Susan Page wrote a fascinating piece in USA Today last week. It seemed to have gotten lost in all the blackout coverage. That’s too bad, because she makes some very astute observations regarding the present White House’s control of information.
Anyone with an interest in handicapping the 2004 election should read it.
In the article, titled Why Bush, GOP can block all inquiries, the author notes the three factors that make it especially difficult for the investigations that “defined the capital during the Clinton years” to take place today:
1) The law that provided for special counsels has expired;
2) President Bush’s fellow Republicans control both houses of Congress;
3) The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has stepped back from challenging the White House after losing a court case that sought to open the records of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.
To these I would add a 4th factor: The patriotic “shield” that has enveloped the President since 9/11. That’s a powerful force that continues to have resonance. Partisans can argue that the President’s poll numbers have been slipping; While that’s true, one must imagine what the polls would look like in the alternative universe where 9/11 never occured. (Think Bush senior).
Here’s a quote:
For nearly a decade, special counsel inquiries and adversarial congressional hearings dominated the headlines, etched bitter partisan lines, led to the impeachment of a president and made the nation’s political debates resemble hand-to-hand combat.
Now, some things have changed. The law that provided for special counsels has expired. President Bush’s fellow Republicans control both houses of Congress. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has stepped back from challenging the White House after losing a court case that sought to open the records of Vice President Cheney’s energy task force.
The result: The White House is better able to control information and prevent a nagging controversy from becoming a full-blown crisis. It’s harder for Democrats to demand answers and easier for administration officials to dismiss their charges as political posturing. And Bush faces less of the daily barrage that prompted President Clinton to set up a parallel press operation for investigative inquiries and made Clinton’s White House seem at times like an embattled enclave.
There are specific issues that might be seens as vulnerable investigations for the White House, but the Democrats have been unsuccessful in forcing investigations:
• The administration’s refusal to declassify a section of the congressional report on the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The 28 pages reportedly detail possible Saudi involvement.
• The help that the Federal Aviation Administration gave in May to Texas Republicans who were trying to track down Democratic state legislators. The Democrats had flown to Oklahoma to avoid a special session on redistricting.
• Allegations that the administration has distorted scientific findings to justify political decisions involving missile defense, environmental protection and other issues. Waxman last week issued a 40-page report on the subject. (A White House spokesman dismissed it as partisan sniping).
“When a president is seen as besieged and entangled in controversy, he really can’t get very much done. But when a president commands the central institutions of American politics and has few institutional checks, he can range more widely and hover above the fray.” That’s Larry Sabato’s take on it, and it rings true. (Sabato, a political scientist, has studied the Washington scandals during the Clinton years).
California Rep. Henry Waxman is the senior Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee. He notes:
“When the Republicans ran the Congress and Clinton was in the White House, there was no accusation too small for them to pursue, Now that President Bush is in power, there’s no scandal so large that they have any interest in examining it.”
Page also notes that outrage is expressed through Democratic “press releases, op-ed articles and open letters, hoping for news coverage or a public groundswell.”
To that, I would also add that its no coincidence that the blogging community exploded in size and scope during this era.