Even during the darkest periods of the past few years, when cronyism, arrogance, and mendacity had an almost suffocating hold on Washington and Austin, we always felt the pendulum would swing back in our direction. We marveled at our leaders’ overreach, shook our heads, and clucked that the day of reckoning must surely be just over the horizon. Indeed, the “accountability moment,” as Dubya likes to call elections, came in 2006 with the midterms. The American people spoke. No to the Iraq war! No to corruption! It was a good year. Congress changed hands, and suddenly some semblance of balance returned to American government. A potent symbol of corruption, Jack Abramoff, went to prison. We even witnessed the humiliation of our beloved Tom DeLay, who was hounded off the ballot and forced to all but deliver his seat to a Democrat whom he had previously vanquished. Our topsy-turvy system was finally righting itself a bit. Or so it seemed.
Now, with the first month of 2007 under our belt, it should be clear to everybody that it will not be so easy.
In Texas, the cause of reform clearly made great strides in ’06. Voters repudiated the Republican leadership, particularly in the House, booting key allies of Speaker Tom Craddick like Kent Grusendorf and Gene Seaman out of office. Gov. Rick Perry won re-election, but a majority of voters indicated they’d prefer someone else in the job. And two issues—a push to build 18 coal plants throughout the state and the ambitious proposal to privatize state highways—have sparked exceptional civic uprisings. Yet a challenge to Craddick’s speakership from the forces of reform fizzled. Perry is still governor. The coal plants and the ill-conceived Trans-Texas Corridor continue to move at full throttle. The work for positive change in Texas has only just begun.
In Washington, the level of corruption, of double-dealing and outright plunder cries out for stiff prison sentences to be handed out like candy canes. While Abramoff was a start, the feds hustled him off to jail before the full scale of the scandal could truly be exposed. Nonetheless, the former lobbyist did point the way toward a solution for the Bush administration’s corruption problem. In 2002, Abramoff allegedly helped convince the president to remove the U.S. Attorney in Guam. It appears that a public corruption investigation by the federal prosecutor was making some Abramoff clients uncomfortable. Last year, prior to the elections, the Justice Department insisted it was telling U.S. attorneys across the nation to focus on public corruption. Now that the election is past, the Justice Department is undertaking an unprecedented housecleaning, pushing out at least four U.S. attorneys, and maybe as many as seven.
In Iraq, rather than listen to the American public, a bipartisan group of political elders, or even the generals in the field, the Bush administration has decided to escalate the conflict. When Fox News’ Chris Wallace pointed out to Vice President Dick Cheney that national exit polls showed 67 percent of voters said the war was either very or extremely important to their vote, and only 17 percent supported sending in more troops, the dark lord replied blithely, “The polls change.”
He continued, “… you cannot simply stick your finger into the wind and say, gee, public opinion is against [the war], we better quit.”
Cheney will not quit. Nor will Perry or Craddick. Whatever power these people have, they will use. The pendulum will go only so far on its own without a big collective push.