05/29/2007 10:11 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Cheney-Bush Legacy & Open Society

As tragic as it is, the Iraq War is a distraction. Like the gnawing pain of an open wound, it commands our attention. But there is a far graver threat to the security, integrity and eventual viability of this country.

Throughout its tenure, the Cheney-Bush administration has been systematically dismantling every governmental agency -- Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety Health Administration, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, Department of Energy, National Institute of Health, Department of Justice, Federal Drug Administration, Department of Education, Smithsonian Institute, Federal Emergency Management Administration, Forest Service, Department of Homeland Security. All have been staffed with political appointees whose primary qualifications and sole mandate has been to undermine the very charters of the organization they are supposed to lead. Even the core principles of democratic governance have been consistently, systematically and deliberately weakened: rule by law -- transparency and accountability -- checks and balances -- the public good. This administration's contempt for international law is only exceeded by its dismissal of habeas corps and its aspiration for an imperial presidency as evidenced in Bush's "signing statements" that he claims gives him the right to disobey over 750 laws.

This is a clear and present danger. It is the most radical, systematic, and regressive attack on our government by any elected party in this country's history.

Sounds like hyperbole. But think about it. Look at the evidence.

The 2008 election must not be just about the Iraq War, emigration, or the assorted red herring issues of gay marriage, abortion, the economy. Rather it must be an open public dialogue about how we can recover our soul as a people, and honestly confront our failings and make the sacrifices and depth of changes required to reverse the ruinous years of Cheney-Bush.

It is far from certain -- that even with a wholly new administration -- that we can recover what we have lost, and eradicate the cancer of arrogance and ignorance that has become our face to the world. For neither the hope of Barack Obama, nor the popularism of John Edwards, nor the gravitas of Hilary Clinton will be sufficient. (Not to mention the manic expediencies of John McCain and Rudolph Guliani or even the panderings of Bishop Romney.) Personality will not solve our problem. Not even a resurrected Bill Clinton.

The fact that Cheney-Bush fundamentalist agenda has achieved such primacy, and to this day, defies fact, logic, public opinion, and the law, is indicative of how weak our democratic institutions and values have become. Normally, our democratic immune system would have repudiated the incipient Cheney-Bush virus. But our immune system has become severely compromised over the years, beginning with the Nixon Administration when partisanship first mutated into imperial ambition and ideological dogma. Now in an even more virulent form, it has successfully infected our entire body politic. Adjustments on the margin will not suffice. Big bold acts in all aspects of government will be needed. Not calculated appeasements and compromised principles. Watered down vaccines will not suppress this highly resistant pathogen.

A level of activism and restructuring not seen since FDR will be needed. Not to say that we have to return to big government, but rather to smart governance. There need not be a battle between the private sector and the public sector. There really is an opportunity to get beyond left-right divisions to forge a new synthesis and consensus A fundamental rethinking of our security policy is essential -- not just for the Middle East -- but globally. The "war of terrorism" is a jingoistic and misleading characterization of complex issues that will require not only new policies, but institutional restructuring -- in the Department of Defense, Department of State, Department of Justice, Homeland Security and National Intelligence. All issues of any import cut across agency and institutional boundaries and threaten entrenched institutional special interests: energy policy intersects with environmental policy, economic policy and national security policy.

New technologies for surveillance threaten our civil liberties requiring new thinking about civil liberties and national security. The stranglehold of special interests upon the legislative, budgeting and procurement process has to be confronted and addressed. Congressional doubletalk and posturing simply cannot be tolerated. Competence, commitment and effective execution will be required of the next administration. Even the media will be called to act responsibly, thoughtfully, and in the public interest and somehow look at issues substantively and hold public officials accountable. The efforts of the Sunlight Foundation are a good example of efforts by citizens to make government more open and accountable. Other similar "open source" efforts where the expertise and efforts of citizens are organized not around partisan grounds or narrow special interests, but for the common good, in energy, education, and healthcare, will be a necessary component for the rejuvenation of American Democracy. Given the enormity of the challenges confronting the next President, he or she would be well advised to involve these new forms of public minded democratic activism.