07/04/2006 01:08 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Resistible Rise of George W. Bush

So now we know, more or less, what some of us thought we knew already (because that's the kind of people we are), and some of us will continue to deny as long as there's ice in Greenland (because that's the kind of people they are): when George W. Bush's administration was being charged with misrepresenting intelligence and manipulating the nation into war, Bush directed his vice-president to release classified information not only to defend them all against that charge, but also to discredit Joe Wilson, the man most effectively making it.

So. Bush directed Cheney to defend and discredit, but he did not (he says) tell Cheney to reveal that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA agent...and Cheney didn't reveal that fact (he says), though he did have a special dispensation from his pope to reveal some classified information (what, exactly?)...and Cheney's minion, Libby, did in fact blow Plame's cover (take that, Joe Wilson and the CIA!), but Libby certainly did not do such a thing at the direction of either Bush or Cheney (he says), he just...well, um...he did it on his own. It just happened. And Novak and Woodward already knew anyway, from some other administration source, who either did or did not have a special dispensation to leak classified information for political advantage. Are you clear about all this now? We're getting there, aren't we?

No. It's important to remember that nothing is proved, or ever will be.

Poor America. What fatal combination of fear, ignorance, collusion, and corruption has paralyzed the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Opposition Party, the Press, and the voters--all the decent, hard-working, good-hearted, idealistic, brave, once-proud American people? Why haven't any of our institutions--why haven't we?--interfered in any meaningful way with the rise of a comically inept, foolish, almost pitiable leader who has failed howlingly in every aspect of foreign and domestic policy while presiding over the transformation of this nation from a widely admired and beloved friend and benefactor of the world to an almost universally feared and despised international rogue and outlaw. (Before the vigilantes of the great party of Lincoln and Coulter counterattack, let them remember that "outlaw," alas, is, more or less, this nefarious administration's own proud, sneering, smirking boast.)

Why have we been such poor stewards of our democracy, and our planet? Why did we accept a tax cut during a war when our government couldn't (or wouldn't) pay for our soldiers' armor? What rich man's topping up is worth a single American arm or leg? Why, if we were sending troops for whatever reason, didn't we send enough of them to protect the country we were so determined to liberate? Why did we allow New Orleans to be so devastated a second time, after nature's devastation, by cronyism and incompetence, and why did we demand no accounting? What's wrong with us? Why don't we demand that the people who have made such disastrous mistakes, over and over again, be fired in disgrace instead of rewarded with promotions and medals? Are we so afraid of terrorists that we will never again demand an accounting for anything?

In "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" (1941), a play that ought to be revived tomorrow in every American city, Bertolt Brecht chronicled the easy stages by which a nondescript, graceless, charmless, talentless, ill-bred, dimwitted mob boss takes over the Chicago vegetable market. Why were the American people so ready to facilitate and accept the ascendancy of such a leader? So ready to be manipulated, pampered, deceived, and diminished? Greed? Were we bought by the silly fake tax cut? Fear? Did 9/11 do this, make us such cowards? Why do we allow ourselves to be spied on, and bullied by, and all the while condescended to, by a rogue's gallery of disgraced hypocrites? Why did we allow our hard-won, precious Constitution, with its dear little system of checks and balances, to be discarded with a smirk and a sneer and a signing ceremony, or a new program of secret surveillance, or a loud bullying charge of treason leveled against us, barked out ad nauseam by men and women who are surely manifest traitors themselves to everything we believe in, every value we thought we shared? How has this happened to us? Why?

Bush directed Cheney, but Cheney didn't tell Libby, but Libby did tell Judy Miller, but definitely not because Bush or Cheney told him to, although they could legally have told him to, because they did have a dispensation from the law, but they didn't, exactly,

Please. What happened to Valerie Plame? Patrick Fitzgerald, your nation needs you.

Right. When all our institutions have failed and we the people have also failed so dismally, disgracing ourselves (isn't that Chuck Schumer clambering up on Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman's rickety little bandwagon, and Hillary Clinton knitting her brow more over a potential burned--symbolic--flag than over an actual trashed--real--Constitution), why in the world would we expect a lowly prosecutor to throw his body in front of the juggernaut? Brecht made it clear that in the modern world a leader like Arturo Ui can only come to power with the lazy, selfish collusion of his citizen-accomplices at every step of the way. Archibald MacLeish had already warned us about the same thing (fascism) in his thrilling 1937 radio play, "The Fall of the City." The "masterless men" of the city willingly "take a master" but are surprised when the Conqueror removes his helmet and there's no one there. It was Casey Stengel, however, who most succinctly articulated the essential nature of our shared responsibility. It was after his team won the 1958 World Series. "I couldn't have done it," he said, "without my players."

We're George W. Bush's players, his accomplices. We're the masterless men who have taken a master. By the time a prosperous, well-fed, comfortable, self-indulgent nation notices even a ridiculously resistible rise to power like Arturo Ui's, like George W. Bush's ("Flip-flop!" "Cut and run!" "Saddam Hussein! 9/11!" "Flip-flop!" "Cut and run!" "Saddam Hussein, 9/11!"), it is sometimes too late to stop it.

How did this happen? What can we do? Oh, for one real hero, circa 1776 (revolution?), or, better, 1787 (nation of laws?). John Adams. Benjamin Franklin. Alexander Hamilton. John Marshall... Maybe if Patrick Fitzgerald just...? Or Barack. Or Russ. Or Al. Al. Or somebody else. Some 21st-Century Lincoln, Churchill, Truman. Just one, one authentic American hero. (Did somebody just rev up the good old Swift Boat machine?)

Just one.

Come on somebody, anybody.

Maybe Arlen Specter could threaten to hold a really big hearing.

Happy Fourth of July.