12/29/2005 12:31 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Republicans: Winners or Perpetrators?

I was thinking that the spy scandal was being expertly taken care of without my input, what with Martin Garbus, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and Barron's magazine hot on the "president's" tail. My plan was to continue reading Les Rougons-Macquart in peace, but then I read RJ Eskow's blog about the Democrats, and while I thought it was insightful and well-argued, there was one thing I disagree with, and that is that the point of the whole spy scandal, now that Bush has been caught and has admitted breaking the law, is not whether the Democrats can find a way to be electable, it is whether the Republican Party is a criminal enterprise, and whether average Republicans, both in and out of the government, are going to countenance and support unnecessary and shamelessly unlawful behavior. Let's not shift the focus to Losers and Victims, but rather, keep it firmly on Winners and Perpetrators.

Let's talk about the "winner" aspect first. I clearly remember back in 2000, when Bush cheated to
"win" the Presidential election with the help of Justices Scalia and Thomas, who dishonored themselves in perpetuity by voting to stop the Florida recount, the Republicans gloated and gloried in the "win". They acted like a nasty Little League team, who wins on a technicality and then goes on to rub the faces of the other team in the dirt, as if winning at the cost of the integrity of the game were actually a thing worth celebrating. Clearly, the Republicans had learned their sportsmanship on the football fields of America's colleges and universities, by observing the hiring practices of successful coaches, the educational careers of cheating athletes, and the fund-raising efforts of testosterone-poisoned alumni. It was not how you play the game, but whether you win or lose! What a terrific model of traditional values that is! The Bush team thereafter went on to exemplify "winning through intimidation"-- "You're with us or against us." "If you disagree with the President, you are supporting the terrorists". Blah blah blah--we know the whole litany, and it is nauseating. We also know where it came from--the corporate boardroom as well as the athletic stadium and the middle school and the frat house, where bullies are king and "the common good" is a joke. By 2004, the Republicans had refined their election stealing techniques, and anyway, they were benefiting from continued disbelief on the part of the Democrats, who didn't seem to be able to imagine that the Republicans could be so brazen as to do it again, even though when Texas redistricting came up, Tom Delay gave them a taste of the corruption in store. What does it matter, the Republicans seemed to be saying in 2004, fair elections? The whole idea was a joke to them and they hardly bothered to conceal their thousands of little cheats and obstacles to an honest vote.

You had to wonder at the so-called moderates who were going along for the ride, all those diversity figures who were trotted out at the Republican convention, just for show, then packed away again for next time. Schwarzenegger and McCain were the most disgusting, but there were plenty of others, dupes or knaves, in whose name an illegal war had been perpetrated, in whose name an election was going to be stolen, in whose name war crimes were going to be committed in Fallujah right after the election, in whose name detainees and captives were going to be rendered and tortured. What kind of person, you had to wonder, would associate him or herself with winning at any cost, but there were plenty of them, and lots of them worked in the MSM and actually allowed their very own names to appear as by-lines! So they won. I'm sure they felt good about it. Supposedly, winning is the only thing and winners are always happy. Fair enough.

Back then, I was willing to admit that maybe some people didn't see these issues in quite the black and white way that I did. The conservative caste of mind is different from the liberal caste of mind, and much of what we believe is dictated by temperament. For example, I've noticed that for most liberals, the greatest sin is murder. Liberals recoil at harming others. The fact that the Iraq war has physically harmed tens of thousands of Iraqis, not to mention many thousands of American soldiers, is the red letter immorality that defines that misadventure for liberals. If they reluctantly supported the war, those deaths and injuries are the hardest sticking point; if they never supported the war, those deaths are the most unforgivable horror.

Conservatives, though, don't really mind doing harm to others, even murder, especially if they add the phrase, "for your own good." After all, people get harmed all the time--the world, to a natural conservative, is a harmful place and a vale of tears. To a conservative, the greatest crime is betrayal of the tribe, and if worst comes to worst, better that those outside the tribe (often not even defined as human) come to grief (get injured, get raped, lose everything, get killed, let's be honest) in preference to oneself or one's allies. To a true conservative, it doesn't matter that Jesus's number one rule was to do unto others as you would have them do unto you--they somehow read this as do unto others before they do unto you. Conservatives, I think, have a stronger flight/fight response than liberals. They are both more fearful and more aggressive. It shows in their religion (God is someone to fear), it shows in their child-rearing techniques (beatings,whippings, spankings are to be administered, not avoided), it shows in their attitude toward marriage and sexuality (conforming to one's own strict moral standards isn't enough--others must conform, also, or the whole society is in danger). To the conservative mind, harm may be justifiably done to others who do not conform. Doing harm to others is a relative evil, not an absolute one. It is, you might say, an aspect of winning.

We can argue about these tempermentally-based political differences and never resolve them, I admit that. In the US, especially, conservatives have never, until now, at any rate, brought upon themselves the sort of destruction and humiliation that conservatives in other countries have brought upon themselves. They are still naive, and think that they can do harm with impunity. We shall see if they can.

At any rate, for a long time, American culture provided one area, negotiable though it has been, where conservatives and liberals could more or less agree that right and wrong is located, and that is the area of the law. While flouting the law is almost a national pastime in the US, the flouting is always done away from the public eye. Everyone pays lip service to the concept of the law-abiding citizen--even Tony Soprano presents himself as an average guy when he's at his daughter's soccer game.There's a good reason for this--we all know that, gripe as we will about certain laws, the law stands between us and actual chaos. Most people adhere even to laws that they don't agree with.

If the Republican party, though, allows Bush and his cronies to get away with warrantless internal spying, self-admitted and even trumpeted, then they have explicitly allowed "winning" to become an openly committed crime, a coup d'etat and a form of usurpation. The "president" will have actually usurped the powers of the Congress and even the Judiciary, and the Republican Party will have colluded in this crime for the sake of tribal loyalty and, I suppose, mere "winning". It actually doesn't matter what bad legal advice Bush has received from his house lawyers, poodles all, namely Gonzalez, Ashcroft, Miers, and Yoo. Just because they are in a closed power loop, where they tell the boss what he wants to hear, that doesn't mean they are actually correct in their interpretation. If fellow Republicans allow their republic-destroying opinions to go forward as the standard, though, then they are colluding in an egregious crime committed against the nation. IMO, as they say. Whether the Democrats are losers or victims; whether the Democrats can regain control of the House of Representatives is interesting but irrelevant. What is relevant are the morals and ethics of the Republicans--individual Republicans--you, Senator Brownback. You, Rep. Hastert. You, Chief Justice Roberts. You, Uncle David. You, Mom. Do any of you conservatives care about the Republic? This is your accountability moment. Is your loyalty to the US or is your loyalty to Bush, Cheney, and Rove? Crimes lead to larger crimes when criminals get away with them. Bush clearly shows no signs of even beginning understand why he might not have the right to be all powerful. There's that Constitution thing again ("God-damned piece of paper"--George W. Bush, December 2005). A crime is being committed. If, because of "winning" or "loyalty", many more or less innocent bystanders do nothing prevent its continuation and do nothing to punish the perpetrator, then they are implicated. It's as black and white as that.