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Sinking Ship

Bush's hacks come home to roost

For a variety of reasons, I never cared much for John Kerry as a presidential contender. Even so, by the time November 2004 rolled around, I was willing to give the guy a try if only out of a deep personal conviction that my ancient housecat, Pitty Pat, would make a better commander-in-chief than George W. Bush. (This despite the fact poor Pitty is blind, has a heart condition, and sleeps 20 hours a day.) And so, in those dreary post-election weeks, I took to consoling myself with daydreams of how bumpy the Bushies' second term was sure to be.

Rarely has reality so outstripped my fantasy life.

First things first: I am not talking about Iraq here, a situation far too catastrophic and depressing for any kind of gloating. The administration's conduct of business on the home front, however, is slowly but steadily being exposed as more conniving and dishonorable than ever I imagined in my wildest schadenfreude-laced visions.

Of late, the U.S. attorneys purge has proved a particularly rich and deep vein of White House chicanery and resulting embarrassment. If it wasn't gratifying enough to watch our hapless attorney general convince even members of his own party that he is both corrupt and stupid, now comes word that the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is organizing a task force to investigate allegations that a variety of Bushies have, in a variety of ways, violated the Hatch Act, which aims to insulate government workers from precisely the sort of partisan politicking this administration finds so irresistible.

Some allegations directly involve the purge, such as the question of whether former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias was canned because he didn't prosecute enough Democrats. Others revolve around the as-yet-unknown number of partisan political briefings that Karl Rove and his winged monkeys gave political appointees in federal agencies. Currently, the best known of these events is a January presentation by Rove deputy J. Scott Jennings, in which he gave several folks at the General Services Administration (GSA) a tutorial on both the Top 20 House Democratic "targets" for '08 and the three dozen Republican seats the White House most wants to protect. Lest anyone miss the underlying point of Jennings's little lecture, GSA administrator Lurita Doan reportedly followed up by asking how agency projects could be used to help the cause. Blatant? Certainly. Illegal? Possibly. Unusual? Hardly. On Wednesday, the White House acknowledged conducting 20 such briefings in at least 15 government agencies since the start of 2006, with many more conducted in past years.

But it gets better! Even as Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch launches his probe, he himself is under investigation by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for allegedly politicizing his agency. (Bloch's sins are said to include exiling or otherwise punishing any underling who disagreed with him and, in his capacity as chief protector of government whistleblowers, tossing out legitimate whistleblower cases in order to claim progress in reducing the office backlog. He also stands accused of trying to intimidate staffers being interviewed in the OPM's probe of Bloch.) In fact, this week, an attorney representing disgruntled Special Counsel employees harrumphed to The New York Times that Bloch is only convening his task force in a desperate ploy to divert attention from his own misdeeds.

If so, how perfect would that be? I can think of few ironies more delicious than if the Bushies packed the government with partisan hacks who behaved so badly that at least one of them, in an effort to cover his own ass, wound up launching a probe of other partisan hacks. So widespread and egregious is the hackery in the Bush White House that it has finally begun to collapse under the weight of its own ineptitude.

(As for liberal fears that, being such a hideous hack, Bloch has no intention of seriously investigating anything and, whatever the facts, plans to exonerate Rove et al: Maybe. But it's a risky move. Admittedly, the Office of Special Counsel is no Office of the Independent Counsel. But Washington probes tend to assume a life of their own, and there's no guarantee Bloch could control all of the people involved with his task force and all the information uncovered by it, especially with suspicious Dems and OPM investigators hovering nearby. Moreover, as Bob Novak noted on Thursday, Bloch's rocky tenure as special counsel has provoked run-ins with a couple of Bush intimates, so who knows what bad blood might be bubbling beneath the surface?)

Indeed, perhaps the most satisfying part of the recent scandals is how many seem to revolve around the Bushies' arrogant attempt to subvert the basic self-correcting, cyclical nature of politics. Much of what keeps the U.S. system humming along is the fact that, when the ruling party at last becomes unbearably complacent, corrupt, entitled and/or incompetent, voters get fed up and kick the bums out. Admittedly, it can take several cycles before the electorate is moved to act. Even so, the very threat of such action is often enough to keep sensible politicos from behaving too badly, if for no other reason than they fear one day finding themselves at the mercy of an opposition majority with subpoena power and an axe to grind.

But folks like Karl Rove--and the not-so-dearly departed Tom DeLay--have no respect for the beauty of such balance. Unwilling to leave such weighty matters as choosing leaders to the whim of the unwashed masses, they spent their days trying to rig the system so that the playing field was irretrievably slanted in favor of their team: gerrymandering voting districts, pressuring U.S. attorneys to pursue partisan prosecutions, urging federal agencies to operate with an eye toward partisan gain, and otherwise harnessing the machinery of government for political means. Their entire goal is to screw up the natural cycle--to ensure that, no matter how miffed voters get, the structural barriers to change will be insurmountable.

This is why DeLay had to go. And it is why, if the gods of politics are just, Rove will eventually find himself in equally deep poo. Guys like this aren't just trying to destroy the opposing party. They are mucking around with the fundamentals of our entire political system. Which would make me want to pop someone in the nose--if I weren't so busy chuckling at just how many of the Bushies' tawdry little schemes are now boomeranging back to bite them on their complacent, corrupt, entitled, incompetent backsides.