan impeachment drive.

The full report, of course, has yet to come on the Bush administration. Because Bush, unlike Reagan or Clinton, enjoys a fiercely partisan and loyal majority in Congress, his administration has been spared scrutiny. Yet that mighty advantage has not prevented the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges stemming from an alleged major security breach in the Valerie Plame matter. (The last White House official of comparable standing to be indicted while still in office was Grant's personal secretary, in 1875.) It has not headed off the unprecedented scandal involving Larry Franklin, a high-ranking Defense Department official, who has pleaded guilty to divulging classified information to a foreign power while working at the Pentagon -- a crime against national security. It has not forestalled the arrest and indictment of Bush's top federal procurement official, David Safavian, and the continuing investigations into Safavian's intrigues with the disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, recently sentenced to nearly six years in prison -- investigations in which some prominent Republicans, including former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed (and current GOP aspirant for lieutenant governor of Georgia) have already been implicated, and could well produce the largest congressional corruption scandal in American history. It has not dispelled the cloud of possible indictment that hangs over others of Bush's closest advisers.

History may ultimately hold Bush in the greatest contempt for expanding the powers of the presidency beyond the limits laid down by the U.S. Constitution. There has always been a tension over the constitutional roles of the three branches of the federal government. The Framers intended as much, as part of the system of checks and balances they expected would minimize tyranny. When Andrew Jackson took drastic measures against the nation's banking system, the Whig Senate censured him for conduct "dangerous to the liberties of the people." During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln's emergency decisions to suspend habeas corpus while Congress was out of session in 1861 and 1862 has led some Americans, to this day, to regard him as a despot. Richard Nixon's conduct of the war in Southeast Asia and his covert domestic-surveillance programs prompted Congress to pass new statutes regulating executive power.

By contrast, the Bush administration -- in seeking to restore what Cheney, a Nixon administration veteran, has called "the legitimate authority of the presidency" -- threatens to overturn the Framers' healthy tension in favor of presidential absolutism. Armed with legal findings by his attorney general (and personal lawyer) Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House has declared that the president's powers as commander in chief in wartime are limitless. No previous wartime president has come close to making so grandiose a claim. More specifically, this administration has asserted that the president is perfectly free to violate federal laws on such matters as domestic surveillance and the torture of detainees. When Congress has passed legislation to limit those assertions, Bush has resorted to issuing constitutionally dubious "signing statements," which declare, by fiat, how he will interpret and execute the law in question, even when that interpretation flagrantly violates the will of Congress. Earlier presidents, including Jackson, raised hackles by offering their own view of the Constitution in order to justify vetoing congressional acts. Bush doesn't bother with that: He signs the legislation (eliminating any risk that Congress will overturn a veto), and then governs how he pleases -- using the signing statements as if they were line-item vetoes. In those instances when Bush's violations of federal law have come to light, as over domestic surveillance, the White House has devised a novel solution: Stonewall any investigation into the violations and bid a compliant Congress simply to rewrite the laws.

Bush's alarmingly aberrant take on the Constitution is ironic. One need go back in the record less than a decade to find prominent Republicans railing against far more minor presidential legal infractions as precursors to all-out totalitarianism. "I will have no part in the creation of a constitutional double-standard to benefit the president," Sen. Bill Frist declared of Bill Clinton's efforts to conceal an illicit sexual liaison. "No man is above the law, and no man is below the law -- that's the principle that we all hold very dear in this country," Rep. Tom DeLay asserted. "The rule of law protects you and it protects me from the midnight fire on our roof or the 3 a.m. knock on our door," warned Rep. Henry Hyde, one of Clinton's chief accusers. In the face of Bush's more definitive dismissal of federal law, the silence from these quarters is deafening.

