David Corn-co-author (along with Michael Isikoff) of Hubris: the Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (available here) and columnist for The Nation-diagrams the potential investigative revelations that a newly emboldened Democratic House, and possibly Senate, could unearth. But in an interview with National Interest online editor, Ximena Ortiz, he warns of potential pitfalls not only for the Democrats, but the nation as well.
For more of David Corn's commentary on the election, visit his blog at www.davidcorn.com.
TNI: There has been quite a bit of discussion regarding the unlocking of the investigative powers of Congress given a Democratic win in the midterm elections. In light of all the investigative work you completed, along with Michael Isikoff, for your last book, what do you expect Congress to unearth in the coming months? Will these revelations be of historic significance only, or will they shake up policy over the next few months?
David Corn: I just wrote a piece that will be on Tompaine.com shortly (available here) in which I said that indeed the elections will allow the House-and maybe the Senate, too, depending on what happens-to conduct all sorts of investigations. But the Democrats should proceed strategically and tactically with a degree of prudence.
Americans, while they certainly like accountability, don't want to see investigations that are overly acrimonious. There's a wealth of things for the Democrats to choose from, and they should choose wisely. A good example might be to start with Iraq reconstruction. The estimate is that 45 out of 80 billion dollars in taxpayer funds have been wasted there. So who's done this? And who should be held accountable?
That seems to me to be the issue that a lot of people would like, and expect, our Congress to conduct oversight of. Another issue of importance in foreign policy would be the suppression of scientific data about global warming with the Bush Administration's reluctance to do anything significant to address that threat. That, again, is something that I think people would look to as a legitimate investigation with policy components. And that would make good politics for Democrats down the road as they head to 2008.
The book that Michael Isikoff and I wrote focused on the selling of the war in Iraq and the abuse of intelligence. The Senate Intelligence Committee was supposedly looking into this, but it's taking at least three or four years. Even if the public has turned on the war politically speaking-according to public opinion polls-I think, for historical purposes, it might be worthwhile to finally take a good look at how the administration sold the war and come up with ways make sure that the intelligence system functions effectively, with some degree of independence, and that there are avenues for the letting the public in as much as possible on key matters that lead to war.
TNI: And apart from the historical purposes that you mentioned, perhaps such an investigation could slow potential momentum towards a new war, say with Iran?
DC: The administration has lost almost all its credibility on foreign policy. And, unfortunately, for those of us who have been critical of this administration, they're still in power for the next two years. They still have to make key decisions in important new security areas. And it's to nobody's advantage that they cannot be believed if they are indeed telling the truth.
And so, if they discover that Iran-if they discover that country X is indeed about to pass a significant weapon of mass destruction to terrorist group Y, I want them to be able to take action, and to be able to do so with the support of the American public. But I don't want them to be able trump up phony scenarios to get done what it is for other reasons. And so, with sub-hearings that would indeed rake over the old coals of the Iraq War sales campaign, I would hope that they would have a solitary effect on how the security system, including the White House, could operate in the future regarding other real or possible threats.
TNI: Bush's 2004 victory meant that the bill for some of his problematic policies-Iraq, the deficit-would come due under his continuing leadership. Do you think that given a Democratic victory, the Democrats have to split the bill, or the blame, if they fail to redirect policy or at least rally around cohesive proposals.
DC: That's a good question. Last night I met at the victory celebrations Democratic strategists that were hoping that the Democrats wouldn't win back the Senate. And that was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but not entirely so.
That's because if they control both houses in Congress, they then become 50-50 partners with President Bush-and that means that they're 50-50 partners in whatever efforts are necessary to clean up the messes that Bush has made, whether it's the long term national debt or the short-term challenges of Iraq. And if they're merely controlling the House, then they can sort of portray themselves as the insurgents running against the incompetent or corrupt Republicans in the White House and the Senate. But if they control the Senate at as well, well then they have to deal with it.
And that raises the ante for them, it raises expectations that they will get things done, particularly on the Iraq front. The Democrats have suffered so far because Bush in Iraq has created a problem for which there may be no solution. You criticize him for screwing the pooch in Iraq, and he counters, "Well, how would you get us out of there?"
The honest answer is: "I never would have gotten us in and I don't know how you put the wasp back into the nest once you've destroyed the nest." You've seen in the last two years the Democrats criticize the president's and Rumsfeld's management of the war, and they respond: "What would you do? Do you want to just cut and run, or do you have a plan?" And now, again, the ante is up on this front. As they take over and assume the obligation to lead one if not both houses of Congress. Although the Democrats are unlikely to trump the commander-in-chief on the prosecution of the war, it will be expected that they come up with answers. It's a going to be a very perilous issue for the Democrats and could define whether they succeed or fail in Congress.
TNI: What political mood did these elections signal? Is there a coherent message that the voters are sending?
DC: The president is arguing that we're fighting the war in Iraq because it is essential to our national survival. The American public is essentially saying, "We don't buy that. We don't accept that. And we don't accept your leadership here and we would like you to go now and take your war with you."
But the Democrats can't run against Bush in the midterms, but they can do the next best thing and run against anyone with the scarlet letter "R" next to their names. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island-and this is the telling sign, Rhode Island is a Democratic state and a northeast state and not symbolic of the rest of America-on election day, according to the polls, had a 66 percent approval rating. He voted against the war, he voted against George Bush. He voted against the war, he voted against George Bush in 2004, but he was still strongly beaten by a Democrat. Anyone who could be tagged as close to Bush lost.
The public is sick and tired of this president, I think the wall reads, and they looked at Congress as really being his lap-dog, as rubber-stamp Republicans. They have no hearings on Iraq and they don't hold the president accountable on much and it's really just "We want you gone. We want to change the channel. We wish we had never gone out on that first date with you because look what that led to."
You look at Jim Ryan of Kansas and the conservative district he lost. It's a clear message that Bush is down to his base with people that will stick with him even if he's sacrificing goats on the White House lawn. But that's what he has now, it's them and a few slices of independents and conservatives, but otherwise he's lost the country. And that's a clear cut verdict.
Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform (www.atr.org), says voters on Tuesday delivered an unmistakable rebuke of the appropriations process-the "gateway drug to greater spending." In an interview with National Interest online editor, Ximena Ortiz, Norquist voices staunch party fellowship, but outlines a budgetary andIraqstrategy that clearly does not "stay the course."
TNI: There's been a lot of discussion regarding the GOP losing its soul, its originating principles. Could this midterm mark the beginning of a constructive awakening for the GOP, or do you think that, realistically, it will lead to even greater partisan battles?
GN: I tend to be part of an effort to refocus the Republican Party as the Reagan Republican Party. We've had a series of challenges. One is appropriations-the appropriations process is inherently bad for the Republican Party because it turns Republicans into spenders. It's inherently bad because it corrupts people. Now, Democrats don't care if their congressmen steal money and hand it out to people in their districts; Republicans do.
And that's why the Democrat in West Virginia who took a quarter of a billion dollars and ran it to his friends and got rich won his election. But Congressman [Curt] Weldon (R-PA), who was accused of running appropriations or earmarks through some family member, loses his election. So, the appropriations process is poison because it's a gateway drug to greater spending and because it's inherently corrupt. Republicans consider taking people's tax money and spending it on other stuff to be corrupt itself, even if you aren't personally putting it in your pocket.
A lot of appropriators lost last night, which goes to show that being an appropriator can't buy your way out of an election problem. So, yeah, I'm working very hard to make sure we focus on spending, on the appropriations process, on reining in the appropriators who see themselves as different and separate from the modern Republican Party.