"Worse Than Watergate," the title of a new book by John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House counsel, is a depressingly accurate measure of the chicanery of the Bush/Cheney cabal. According to Dean, who began his political life at the age of 29 as the Republican counsel on the House Judiciary Committee before being recruited by Nixon, "This administration is truly scary and, given the times we live in, frighteningly dangerous." And when it comes to lies and cover-up, the Bush crowd makes the Nixon administration look like amateurs. As Dean writes, they "have created the most secretive presidency of my lifetime ... far worse than during Watergate."
Dean knows what he's talking about. He was the one who dared tell Nixon in 1973 that the web of lies surrounding the Watergate break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters had formed "a cancer on the presidency." When Dean went public about that conversation, the Nixon White House smeared him as a liar. Fortunately, the conversation had been taped, and Dean was vindicated.
The dark side of the current White House was on full display last week when top officials of the Bush administration took to the airwaves to destroy the credibility of a man who had honorably served presidents Reagan, Clinton and both Bushes.
The character assassination of Richard Clarke, the former White House anti-terrorism chief, was far more worrisome than Nixon's smears of Dean because it concerned not petty crime in pursuit of partisan political ambition but rather the attempt to deceive the nation and the world as to the causes of the 9/11 assault upon our national security -- and to justify an unnecessary war in Iraq.
First, Bush's aides suggested that Clarke had invented the meeting in which Clarke said the president pressured him to find a link between the 9/11 attack and Iraq, ignoring Clarke's insistence that intelligence agencies had concluded that no such link existed. But on Sunday, national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was forced to admit that Bush had pressed Clarke on an Iraq connection. This backed up earlier assertions by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill as to Bush's obsession with Iraq from the very first days of his administration at the expense of focusing on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
That the Bush lies didn't work this time may be because just too many veterans of the U.S. intelligence community are finding their voices and are willing to denounce an administration that has seriously undermined the nation's security.
They are speaking out, as 23 former CIA and other defense intelligence agents did in Robert Greenwald's devastating documentary, "Uncovered." They have stepped forward, as did David Kay, Bush's former chief weapons inspector in Iraq.
This is an administration that has been dominated by the neoconservative ideologues who condemned the logical restraint of the first Bush administration on foreign policy as a betrayal of the national interest.
These neocons have made a horrible mess of things, but that gives them no pause. They went to war with a nation that had no weapons of mass destruction and few connections to terrorism -- but have coddled Pakistan, which sponsored the Taliban and Al Qaeda and which recently was revealed as the source of nuclear weapons technology for North Korea, Iran and Libya.
The president's team is wrong to believe its outrageous lies can continue to lull a gullible public. Nixon's lies won him a second election, but then he lost the country.
Bush smiles better than Nixon, but when the lies are exposed, the smile turns into a character-revealing smirk. That happened last week when the White House released photos of a skit, performed for the amusement of jaded media heavyweights, in which the president pretended to look under his desk for the missing weapons of mass destruction. This may have amused his cynical audience, but to the general public, the carefully lip-synced policy pronouncements of the man who cried wolf has morphed into a sick joke.