April 01, 2006

The psychology of impeachment.

Jungian, that is...

Feingold's bid to censure the president has irreversibly altered the way the public sees our national situation. But while Feingold showed heart, in the end he is just a bit player in a primal and indomitable drama. Just as to say Rumpelstiltskin's name was to strip him of his magic powers, for the public to weave the facts together, however gradually, is to permanently and retroactively revoke the admin's spin license, and speed us into the downstroke, the swiftest and least subtle phase of mass decision-making. To wit, heads must roll.

To appreciate this quasi-seismic movement, don't look too closely at each week's litany of bluster and posturing. Rather, notice the confluence of developments that, when viewed as a process, seem downright gravitational in their progression toward the discarding of this administration:

First, impeachment is now a legitimate topic, being debated in Congress, reported as a topic itself on the national news, and bandied about daily on the editorial pages. Notice how a call to censure was really about impeachment - quite regardless of whether Feingold himself had intended it that way.

Second, there is a connection - subtle and almost subconscious at first, and increasingly aware - to Watergate, the benchmark of impeachable offenses by the Executive. And the comparisons are holding up, so much more closely than in Iran-Contra or Monica, in fact, that the parallels are eerie. John Dean's testimony this week was devastating, not only for what Dean said, but for the fact of Dean testifying. These two aspects of Dean's role have created the association in an absolutely spin- and bluster-proof way.

Third, the bad news regarding the admin's dictatorial M.O. in the run-up to war is just rolling in. Iraq-related: more evidence from Downing Street in the leaked Manning memo, showing that Bush and Blair were spinning their wheels on how to concoct a pretext for war; more evidence that strong objections were raised (and actively suppressed) within the admin to the characterization of Saddam's aluminum tubes as nuke-related; more on the admin's awareness that the 16 words intel was false, and the VP's primary role in doling out retribution for Joe Wilson's exposure of that fact by outing Valerie Plame. Oh, and Bush secretly authorized leaks of classified intel on Iraq to tow his political line regarding Saddam's weapons, to non-clearanced journalists? On these previously tangled and incomprehensible questions, the truth is beginning to gel in a collective "a-ha" moment for the American public.

Fourth, domestically, the truth that we are up a creek is painfully obvious. We are racking up debt, unspinnably far into the downward slide of good jobs, unable to stem earmarks and corruption, unable to provide medical care for citizens, riven by immigration issues (mainly because the hard questions have continually been tabled for over two decades), distracted (and most of us know it's a distraction) by abortion and same-sex marriage, our schools are adrift, and the Bush tax cuts, though premised on economic theories that were laughed out of legitimacy twenty years ago, are the one legislative priority that seems bulletproof among the crescendo of national fiscal woe.

Fifth, fatalism on Iraq. There's a debate about whether things are "really bad" in Iraq, or if that's a figment of the media's imagination. Again, forget the merits for a sec. This is the kind of debate that cannot hold the public's attention for long. With uncertainty about Iraq, indifference is setting in at a fast creep, just in time to remove the war's importance from the administration's arsenal of generic defenses to any charge of wrongdoing. Even a significant contingent of conservatives are saying, let's get out and let it ride. While the merits of this approach are debatable, it's the mood that's telling. Bush has been pushing the war with a nebulous view of what the payoff will be. Sure, it's oil (not yet, mind you, but sometime after global production peaks, best believe the admin plans to be sitting on a gusher - and again, the idea is not without its very real attractions) - but that's off the table as an open justification - both for its nakedly imperialistic motives and for the necessity of acknowledging the nasty storm front on the energy problem. Anyway, very few people are nodding along with the administration regarding the war, so their attention is dangerously (for the admin) up for grabs.

Finally, and closely related to all of the above, the rule of thumb is that when the collective fortunes are in a downturn, eventually the king must die. Just as this is the law of the corporate shareholder, it is the law, on a longer frequency, of the body politic. In contrast to corporate shareholders, the public does not closely track the various influences on the value of its shares. But the public's awakening, as it occurs, is exciting its ire. Even when the specifics are not debated among most Americans on a daily or weekly basis, even when the bad news becomes a barely-differentiated blur, it taps out a drumbeat - a collective headache and foreboding.

The logical next step is to call someone on the carpet. Who that someone will be will depend on timing and various circumstances, but we have a strong frontrunner in our current president. The American public is a sleeping giant - slow to waken, but once it lazily opens one eye, and contemplates the mess, neither glib lullabies nor well-oiled logic will be enough to soothe it. Only cathartic and compensatory (political) bloodshed will complete the cycle. It may be that in our hearts, we still feel that politics, being so far removed from our discrete control and sensibilities, is in the hands of the gods, for lack of specific reliable information otherwise. And if aroused, we will wend our way to the smoking pyres to make our sacrifice.