The president's defenders stoutly contend that war-time conditions fully justify Bush's actions. And as Lincoln showed during the Civil War, there may be times of military emergency where the executive believes it imperative to take immediate, highly irregular, even unconstitutional steps. "I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful," Lincoln wrote in 1864, "by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the Constitution, through the preservation of the nation." Bush seems to think that, since 9/11, he has been placed, by the grace of God, in the same kind of situation Lincoln faced. But Lincoln, under pressure of daily combat on American soil against fellow Americans, did not operate in secret, as Bush has. He did not claim, as Bush has, that his emergency actions were wholly regular and constitutional as well as necessary; Lincoln sought and received Congressional authorization for his suspension of habeas corpus in 1863. Nor did Lincoln act under the amorphous cover of a "war on terror" -- a war against a tactic, not a specific nation or political entity, which could last as long as any president deems the tactic a threat to national security. Lincoln's exceptional measures were intended to survive only as long as the Confederacy was in rebellion. Bush's could be extended indefinitely, as the president sees fit, permanently endangering rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizenry.

* * * *

Much as Bush still enjoys support from those who believe he can do no wrong, he now suffers opposition from liberals who believe he can do no right. Many of these liberals are in the awkward position of having supported Bush in the past, while offering little coherent as an alternative to Bush's policies now. Yet it is difficult to see how this will benefit Bush's reputation in history.

The president came to office calling himself "a uniter, not a divider" and promising to soften the acrimonious tone in Washington. He has had two enormous opportunities to fulfill those pledges: first, in the noisy aftermath of his controversial election in 2000, and, even more, after the attacks of September 11th, when the nation pulled behind him as it has supported no other president in living memory. Yet under both sets of historically unprecedented circumstances, Bush has chosen to act in ways that have left the country less united and more divided, less conciliatory and more acrimonious -- much like James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Herbert Hoover before him. And, like those three predecessors, Bush has done so in the service of a rigid ideology that permits no deviation and refuses to adjust to changing realities. Buchanan failed the test of Southern secession, Johnson failed in the face of Reconstruction, and Hoover failed in the face of the Great Depression. Bush has failed to confront his own failures in both domestic and international affairs, above all in his ill-conceived responses to radical Islamic terrorism. Having confused steely resolve with what Ralph Waldo Emerson called "a foolish consistency . . . adored by little statesmen," Bush has become entangled in tragedies of his own making, compounding those visited upon the country by outside forces.

No historian can responsibly predict the future with absolute certainty. There are too many imponderables still to come in the two and a half years left in Bush's presidency to know exactly how it will look in 2009, let alone in 2059. There have been presidents -- Harry Truman was one -- who have left office in seeming disgrace, only to rebound in the estimates of later scholars. But so far the facts are not shaping up propitiously for George W. Bush. He still does his best to deny it. Having waved away the lessons of history in the making of his decisions, the present-minded Bush doesn't seem to be concerned about his place in history. "History. We won't know," he told the journalist Bob Woodward in 2003. "We'll all be dead."

Another president once explained that the judgments of history cannot be defied or dismissed, even by a president. "Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," said Abraham Lincoln. "We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation."

SEAN WILENTZ

http://www.rollingstone.com/news/profile/story/9961300/the_worst_president_in_history?rnd=1145499467875&has-player=unknown

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Carl Bernstein - Senate Hearings on Bush, Now

Senate Hearings on Bush, Now

In this VF.com exclusive, a Watergate veteran and Vanity Fair contributor calls for bipartisan hearings investigating the Bush presidency. Should Republicans on the Hill take the high road and save themselves come November?
By CARL BERNSTEIN

orse than Watergate? High crimes and misdemeanors justifying the impeachment of George W. Bush, as increasing numbers of Democrats in Washington hope, and, sotto voce, increasing numbers of Republicans—including some of the president's top lieutenants—now fear? Leaders of both parties are acutely aware of the vehemence of anti-Bush sentiment in the country, expressed especially in the increasing number of Americans—nearing fifty percent in some polls—who say they would favor impeachment if the president were proved to have deliberately lied to justify going to war in Iraq.

John Dean, the Watergate conspirator who ultimately shattered the Watergate conspiracy, rendered his precipitous (or perhaps prescient) impeachment verdict on Bush two years ago in the affirmative, without so much as a question mark in choosing the title of his book Worse than Watergate. On March 31, some three decades after he testified at the seminal hearings of the Senate Watergate Committee, Dean reiterated his dark view of Bush's presidency in a congressional hearing that shed more noise than light, and more partisan rancor than genuine inquiry. The ostensible subject: whether Bush should be censured for unconstitutional conduct in ordering electronic surveillance of Americans without a warrant.

