By LEWIS W. DIUGUID
John W. Dean pulled no punches last Friday night in Kansas City in assessing the damage President Bush has done to the United States.
But in a question-and-answer session, Dean told people to surrender any hope of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney being impeached. The process takes months, and the time to do it is just gone.
However, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Dean was in Kansas City to promote his new book, “Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches.”
The Uptown Theater where he spoke should have overflowed with people eager to hear Dean, who was White House counsel to President Richard Nixon. But the place was less than half full.
Blame it on this city and country sagging now with a political and civic fatigue that’s more dangerous than the infrastructure neglect that led to the breach of the levees in New Orleans two years ago. Blame it on the endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the billions of dollars in costs, the mounting corruption and the growing casualty count.
The early start to the 2008 presidential campaign also contributes to people’s exhaustion. The biggest beneficiary of the public malaise is Bush.
With people disgusted and disconnected, he and Cheney continue to advance their agenda. Tax dollars can repair damage to bridges and levees, but it will take a lot more to rebuild Americans’ political and civic will.
But our fate depends on it.
Dean explained that while people have been disengaged, the Bush administration has expanded the powers of the presidency and muted the effectiveness of the legislative branch. Secrecy in government also has risen to unprecedented heights.
“Transparency must exist at some level for people to follow and agree and to understand the policies of the nation,” Dean said. “The secrecy is far worse than what happened during the Nixon administration.”
Bush and Cheney have used the Sept. 11, 2001, tragedy as a “pretext to increase the secrecy,” Dean said.
OpenTheGovernment.org reported in July that the White House has thwarted access to information, expanded executive powers to classify information and created new categories of “sensitive” information.
Dean noted that Bush administration actions have included warrantless surveillance on Americans, breaching constitutional rights, signing statements on bills and the endless wars.
Dean said no one died because of Nixon’s wrongdoings in the White House. No one was tortured, and U.S. citizens didn’t suffer unjustified government eavesdropping.
“There were very different situations,” Dean said. “Nixon was trying to get out of Vietnam. Bush was trying to get into Iraq.”
Dean said the Democrats now control the House and Senate, but Republicans have made them look mostly ineffective. It has strengthened the power of the presidency, adding to what has been called the unitary executive theory.
“It is an imperial presidency on stilts and steroids,” Dean said. A danger is that 25 percent of the voting public willingly follows such authoritarian figures.
Voter apathy could prove a difficult obstacle for Democrats to overcome in 2008. But something has to give because four more years of wars, secrecy and executive branch domination may be more than the nation can take.
X Lewis W. Diuguid is a member of The Kansas City Star’s Editorial Board. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.