"The beginning of the end?" Arianna asked last week.
She meant the end of any lingering doubts that the Bush Administration is corrupt, inept and ill-intentioned --- and the end of this Administration's power to push all three branches of government around.
And it sure looked that way last week, as the news revealed excess in every corner of the Administration: Scooter Libby's testimony that he'd been "authorized" to leak classified information; the CIA agent in charge of intelligence on Iraq telling us that the White House only wanted justification for an invasion; Michael Brown insisting the White House knew right away that the New Orleans levees had been breached; the President's laughable explanation of an attack on Los Angeles that called for a terrorist to blow open a jet's cockpit door (and, presumably, his leg) with a shoe bomb; the revelation that Bush sneaked Social Security privatization into the budget; the Attorney General's cheerful comparison of the surveillance methods of George Bush and George Washington; the first of the Abrahamoff pictures, which is sure to end with a shot of Bush spinning the dreidl with Jack's kids; and the ultimate, the possibility that the Espionage Act will be used against journalists.
Any normal person connected to this government --- that is, any person with a modicum of shame --- would look at this week and say, "Yeah, we blew it. We're cooked."
The problem is: We may know it's the beginning of the end for Bush. Democratic candidates for Congress may know and be acting on it. And Republican officeholders and party officials may be not-so-secretly terrified.
But Bush doesn't know it. And that denial makes him dangerous. No matter that he's sunk in the polls, that even the famously conservative poll-takers on AOL think Abramoff is more credible than the President, that his State of the Union address was classic lame duck. When cornered, this Administration doesn't defend itself --- it attacks.
Say there's another terrorist attack. (The reason there hasn't been, we may reasonably conclude, has nothing to do with any "protection" this Administration has provided us.) What would be tragedy for us would be opportunity for Bush --- in the aftermath, you just know the White House would try to extend its powers. And in that moment, because the White House has already planted the idea that liberals are traitors who send coded messages to bin Laden in the editorials of The New York Times, it would prevail.
So much for the "beginning of the end."
How to short-circuit the next power-grab?
Not by traditional discourse --- the White House is deaf. And not by conventional politics --- the White House doesn't acknowledge Democrats and has told its own kind that any deviation from total loyalty means no financing support at election time.
My thought: Oprah. With a book. On television.
Oprah, because her takedown of the publishing industry whetted our appetite for more.
Oprah, because no one else with a national platform can get away with it.
Oprah, because she knows what she's talking about --- she reads the damn books.
The book I want her to read --- and choose for her book club --- is Emerson's Essays. Yes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the dominant American philosopher of the 19th century and, arguably, our country's most readable thinker. Give Emerson a sentence; he'll give you an aphorism.
Many of Emerson's essays shine. The one I want Oprah to focus on is "Compensation." )You can read it online, at no charge, here.) In this essay, Emerson banishes the idea of rewards for goodness in some angel-filled heaven --- he sees our lives on this planet as a real-time karmic test. Everything is connected. Every act is balanced by another. The world is thus maintained in perfect equilibrium.
Emerson writes: "For every grain of wit there is a grain of folly. For every thing you have missed, you have gained something else; and for every thing you gain, you lose something. If riches increase, they are increased that use them. If the gatherer gathers too much, nature takes out of the man what she puts into his chest; swells the estate, but kills the owner."
And then, the zinger to the heart of this empire-drunk Administration: "Nature hates monopolies and exceptions."
This is not a metaphor. It's personal: "The farmer imagines power and place are fine things. But the President has paid dear for his White House. It has commonly cost him all his peace, and the best of his manly attributes. To preserve for a short time so conspicuous an appearance before the world, he is content to eat dust before the real masters who stand erect behind the throne."
Those masters, I would contend, are not lobbyists and donors. They're the Good --- people who live in harmony with the earth and their fellow men and women. They know what the powerful do not: "Men seek to be great; they would have offices, wealth, power, and fame. They think that to be great is to possess one side of nature -- the sweet, without the other side -- the bitter. In nature nothing can be given, all things are sold."
"Compensation," as sweet a hymn to Buddhism as an American has ever written, contains a blunt warning. The world is alive, and the world is ultimately fair. "Persons and events may stand for a time between you and justice, but it is only a postponement. You must pay at last your own debt."
The idea of a reckoning is hateful to this Administration --- Bush cheerfully bequeaths a ruined economy and a hothouse climate to our children. The idea of a reckoning is hateful to the rest of us as well --- but unlike the White House, we are willing to do whatever's needed to avoid it. And it is on the level of ideas --- not politics --- that we can isolate the White House, and reveal it for the barren thing it has become.
In the end, people live and die for ideas. The Administration is out of them. Emerson had many, and they're the classic American ones: self-reliance, heroism, love. By pushing those ideas into our national conversation, Oprah could give Emerson the power he once had --- the power to shift the paradigm.
If this works, suddenly there's a new idea in our lives. Its optimism is based on values that mean something. As one nation, we find ourselves looking beyond our present leaders --- we find leaders everywhere. The President? Old news. We've moved on.
Which, perhaps, is how the end really begins for George Bush.