Raising the worse-than-Watergate question and demanding unequivocally that Congress seek to answer it is, in fact, overdue and more than justified by ample evidence stacked up from Baghdad back to New Orleans and, of increasing relevance, inside a special prosecutor's office in downtown Washington.

In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

How much evidence is there to justify such action?

Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era.

"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on April 9. "[T]he President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did." Specter was speaking specifically about a special prosecutor's assertion that Bush selectively declassified information (of dubious accuracy) and instructed the vice president to leak it to reporters to undermine criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the senator's comments would be even more appropriately directed at far more pervasive and darker questions that must be answered if the American political system is to acquit itself in the Bush era, as it did in Nixon's.

Perhaps there are facts or mitigating circumstances, given the extraordinary nature of conceiving and fighting a war on terror, that justify some of the more questionable policies and conduct of this presidency, even those that turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into a catastrophe of incompetence and neglect. But the truth is we have no trustworthy official record of what has occurred in almost any aspect of this administration, how decisions were reached, and even what the actual policies promulgated and approved by the president are. Nor will we, until the subpoena powers of the Congress are used (as in Watergate) to find out the facts—not just about the war in Iraq, almost every aspect of it, beginning with the road to war, but other essential elements of Bush's presidency, particularly the routine disregard for truthfulness in the dissemination of information to the American people and Congress.

The first fundamental question that needs to be answered by and about the president, the vice president, and their political and national-security aides, from Donald Rumsfeld to Condoleezza Rice, to Karl Rove, to Michael Chertoff, to Colin Powell, to George Tenet, to Paul Wolfowitz, to Andrew Card (and a dozen others), is whether lying, disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation of information have been a basic matter of policy—used to overwhelm dissent; to hide troublesome truths and inconvenient data from the press, public, and Congress; and to defend the president and his actions when he and they have gone awry or utterly failed.

Most of what we have learned about the reality of this administration—and the disconcerting mind-set and decision-making process of President Bush himself—has come not from the White House or the Pentagon or the Department of Homeland Security or the Treasury Department, but from insider accounts by disaffected members of the administration after their departure, and from distinguished journalists, and, in the case of a skeletal but hugely significant body of information, from a special prosecutor. And also, of late, from an aide-de-camp to the British prime minister. Almost invariably, their accounts have revealed what the president and those serving him have deliberately concealed—torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, and its apparent authorization by presidential fiat; wholesale N.S.A. domestic wiretapping in contravention of specific prohibitive law; brutal interrogations of prisoners shipped secretly by the C.I.A. and U.S. military to Third World gulags; the nonexistence of W.M.D. in Iraq; the role of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney's chief of staff in divulging the name of an undercover C.I.A. employee; the non-role of Saddam Hussein and Iraq in the events of 9/11; the death by friendly fire of Pat Tillman (whose mother, Mary Tillman, told journalist Robert Scheer, "The administration tried to attach themselves to his virtue and then they wiped their feet with him"); the lack of a coherent post-invasion strategy for Iraq, with all its consequent tragedy and loss and destabilizing global implications; the failure to coordinate economic policies for America's long-term financial health (including the misguided tax cuts) with funding a war that will drive the national debt above a trillion dollars; the assurance of Wolfowitz (since rewarded by Bush with the presidency of the World Bank) that Iraq's oil reserves would pay for the war within two to three years after the invasion; and Bush's like-minded confidence, expressed to Blair, that serious internecine strife in Iraq would be unlikely after the invasion.

But most grievous and momentous is the willingness—even enthusiasm, confirmed by the so-called Downing Street Memo and the contemporaneous notes of the chief foreign-policy adviser to British prime minister Tony Blair—to invent almost any justification for going to war in Iraq (including sending up an American U-2 plane painted with U.N. markings to be deliberately shot down by Saddam Hussein's air force, a plan hatched while the president, the vice president, and Blair insisted to the world that war would be initiated "only as a last resort"). Attending the meeting between Bush and Blair where such duplicity was discussed unabashedly ("intelligence and facts" would be jiggered as necessary and "fixed around the policy," wrote the dutiful aide to the prime minister) were Ms. Rice, then national-security adviser to the president, and Andrew Card, the recently departed White House chief of staff.

