When a Washington official uses the passive voice you know they're toast. Sentences like the Attorney General's - "I acknowledge that mistakes were made" - should come with subtitles that read "I'm desperately trying to avoid the inevitable."
But this story isn't about Alberto Gonzales, and it isn't even really about the Bush Administration. Not anymore. It's about Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and every other Republican politician running for President. It's about a group of Republican leaders who carry a moral stain that may be indelible.
The story begins with a sleazy criminal cabal whose misdeeds are so deep, so widespread, and so commonly known in insider circles that the names, places, and details of each individual incident begin to matter less and less. But it ends with a failure of ethics - defined by one dictionary as "the science of human duty" - by an entire generation of Republican leaders.
A Gonzales resignation is worthwhile, and became almost inevitable once the White House "expressed confidence" in him. It's also rough justice, simple karmic payback for his memos justifying torture.
A Congressional hearing is critically important, too. Nevertheless, these actions will address only the past. The real issue for our country is what happens in the future. Does any Republican Presidential candidate have the moral standing to step in and fix what's broken? It sure doesn't look that way.
Regarding the Federal prosecutors, Paul Krugman has it absolutely right when he says that the real scandal is with the prosecutors that weren't fired. They're the ones who did what they were told, like indicting Democrats before elections only to drop those indictments after the votes were counted. They're the ones who accepted those phone calls from politicians looking to corrupt the investigative process. Writes Krugman (subscription required):
Of the 375 cases ... (in which Federal prosecutors pursued politicians), 10 involved independents, 67 involved Republicans, and 298 involved Democrats. The main source of this partisan tilt was a huge disparity in investigations of local politicians, in which Democrats were seven times as likely as Republicans to face Justice Department scrutiny.
Those principled prosecutors who didn't toe the line and were fired are but a small minority. The GOP has been using the Justice Department as a private political police force.
The bloggers who compared the GOP to Tammany Hall are right. They've made our country Tammany Nation, and the question before us now is: Why haven't any major Republican politicians had the guts to say so? Many Democrats were willing to chastise Bill Clinton for lying over trivial sexual matters, and rightly so. Why don't Republicans speak up about these far more troublesome misdeeds?
This has been going on for a long, long time. Here's an anecdote, but an illustrative one: I went to DC's Folklife Festival in 2004 (my son was a volunteer there) and sat at a picnic table with a group of mid-level bureacrats from different agencies. Most of them had voted for Bush, yet all told horror stories of departments forced to bend the knee to political expediency and the use of their resources to increase Republican political power. They knew then, as did virtually everyone in Washington, that the Federal government was being used as an ATM and as a Republican vote-getting engine.
The long pattern of Republican electoral abuse - corrupt court decisions, phone jamming in New Hampshire, suspicious voting machine results - is another example of the Tammanization of America. The Boss Tweed cartoon above, with its banner reading "in counting there is strength," shows that there was a dark precedent for the Republican machine that has ruled Washington for six years.
"Everybody does it when they're in power," you say. That's true to a certain extent, but the greed and (as we are learning) the corruption far exceed anything ever done in Washington by either party. There isn't a major Republican politician in the country who didn't know about some of it. And not a single one spoke up.
Nor are they speaking up now. Rudy Giuliani, who was once a Federal prosecutor himself, won't comment. Why? Because he's a New Yorker, and he knows what happens when you buck Boss Tweed. If you want the Big Job, you have to bend the knee to the Big Boss.
Giuliani knows how prosecutor appointments work. He knows they're appointed once, at the beginning of a Presidential term, for four-year appointments. He knows that mid-term firings are extremely unusual, and that this pattern indicates corruption in the system. But he's working with the criminal gang running things now. He thinks that's the only way to win.
And what about Mitt Romney - squeaky-clean Mitt, the outsider, the man who tamed the wild liberal natives of Massachusetts? Mitt's even more morally tainted. Not only won't he comment either, which shows his willingness to tolerate corruption in pursuit of higher office, but he's been more willing than most to pal around with the most abusive hatemongers of the Right:
Romney, the newfound conservative darling, is eager to capitalize on their bigotry and demagoguery to further his ambition. . "But," somebody will say, "he objected to Coulter's 'faggot' comment the next day." True - but when this picture was taken he was about to say this about Coulter to the howling crowd:
"I am happy to hear that after you hear from me, you will hear from Ann Coulter. That is a good thing. Oh yeah!"
Note that she had already said vile things about groups as disparate as Muslims (they should be "forcibly converted"), liberals (they should be beaten "with a baseball bat"), Bill Clinton (a "very good rapist"), and New York Times staffers (who should be "executed").
That's the kind of sleaze Mitt Romney will bathe in to become President.
As for John McCain, it's beginning to look like his candidacy is over. But I said all I have to say about him here.
Look here, people. I'm trying to turn over a new leaf and write about positive things - healthcare reform, the future, and positive ideas for government change. But this statement can't be avoided: The Republican Party has become a deeply corrupt enterprise, and there isn't a single national candidate now who's displayed the conscience or the courage to change it.
Are they "unindicted co-conspirators" in the legal sense? Of course not. But morally - tragically - that's what they have become.
And that's the real scandal.