02/12/2006 01:56 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Turning Point for the Rule of Law

I understand that all the folks at the Conservative Political Action Conference this weekend are busy celebrating their accomplishments. Since they live in the same overextended, widely hated, and increasingly impoverished nation that I do, where the "president" and the "vice-president" think they can break the law with impunity, where the bureaucracy has been eviscerated of everyone who actually knows anything, and in a world where, in some circles, "US" is a byword for "torture" (did you notice that no one wanted to sit with Laura Bush at the Winter Olympics?), I can only assume that what I see and lament is the same thing they see and celebrate. And since Sam Brownback and various others are putting themselves forward as candidates for "president" of the theocracy to come, I am not sure that we have reached "the beginning of the end" in our quest for the departure of Dick Cheney. I do think we have reached a turning point, though, and I think it is a delicate and important one.

1. Dick Cheney seems to have authorized I. Lewis Libby to out Valerie Plame and to divulge other top-secret information that would, he thought, damage critics of the Iraq war. In the last few months, other leakers divulged by means of the New York Times that Bush was not adhering to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but committing illegal wiretaps. The Justice Department almost immediately began investigating the wiretap leakers for divulging the same sort of information that Libby and Cheney divulged in 2003. Their investigation seems to be accompanied by threatening posturing on the part of the administration.

2. At the other end of the street, Tom DeLay, known crony of Jack Abramoff, was put on the committee that is in charge of the Abramoff investigation. What I see here, as it coincides with the conservatives' celebration, is a new and brazen shamelessness. When the Republicans were hiding torture and hiding kickbacks and hiding illegal wiretaps, they were at least acknowledging that the appearance of standard US governmental operations is desirable. Same with stealing elections. We know they did it, but they bothered to hide it, albeit rather carelessly. This is to say that the administration heretofore at least pretended that the US they are giving us is our old familiar US, three branches of government, advise and consent, popular elections and all. We are at a point now, though, where the administration is not even bothering to keep up appearances.

Of course, one possible reason for this is that appearances are difficult to keep up, and maybe they are short-handed. For a while there before the holidays, what with Katrina and the Fitzgerald investigation and the falling poll numbers, I thought it might be that they were too busy covering their own asses to do the work they were good at -- pulling the wool over the citizens' eyes. This may indeed still be the case. Peter Daou was blogging quite convincingly the other day that contending with all of this administration's transgressions and crimes is almost overwhelming, and it may be that perpetrating them is overwhelming, too. How difficult it must be to keep track of all the details of every scam. Even Cheney, who seems to make time for nothing else but more perpetrating, might be a little overwhelmed, especially without his dedicated partner in crime, Mr. Libby.

But there could be a more sinister reason for the new shamelessness. Isn't there always a moment in the life of every dictatorship when the tyrants take the gloves off in public? A moment when they've almost consolidated their power and influence and they have to demonstrate it? I wonder if this is our moment. I keep remembering Karen Kwiatkowski's post of a couple of months ago in which she reported that Bush called the Constitution "just a God-damned piece of paper." He did so in private. It could be that very soon he will do so in public. It seems to me that the administration has done just about all it can behind closed doors and by lying. Most of the citizens who care (even my mother, for God's sake) are onto the lying and the cheating. The polls are running against the administration and none of their PR is working (except at CPAC). The next stage, then, will have to be something more naked -- something on the order of prosecuting leakers under the Espionage Act while giving Cheney immunity against prosecution for the same sort of crime. One thing they might do is disband the Fitzgerald investigation without giving a reason other than "national security." Or DeLay could stop the investigation of Abramoff, also without giving a reason. In the summer of 2004, the administration talked of suspending elections in the event of a national emergency. Talking about it once makes it easier to do the second time, and it would be a lot easier, in some ways, than doctoring all the voting machines to make it look like the Republicans had beaten the exit polls by only a small margin. Will they dare to manufacture a war against Iran and then suspend elections? We'll see, but I think we should be prepared.

Of course, openly giving up the rule of law, as the Republicans would have to do if they gave up deception as a way of doing business, has its risks, and one of them is that those who appreciate the rule of law, such as moderate Republican congressmen and cowardly Democrats and National Guardsmen who have spent a long time in Iraq without proper body armor, or even local police departments around the nation, might not be willing to go along with the new phase of the regime. And the Republicans might have to then enforce their power with vigilante groups and lynch mobs. Are we there yet?

It would be nice to think that this is the beginning of the end, that Cheney will be held to account by the Justice Department, or Fitzgerald, or someone. It would be nice to think that the celebrating at CPAC is a last desperate attempt to pretend that everything's okay for them. It would be nice to think that the tide of fascism/theocracy will be turned back in the US. It would be really nice to think that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Rove, Gonzales, Norquist, and ... (there are so many) are beginning to feel shaky. It would be nice to think that Delay and Frist and Santorum will pay pay pay, at least at the ballot box if not at the courthouse. But at this turning point, if that's what it is, I think the nature of the US we are currently living in will be newly revealed for all to see. And then I don't know what might happen.