As with Watergate, the investigation of George W. Bush and his presidency needs to start from a shared premise and set of principles that can be embraced by Democrats and Republicans, by liberals and centrists and conservatives, and by opponents of the war and its advocates: that the president of the United States and members of his administration must defend the requirements of the Constitution, obey the law, demonstrate common sense, and tell the truth. Obviously there will be disagreements, even fierce ones, along the way. Here again the Nixon example is useful: Republicans on the Senate Watergate Committee, including its vice chairman, Howard Baker of Tennessee ("What did the president know and when did he know it?"), began the investigation as defenders of Nixon. By its end, only one was willing to make any defense of Nixon's actions.

The Senate Watergate Committee was created (by a 77–0 vote of the Senate) with the formal task of investigating illegal political-campaign activities. Its seven members were chosen by the leadership of each party, three from the minority, four from the majority. (The Democratic majority leader of the Senate, Mike Mansfield, insisted that none of the Democrats be high-profile senators with presidential aspirations.) One of the crucial tasks of any committee charged with investigating the Bush presidency will be to delineate the scope of inquiry. It must not be a fishing expedition—and not only because the pond is so loaded with fish. The lines ought to be drawn so that the hearings themselves do not become the occasion for the ultimate battle of the culture wars. This investigation should be seen as an opportunity to at last rise above the culture wars and, as in Watergate, learn whether the actions of the president and his deputies have been consistent with constitutional principles, the law, and the truth.

Karl Rove and other White House strategists are betting (with odds in their favor) that Republicans on Capitol Hill are extremely unlikely to take the high road before November and endorse any kind of serious investigation into Bush's presidency—a gamble that may increase the risk of losing Republican majorities in either or both houses of Congress, and even further undermine the future of the Bush presidency. Already in the White House, there is talk of a nightmare scenario in which the Democrats successfully make the November congressional elections a referendum on impeachment—and win back a majority in the House, and maybe the Senate too.

But voting now to create a Senate investigation—chaired by a Republican—could work to the advantage both of the truth and of Republican candidates eager to put distance between themselves and the White House.

The calculations of politicians about their electoral futures should pale in comparison to the urgency of examining perhaps the most disastrous five years of decision-making of any modern American presidency.

here are huge differences between the Nixon presidency and this one, of course, but surprisingly few would appear to redound to this administration's benefit, including even the fundamental question of the competence of the president.

First and foremost among the differences may be the role of the vice president. The excesses of Watergate—the crimes, the lies, the trampling of the Constitution, the disregard for the institutional integrity of the presidency, the dutiful and even enthusiastic lawbreaking of Nixon's apparatchiks—stemmed from one aberrant president's psyche and the paranoid assumptions that issued from it, and from the notion shared by some of his White House acolytes that, because U. S. troops were fighting a war—especially a failing one against a determined, guerrilla enemy in Vietnam—the commander in chief could assume extraordinary powers nowhere assigned in the Constitution and govern above the rule of law. "When the president does it that means that it is not illegal," Nixon famously told David Frost.

Bush and Cheney have been hardly less succinct about the president's duty and right to assume unprecedented authority nowhere specified in the Constitution. "[E]specially in the day and age we live in … the president of the United States needs to have his Constitutional powers unimpaired, if you will, in terms of the conduct of national-security policy," Cheney said less than four months ago.

Bush's doctrine of "unimpairment"—at one with his tendency to trim the truth—may be (with the question of his competence) the nub of the national nightmare. "I have the authority, both from the Constitution and the Congress, to undertake this vital program," Bush said after more than a few Republican and conservative eminences said he did not and joined the chorus of outrage about his N.S.A. domestic-surveillance program.

"Terrorism is not the only new danger of this era," noted George F. Will, the conservative columnist. "Another is the administration's argument that because the president is commander in chief, he is the 'sole organ for the nation in foreign affairs' … [which] is refuted by the Constitution's plain language, which empowers Congress to ratify treaties, declare war, fund and regulate military forces, and make laws 'necessary and proper' for the execution of all presidential powers."

