Regardless of the overwhelming case for the impeachment of George W. Bush, there is one primary reason it never happened – there was too much blame to go around. Bush-Cheney could never have done what they did for so long without the Republican-controlled Congress and the Washington media helping them get away with it. If only a few more of those voters who only watched or read the mainstream national media had been aware of the deplorable Bush-Cheney record, the still-disputed Election of 2004 would have been an easy victory for the Democrats. It’s Offutt’s Law: “The more important it is for you to know something, the less likely it will be volunteered to you.”
The Washington press (before Katrina in August 2005) and the Republican Majority in Congress (before losing the November Elections of 2006) failed to do their jobs for the American people. When the rogue Bush-Cheney co-presidents took the White House, the neo-conservatives had ambitious plans to expand the power of the president beyond the limits of the Constitution. For nearly six years, the Washington press and the Congress gave them the de facto green light to do so.
This is all part of the rise of the Nixonians. Nixon, Reagan, and Bush-Cheney had several things in common: resentment of Congress, hatred of the press, disdain for the common people, and contempt for the Constitution. Nixon alone had to contend with the press and the Congress throughout his presidency. However, had it not been for two reporters from the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, neither the Congress nor the rest of the media would have caught on to what Nixon was really up to. It also seemed that as soon as Nixon boarded his helicopter and flew away into exile, the Washington press corps lost its energy.
After Gerald Ford took over, he ruled by veto instead of by creative actions and his devious aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld marginalized the influence of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and Sec. of State Henry Kissinger. Moreover, reporters were no longer questioning what was happening. I recall polling my professor and fellow students in my graduate-level historiography seminar as to whether the news media had become lax. The professor got a laugh when he paraphrased Nixon, “Well, they don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Being so glad to be rid of Nixon, my classmates didn’t seem to care. They probably reflected the vast majority of exhausted Americans.
In the 1980’s, both the press and the House Democrats were afraid of being seen “mistreating” another Republican president, Ronald Reagan – who was personally popular in spite of his policies. Reporter Walter Pincus of the Washington Post recently admitted that the public became so infuriated over being told what the Reagan Administration was doing that the paper made a decision: It would not report what Reagan was doing unless they were quoting the Democrats. But the Democratic House of Representatives had been running scared ever since the Republicans took the Senate when Reagan came to power in the Election of 1980! The system of checks and balances broke down for six years until the Democrats regained the Senate. As a result, Reagan’s illegal Iran-Contra affair and the massive corruption in his executive agencies eventually led to a record 32 convictions of 138 investigations!
When the Republicans won both houses of Congress in 1994, Newt Gingrich and his “Gang of Thugs” determined to sock it to us with two main objectives: (1) turn the job of legislating over to the lobbyists and (2) destroy Bill Clinton. Tom “the Hammer” Delay, as House Majority Whip, considered it his mission to find a reason to impeach Clinton. Most columnists and reporters believed they had to be anti-Clinton out of fear of being seen as “Clinton apologists,” so they appeared to be accomplices in the Republican schemes. (Just before Clinton’s impeachment, Gingrich “Khan” resigned as House Speaker because his party justifiably lost several seats in the Elections of 1998, but he’s always threatening to run for the presidency – one of his “ideas” is to put the Bill of Rights in mothballs until the “never-ending” war on terror is “over”!)
The Gingrich Congress during the Clinton years may have been preoccupied with being mean-spirited, but under Tom Delay’s leadership during the reign of Bush-Cheney, the Republicans also began rubber-stamping whatever the executive branch wanted. Not only were the lobbyists writing the laws but Mr. Bush also had/has them running the executive agencies! The GOP Congress would “hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil.” Shrub could go to war unprepared and under false pretenses, authorize torture, maintain secret prisons, end habeas corpus, eavesdrop on Americans without warrants, decide which laws he didn’t want to enforce, and squander the Clinton surplus with a debt greater than the total borrowed by all the previous 42 presidents combined.
The Washington news media seemed reluctant to challenge Bush-Cheney and was only too willing to be an enabler. It eagerly hyped the administration’s plot to go to war in Iraq, and it was particularly thrilled to be “imbedded” with the troops. It gushed over Bush’s strutting around on that aircraft carrier proclaiming “Mission Accomplished.” After the Election of 2004, even PBS’s Gwen Ifill led a roundtable discussion with four of the nation’s leading reporters about W. Bush possibly becoming one of our greatest presidents. It was like watching something on FOX “News” instead of “Washington Week in Review”!
Back in the majority after the mid-term Elections of 2006, the Democrats seemed to be 100% more responsible than the malicious, negligent, and corrupt “Gang of Thugs” that was led by Gingrich and Delay. The Washington press corps also appeared 100% more critical and observant than it was before being waked up by Katrina. Even so, I recall what a colleague said to me years ago. He told me that I was 100 times better at my job than the guy I replaced. But, before my ego had time to inflate, he reminded me that 100 times zero was still zero.
We should not attack the Washington press if it reports what is actually going on. Nor should we demonize the congressional Democrats if they exercise their constitutional responsibility of checking the executive branch. Instead, we should insist that they do their jobs. We can be sure that Nixon and Reagan would never have committed their constitutional abuses of power – the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals – unless they had reasonable expectations of getting away with them. The incompetent and diabolical Bush-Cheney cabal was no different. The Congress and national media let us down, but we must be able to count on them from here on. That’s the only way our democratic-republic can work the way our Founding Fathers intended.
by David Offutt
This is a slightly revised version of an essay that was published September 1, 2007, in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.