If the Bush administration collapses into a scandal-ridden mess, we will be in the shadow of Watergate again. The politics of blame-and-shame will have found another victim in the White House, and the prosecuting side will feel righteous in victory -- until the tables are turned on them next time. What both Republicans and Democrats miss is that the public has become dangerously addicted to the spectacle of scandal and corruption, which is extremely unhealthy for any society.
Arguably all the misdeeds dug up by all the investigators who grubbed around in Iran-Contra, Whitewater, Travelgate, the Vincent Foster suicide, and Monicagate were basically unimportant compared to the damage done by generating chronic animosity and suspicion. Now that the Democrats see the Valerie Plame case as a symbol for a far greater wrong--the wholesale lying and deception that sold us the Iraq war -- everybody has cried wolf too often. The general public doesn't know who Scooter Libby, Judith Miller, and Matt Cooper are. They just smell a rotten stench, and the nose doesn't lie.
The remedy could be as simple as power sharing and mutual respect. What if power could be shared, at least to some degree, by actually listening to both sides of an issue, weighing the pros and cons of policy, asking for consultation, and giving due respect to elder statesmen and accredited experts?
The Bush administration did none of these things before going to war. They ignored long-time Iraq experts and Islamic scholars. They invited in only their ideological colleagues to give advice. They denigrated and smeared any opposition, even when the criticism was meant to be helpful or at worst cautionary. All of this was in keeping with the prevailing Republican doctrine that opposition should be treated with disdain, and that the best way to deal with critics is to destroy them.
Until we see the Democrats and Republicans take steps to share power, politics can only become more polarized. The truth is that in both the red and blue states pollsters find that people aren't really separated by a huge gulf. On hot-button issues they have been drilled to take opposite sides, but on the whole there are many more shared values than schismatic ones. It's time for politics to reflect this harmony instead of perpetuating the toxic cycle that has given us too many cheap scandals and the ideological hacks who inflame them.