A voluminous accumulation of documentary and journalistic evidence suggests that the policies and philosophy of this administration that may be illegal and unconstitutional stem not just from Bush but from Cheney as well—hence there's even greater necessity for a careful, methodical investigation under Senate auspices before any consideration of impeachment in the House and its mischievous potential to create the mother of all partisan, ideological, take-no-prisoners battles, which would even further divide the Congress and the country.

Cheney's recognition of the danger to him and his patron by a re-assertion of the Watergate precedent of proper congressional oversight is not hard to fathom. Illegal wiretapping—among other related crimes—was the basis of one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon passed by the House Judiciary Committee. The other two were defiance of subpoenas and obstruction of justice in the Watergate cover-up. "Watergate and a lot of the things around Watergate and Vietnam, both during the 1970s, served, I think, to erode the authority … [that] the president needs to be effective, especially in the national-security area," Cheney has observed. Nixon did not share his decision-making, much less philosophizing, with his vice president, and never relegated his own judgment to a number two. Former secretary of state Colin Powell's ex-chief of staff, retired army colonel Larry Wilkerson, has attested, "What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."

Here it may be relevant that Powell has, in private, made statements interpreted by many important figures in Washington as seemingly questioning Cheney's emotional stability, and that Powell no longer recognizes the steady, dependable "rock" with whom he served in the administration of George W. Bush's father. Powell needs to be asked under oath about his reported observations regarding Cheney, not to mention his own appearance before the United Nations in which he spoke with assurance about Saddam Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and insisted that the United States was seeking a way to avoid war, not start it.

Because Powell was regarded by some as the administration "good guy," who was prescient in his anxiety about Bush's determination to go to war in Iraq ("You break it, you own it"), he should not be handed a pass exempting him from tough questioning in a congressional investigation. Indeed, Powell is probably more capable than any other witness of providing both fact and context to the whole story of the road to war and the actions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the others.

ne of the similarities between Bush and Nixon is their contempt, lip service aside, for the legitimate oversight of Congress. In seeking to cover up his secret, illegal activities, Nixon made broad claims of executive privilege, many on grounds of national security, the most important of which were rejected by the courts.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and their colleagues have successfully evaded accountability for the dire consequences of their policies through a tried-and-true strategy that has exploited a situation in which the press (understandably) has no subpoena power and is held in ill repute (understandably) by so many Americans, and the Republican-controlled Congress can be counted on to ignore its responsibility to compel relevant, forthright testimony and evidence—no matter how outrageous (failure to provide sufficient body armor for American soldiers, for example), mendacious, or inimical to the national interest the actions of the president and his principal aides might be.

As in Watergate, the Bush White House has, at almost every opportunity when endangered by the prospect of accountability, made the conduct of the press the issue instead of the misconduct of the president and his aides, and, with help from its Republican and conservative allies in and out of Congress, questioned the patriotism of the other party. As during the Nixon epoch, the strategy is finally wearing thin. "He's smoking Dutch Cleanser," said Specter when Bush's attorney general claimed legality for the president's secret order authorizing the wiretapping of Americans by the N.S.A.—first revealed in The New York Times in December.

Before the Times story had broken, the president was ardent about his civil-libertarian credentials in such matters: "Any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires—a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so," Bush said in a speech in Buffalo, New York, in April 2004.

Obviously, Bush's statement was demonstrably untrue. Yet instead of correcting himself, Bush attacked the Times for virtual treason, and his aides initiated a full-court press to track down whoever had provided information to the newspaper. "Our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk," he declared, as if America's terrorist enemies hadn't assumed they were subject to all manner of electronic eavesdropping by the world's most technologically sophisticated nation.

As in the Nixon White House, the search for leakers and others in the executive branch who might be truthful with reporters has become a paranoid preoccupation in the Bush White House. "Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country," Bush added. (The special prosecutor's revelation that Bush himself—through Cheney—was ultimately behind Scooter Libby's leaking to undermine Joseph Wilson has ironically caused Bush more damage among Republican members of Congress than far more grievous acts by the president.)

Literally dozens of investigations have been ordered at the C.I.A., the Pentagon, the National Security Agency, and elsewhere in the executive branch to find out who is talking to the press about secret activities undertaken in this presidency. These include polygraph investigations and a warning to the press that reporters may be prosecuted under espionage laws.

