Shared Complicity: The Tragedy of the Pelosi/CIA Affair

The Democrats are facing serious political troubles and they only have themselves to blame.

Too often throughout the years, and especially during the Bush II Administration, the Democrats supported horrendous Republican policies: the War in Iraq; the Patriot Act - twice; some of them even supported the Military Commissions Act, described by the New York Times as "our generation's Alien & Sedition Act."

And sure enough, now that they Democrats have a supermajority in Congress, control the White House and have the Republican Party as close to dead as one can remember, their capitulations to the worst elements of Bush's policies have reared their ugly head. And it may come at the expense of much of their agenda, which now includes a desperately needed overhaul of our broken healthcare system.

The most recent and pressing example of this is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's political troubles regarding the CIA and torture. Pelosi, according to Republicans and CIA director Leon Panetta (who, it is worth noting, as former chief of staff to President Clinton and an Obama appointee, is a partisan Democrat), was briefed on US waterboarding in 2002 and is now lying about it.

It is unclear exactly how much political damage this will do to Pelosi, President Obama and the Democratic Party's agenda, but it could be considerable. The Democrats, just a few weeks ago, controlled the agenda and the news cycle in almost every conceivable way. Healthcare reform looked more and more like a possibility as even insurance companies were seeing the writing on the wall. One of the most popular presidents in recent history was able to pass a mammoth Keynesian stimulus package that would have been thought inconceivable just a few months before he took office.

And now, due to Pelosi's past transgressions, the news cycle will be dominated with talk of how the House Speaker — the woman in charge of the party's legislative agenda — stood by an did nothing about torture she knew was going on, and is now lying about it. And she now faces the wrath of an amazingly diverse group of constituencies: most of the left and the right, the Republicans, civil libertarians and the CIA, to name just a few.

In fact, the CIA — who has been exposed for some of the most sinister plots ever conceived — is twice as popular as the House Speaker. You can't make this stuff up.

If I am the GOP I am sending her flowers with a note that says "thanks for giving us six months of a news cycle where the Democrats are pro-torture liars ... P.S. Good luck with healthcare reform."

Indeed, one can't help but notice the glee on Newt Gingrich's face as he chastises Pelosi for her pro-torture stance. And while I certainly do not covet the idea of Republicans gaining a much-needed political boost from Pelosi's pathetic meanderings, it is hard to imagine how this won't damage Pelosi and the Democrats considerably.

As the Politico reported, "For Democrats pushing an investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing in the war on terrorism, the GOP now has a two-word response: Nancy Pelosi." At this point, it is not unreasonable to question if she remains Speaker of the House in 2010.

But make no mistake: this is a self-inflicted wound. Pelosi could have stood up and challenged torture in 2003 if she so chose. But one can imagine her fear at telling a post 9-11 society that you want to protect the Constitution and, perhaps, some terrorist suspects, from the pillaging that the Bush Administration was about to inflict on them.

But such an action would have taken political courage, a rare commodity now as it was then.

This is indeed one of the great tragedies of recent years. The Bush Administration, as awful as it was, was given far too much leeway and sometimes even direct support for its failed and sinister policies from the Democrats, with a few notable exceptions.

And so, as the revelations of exactly how criminal thier actions were — be it from torture memos or biblically- themed classified defense memos — the Democrats cannot even seek justice and transparency on these issues, lest they incriminate themselves for their own complicity.

One might hope Barack Obama, who was not even serving in the federal government for much of the Bush-era crimes, would serve to try and protect himself — and his agenda — from the consequences of Democratic Party acquiescence to the Bush Administration, but the prospects do not look good.

While no doubt a significant improvement to Bush, to date, he has served to perpetuate many of the significant and unpleasant tenets of the last eight years: rendition, the perpetuation of discrimination against gays in the military, government censorship, escalations of violence and military spending, gifts to Wall Street, and so on.

And now we see the great flaw of our political system. The two parties share much of the same policies. And now they both must face the wrath of an angry public that opposes virtually all of these horrific policies.

The new era of change is upon us; a new party is in charge. But, to channel George Orwell, it is simply hard too tell the pigs apart from the humans.