Bob Woodward has long been the voice of the American Establishment — or of certain quadrants of it, at any rate. When Richard Nixon’s criminal depredations and mental instability had gone too far and it was decided to rein him in, former military intelligence officer Woodward was there as a safe pair of hands to receive the damning revelations of "Deep Throat" and help bring down the Nixon presidency. When the Establishment decided it was best to throw in with the Bush Faction’s aggressive militarism after 9/11 — lots of big money to be made out of war and fear, and those tax cuts were just too sweet to pass up — Woodward was there again, with a series of stories and books which, as Michiko Kakutani notes in the New York Times, "depicted the president — in terms that the White House press office itself has purveyed — as a judicious, resolute leader, blessed with the ‘vision thing’ his father was accused of lacking and firmly in control of the ship of state."
And now, when it is clear that George W. Bush is — to put it plainly — a self-deluding addlepate in the late Nixon mode (without any of Nixon’s considerable intelligence, of course), and that the orgy of war profiteering and corporate welfare he has thrown for the elite has reached a level of such murderous frenzy that it threatens to kill the whole golden goose of American power — or at least seriously damage the bottom line for years to come — the Establishment has turned to Woodward once again. And the old trouper has delivered.
His new book, State of Denial, is a stinging attack on the Bush-Cheney Faction, although, as Kakutani astutely notes, there’s nothing really new in its depiction of the moral nullity, rank stupidity and sheer incompetence of the Faction — beyond the usual telling anecdotes and killer quotes that Woodward garners, often second or third-hand, from his sources. But it is those sources which clue us in to what’s going on. Again, Kakutani: "The former Saudi Arabian ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Mr. Card, Mr. Tenet, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage, Brent Scowcroft, the former national security adviser (to Bush senior), appear to be among the author’s primary sources." This is heavy Establishment artillery, and the presence of "Bandar Bush," the Saudi royal, and Scowcroft, the Bush Senior courtier, among Woodward’s main sources tells us that Daddy Bush has reverted back to the old-line, white-bread, "Eastern Establishment" in a move against the Sunbelt oil men, crank pseudo-Christians and Nixonian diehards like Cheney and Rumsfeld that Junior Bush has thrown in with.
(Speaking of Nixonian diehards, one of Woodward’s few original revelations is the extent to which Henry Kissinger has been advising Bush and Cheney, even resurrecting old memos he wrote to Nixon about "staying the course" in Vietnam and not letting the American people get a taste of peace and sanity by allowing even a partial withdrawal of troops. Such a move would will become like salted peanuts to the American public; the more U.S. troops come home, the more will be demanded," Kissinger told Nixon — and pressed the same memo on the poltroons now polluting the Oval Office. )
So parts of the American Establishment are at last making a move against the Bush Faction. Unlike the Nixon takedown, this could be too little, too late. For one thing, Nixon didn’t have 9/11 to play with; nor did he have use of the Mighty Wurlitzer of the hard-right media juggernaut that serves Bush with Goebbelsian intensity and fidelity; nor did he have control of the Congress, with a party full of lockstep lickspittles and genuine moral and intellectual cretins willing to follow him over a cliff. In addition, Bush doesn’t face constant riots in the streets against his foolishly and murderously prolonged pointless war; the American people are infinitely more docile, distracted and servile than they were in Nixon’s day, as anyone who was alive then can vividly remember.
Nor did the Republicans in Nixon’s time possess the extensive, high-tech vote-manipulation and vote-suppression systems that they have today, which have so far ensured that the Faction retains its overwhelming power — despite the overwhelming unpopularity of almost all of its core policies. In Nixon’s day, Republican Establishment members had to worry about a backlash at the polls; this is still a danger for them, of course, but not nearly to the same extent. Today, it is possible — just — that an actual, massive landslide for the Democrats might result in a very narrow victory at the polls; it remains to be seen if the Bush Faction’s vote-fixing machinery can plausibly handle anything beyond a fairly close losing vote for their side. But certainly nothing less than an historic landslide against the Republicans has a chance of bringing even a miniscule Democratic majority back into power.
So although Woodward’s book clearly signals that the game’s afoot, and another civil war among the American Establishment is gathering strength, the outcome is by no means assured. We’ve seen signs of this before, particularly before the Iraq invasion, when again it was Scowcroft leading the way — and every time, the Bush Faction has managed to fight off — or buy off — its Establishment opponents. (Think of Sumner Redstone’s craven announcement, after "Rathergate," that he, an old-time liberal Democrat, would be voting for Bush in 2004 because that would be "better for the corporation.")
Nixon was a loner, a bagman who used his own sinister savvy to scale the greasy pole, yet remained forever outside the golden circle of the Establishment (as he never stopped complaining about); but Bush Junior is to the manner born, a true scion of the predatory elite that has served as America’s aristocracy for generations. That fact alone will make it harder for the Establishment to bring Bush to heel than it was to flush the lowborn Nixon away. And that’s why it will never come to impeachment or resignation; such things would reflect too badly on the elite itself, not least on Daddy Bush, one of its leading lights.
But some strong shots across the bow, some public humiliation, something to get Bush and Cheney to alter the disastrous course in Iraq — that’s fair game, and that’s what we’re seeing today from some of the old-line Establishment factions. And as ever, Woodward is a key player, toting heavy lumber for the cause.
(Note: it is not the destruction of constitutional liberties that concerns these factions and brings them out against Bush, of course. They could care less about that — in fact, it’s yet another good argument to them for keeping the Bush Faction in power, albeit chastened somewhat on the military aggression front. Not that these elite players don’t hold the same ideal of American domination of global affairs that drives the Bush Faction; they do, in spades. But they recognize that after a certain point you get more buck for less bang. As the Emperor Tiberius used to tell his satraps when he sent them out to govern the conquered lands: "I want my sheep shorn, not shaved.")
In the corrupted currents of our day, Woodward’s book — and the factional struggle within the Establishment it represents — is to be welcomed. Anything that can mitigate some of the evil being done by the Bush Faction must be seen as a positive intervention. But only in the sense that having an ink pen jammed through your trachea when you are choking to death is a positive intervention. For make no mistake: what we are seeing is a "war in heaven," an intramural struggle between elites, a falling out among thieves, and, literally, a family quarrel in the imperial house. It has nothing to do with the welfare of the American people, or the restoration of democracy. The "consent of the governed" will play no part in how the affairs of the state are finally ordered by the exalted ones.