Bush's self-claimed authority to wiretap without a court order—like his self-claimed authority to hold prisoners of war indefinitely without habeas corpus (on grounds those in custody are suspected "terrorists")—stems from the same doctrine of "unimpairment" and all its Nixonian overtones: "The American people expect me to protect their lives and their civil liberties, and that's exactly what we're doing with this [N.S.A. eavesdropping] program," asserted Bush in January.

hen Nixon's former attorney general John N. Mitchell was compelled to testify before the Watergate Committee, he laid out the sordid "White House horrors," as he called them—activities undertaken in the name of national security by the low-level thugs and high-level presidential aides acting in the president's name. Mitchell, loyal to the end, pictured the whole crowd, from Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Colson down to Liddy and the Watergate burglars, as self-starters, acting without authority from Nixon. The tapes, of course, told the real story—wiretapping, break-ins, attempts to illegally manipulate the outcome of the electoral process, routine smearing of the president's opponents and intricate machinations to render it untraceable, orders to firebomb a liberal think tank, the Watergate cover-up, and their origin in the Oval Office.

In the case of the Bush administration's two attorneys general, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, there are indications that—as in the Nixon White House—they approved and/or promulgated policies (horrors?) that would appear intended to enable the president to circumvent the Constitution and the law.

Ashcroft expressed reservations as early as 2004 about the legality of the wiretapping authority claimed by Bush, according to recent disclosures in the press, but Ashcroft's doubts—and the unwillingness of his principal deputy attorney general to approve central aspects of the N.S.A. domestic eavesdropping plan—were not made known to the Congress. Gonzales, as White House counsel, drew up the guidelines authorizing torture at American-run prisons and U.S. exemption from the Geneva war-crimes conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners. (His memo to the president described provisions of the conventions as "quaint.")

"Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country," said Bush when confronted with the undeniable, photographic evidence of torture. "We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being." The available facts would indicate this was an unusually evident example of presidential prevarication, but we will never know exactly how untruthful, or perhaps just slippery, until the president and the White House are compelled to cooperate with a real congressional investigation.

That statement by Bush, in June 2004, in response to worldwide outrage at the infamous Abu Ghraib photographs, illustrates two related, core methodologies employed by this president and his cadre to escape responsibility for their actions: First, an Orwellian reliance on the meaninglessness of words. (When is "torture" torture? When is "ordered" "authorized"? When is "if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration" a scheme to keep trusted aides on the payroll through a legal process that could take years before adjudication and hide the president's own role in helping start—perhaps inadvertently—the Plame ball rolling?)

"Listen, I know of nobody—I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information," the president was quoted saying in Time magazine's issue of October 13, 2003. Time's report then noted with acuity, "Bush seemed to emphasize those last two words ['classified information'] as if hanging onto a legal life preserver in choppy seas."

The second method of escape is the absence of formal orders issued down the chain of command, leaving non-coms, enlisted men and women, and a few unfortunate non-star officers to twist in the wind for policies emanating from the president, vice president, secretary of defense, attorney general, national-security adviser to the president, and current secretary of state (formerly the national-security adviser). With a determined effort, a committee of distinguished senators should be able to establish if the grotesque abuse of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo was really the work of a "few bad apples" like Army Reserve Spc. Lynndie England wielding the leash, or a natural consequence of actions flowing from the Oval Office and Office of the Secretary of Defense.

In a baker's dozen of hearings before pliant committees of Congress, a parade of the top brass from Rice to Rumsfeld, to the Joint Chiefs, to Paul Bremer has managed for almost three years to evade responsibility for—or even acknowledgment of—the disintegrating situation on the ground in Iraq, its costs in lives and treasure, and its disastrous reverberations through the world, and for an assault on constitutional principles at home. Similarly, until the Senate Watergate hearings, Nixon and his men at the top had evaded responsibility for Watergate and their cover-up of all the "White House horrors."

With the benefit of hindsight, it is now almost impossible to look at the president's handling of the war in Iraq in isolation from his handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Certainly any investigation of the president and his administration should include both disasters. Before 9/11, Bush and Condoleezza Rice had been warned in the starkest of terms—by their own aides, by the outgoing Clinton administration, and by experts on terrorism—of the urgent danger of a spectacular al-Qaeda attack in the United States. Yet the first top-level National Security Council meeting to discuss the subject was not held until September 4, 2001—just as the F.B.I. hierarchy had been warned by field agents that there were suspected Islamic radicals learning to fly 747s with no legitimate reasons for doing so, but the bureau ultimately ignored the urgency of problem, just as Bush had ample opportunity (despite what he said later) to review and competently execute a disaster plan for the hurricane heading toward New Orleans.

There will forever be four indelible photographic images of the George W. Bush epoch: an airplane crashing into World Trade Tower number two; Bush in a Florida classroom reading from a book about a goat while a group of second-graders continued to captivate him for another seven minutes after Andrew Card had whispered to the president, "America is under attack"; floodwaters inundating New Orleans, and its residents clinging to rooftops for their lives; and, two days after the hurricane struck, Bush peeking out the window of Air Force One to inspect the devastation from a safe altitude. The aftermath of the hurricane's direct hit, both in terms of the devastation and the astonishing neglect and incompetence from the top down, would appear to be unique in American history. Except for the Civil War and the War of 1812 (when the British burned Washington), no president has ever lost an American city; and if New Orleans is not lost, it will only be because of the heroics of its people and their almost superhuman efforts to overcome the initial lethargy and apparent non-comprehension of the president. Bush's almost blank reaction was foretold vividly in a video of him and his aides meeting on August 28, 2005, the day before Katrina made landfall. The tape—withheld by the administration from Congress but obtained by the Associated Press along with seven days of transcripts of administration briefings—shows Bush and his Homeland Security chief being warned explicitly that the storm could cause levees to overflow, put large number of lives at risk, and overwhelm rescuers.

In the wake of the death and devastation in New Orleans, President Bush refused to provide the most important documents sought by Congress or allow his immediate aides in the White House to testify before Congress about decision-making in the West wing or at his Crawford ranch in the hours immediately before and after the hurricane struck. His refusal was wrapped in a package of high principle—the need for confidentiality of executive branch communications—the same principle of preserving presidential privacy that, presumably, prevented him from releasing official White House photos of himself with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff or allowing White House aides to testify about the N.S.A. electronic-eavesdropping program on grounds of executive privilege.

The unwillingness of this president—a former Texas governor familiar with the destructive powers of weather—to deal truthfully ("I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees," he said in an interview with Good Morning America three days after the hurricane hit) and meaningfully with the people of the Gulf Coast or the country, or the Congress, about his government's response ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") to Hurricane Katrina may be the Rosebud moment of his presidency. The president's repeated attempts to keep secret his actions and those of his principal aides by invoking often spurious claims of executive privilege and national security in the run-up to the war in Iraq—and its prosecution since—are rendered perfectly comprehensible when seen in relation to the Katrina claim. It is an effective way to hide the truth (as Nixon attempted so often), and—when uncomfortable truths have nonetheless been revealed by others—to justify extraordinary actions that would seem to be illegal or even unconstitutional.

s incompetence an impeachable offense? The question is another reason to defer the fraught matter of impeachment (if deserved) in the Bush era until the ground is prepared by a proper fact-finding investigation and public hearings conducted by a sober, distinguished committee of Congress.

We have never had a presidency in which the single unifying thread that flows through its major decision-making was incompetence—stitched together with hubris and mendacity on a Nixonian scale. There will be no shortage of witnesses to question about the subject, among them the retired three-star Marine Corps general who served as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war's planning, Gregory Newbold.

Last week he wrote, "I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat—Al Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy." The decision to invade Iraq, he said, "was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions—or bury the results." Despite the military's determination that, after Vietnam, "[W]e must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it.… We have been fooled again."

The unprecedented generals' revolt against the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, is—like the special prosecutor's Plame investigation—a door that once cracked open, cannot be readily shut by the president or even his most senior aides. What outsiders long suspected regarding the conduct of the war has now been given credence by those on the inside, near the top, just as in the unraveling of Watergate.

General Newbold and his fellow retired generals have (as observed elsewhere in the press) declared Rumsfeld unfit to lead America's military at almost exactly the moment when the United States must deal with the most difficult legacy of the Bush presidency: how to pry itself out of Iraq and deal with the real threat this administration ignored next door, from Iran.

Rumsfeld appeared Friday on an Al Arabiya television broadcast and said, "Out of thousands and thousands of admirals and generals, if every time two or three people disagreed we changed the Secretary of Defense of the United States, it would be like a merry-go-round." This kind of denial of reality—and (again) Orwellian abuse of facts and language—to describe six generals, each with more than 30 years military experience, each of whom served at the top of their commands (three in Iraq) and worked closely with Rumsfeld, is indicative of the problem any investigation by the Senate must face when dealing with this presidency.

And if Rumsfeld is unfit, how is his commander-in-chief, who has steadfastly refused to let him go (as Nixon did with Haldeman and Ehrlichman, "two of the finest public servants I have ever known"), to be judged?

The roadblock to a serious inquiry to date has been a Republican majority that fears the results, and a Democratic minority more interested in retribution and grandstanding than the national weal. There are indications, however, that by November voters may be far more discerning than they were in the last round of congressional elections, and that Republicans especially are getting the message. Indeed many are talking privately about their lack of confidence in Bush and what to do about him.

It took the Senate Watergate Committee less than six months to do its essential work. When Sam Ervin's gavel fell to close the first phase of public televised hearings on August 7, 1973, the basic facts of Nixon's conspiracy—and the White House horrors—were engraved on the nation's consciousness. The testimony of the president's men themselves—under oath and motivated perhaps in part by a real threat of being charged with perjury—left little doubt about what happened in a criminal and unconstitutional presidency.

On February 6, 1974, the House voted 410 to 4 to empower its Judiciary Committee to begin an impeachment investigation of the president. On July 27, 1974, the first of three articles of impeachment was approved, with support from 6 of the 17 Republicans (and 21 Democrats) on the committee. Two more articles were approved on July 29 and 30. On August 8, facing certain conviction in a Senate trial, Nixon resigned and Gerald Ford became president.

In Watergate, Republicans were the ones who finally told Richard Nixon, "Enough." They were the ones who cast the most critical votes for articles of impeachment, ensuring that Nixon would be judged with nonpartisan fairness. After the vote, the Republican congressional leadership—led by the great conservative senator Barry Goldwater—marched en masse to the White House to tell the criminal president that he had to go. And if he didn't, the leadership would recommend his conviction in the Senate and urge all their Republican colleagues to do the same.

In the case of George W. Bush, important conservative and Republican voices have, finally, begun speaking out in the past few weeks. William F. Buckley Jr., founder of the modern conservative movement and, with Goldwater, perhaps its most revered figure, said last month: "It's important that we acknowledge in the inner counsels of state that [the war in Iraq] has failed so that we should look for opportunities to cope with that failure." And "Mr. Bush is in the hands of a fortune that will be unremitting on the point of Iraq.… If he'd invented the Bill of Rights it wouldn't get him out of this jam." And "The neoconservative hubris, which sort of assigns to America some kind of geo-strategic responsibility for maximizing democracy, overstretches the resources of a free country."

Even more scathing have been some officials who served in the White House under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush's father. Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy aide in the Reagan administration, a deputy assistant treasury secretary for the first President Bush, and author of a new book, Impostor: How George Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, noted: "A lot of conservatives have had reservations about him for a long time, but have been afraid to speak out for fear it would help liberals and the Democrats"—a situation that, until the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, existed in regard to Nixon. "I think there are growing misgivings about the conduct of the Iraq operation, and how that relates to a general incompetence his administration seems to have about doing basic things," said Bartlett.

fter Nixon's resignation, it was often said that the system had worked. Confronted by an aberrant president, the checks and balances on the executive by the legislative and judicial branches of government, and by a free press, had functioned as the founders had envisioned.

The system has thus far failed during the presidency of George W. Bush—at incalculable cost in human lives, to the American political system, to undertaking an intelligent and effective war against terror, and to the standing of the United States in parts of the world where it previously had been held in the highest regard.

There was understandable reluctance in the Congress to begin a serious investigation of the Nixon presidency. Then there came a time when it was unavoidable. That time in the Bush presidency has arrived.

Carl Bernstein is a Vanity Fair contributing editor. His biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton will be published by Knopf next year.

http://www.vanityfair.com/features/general/articles/060417fege08