The latest gift Republicans have given Democrats in this, an election year, is the Senate Intelligence Committee's refusal to initiate an investigation of the secret, warrantless NSA spying fiasco. I say "gift" because, in spite of their fecklessness in standing up to Republican domination of all three branches of government, the fact is the GOP is playing right into the Democrats' hands (if only that were truly the Democrats' tactic).

On issue after issue, from the "Phase II" investigation of the intelligence failures leading up to the war in Iraq (which Pat Roberts, the chair of the intelligence committee has been promising for nearly two years) to investigations of Abu Ghraib, secret prisons, torture, Katrina, congressional ethics, oil company gouging, etc., the Republicans, including the president, have stonewalled and obstructed, because, quite simply, they can.

But the Democrats need to be careful not to bray too loudly about the Republicans' cover-ups (e.g., lest the party in power take their protestations seriously, and actually appear to do something of an investigative nature with regard to so many of their, and their fearless leaders', screw-ups. The Dems are far better off, politically, with a party that refuses to hold anyone accountable for the vast and far-reaching excesses and serial incompetence of the government they control than they would be with sham investigations which would end up being nothing more than window dressing anyway. What use would another Republican-led congressional "investigation" be, given that party's reluctance to swear witnesses who testify before it, or to issue subpoenas to recalcitrant administration minions, as has been the case with so many prior investigations, and given the Democrats' status as eunuchs on any investigating committee anyway.

The failure to investigate, however, gives Democrats a powerful stump theme, both in the upcoming mid-term elections and in the '08 presidential contest. Not only, they can say, are the Republicans responsible for a "culture of corruption," they are also responsible for a culture of deceit and obfuscation.

The reality is that with the hegemony enjoyed by the Republicans, nothing meaningful would be likely to come of any investigations anyway. The only time congressional investigations have meant anything was when the parties shared power. The prime example of that, of course, is during Watergate, when the investigation that revealed so many crucial facts about the Nixon White House came as a result of the Democrats' control of Congress.

That and the fact that there were Republicans who were willing to jump on the "get Nixon" bandwagon (a "do-right" philosophy that is completely absent from the current crop of kowtowing Republicans) resulted in an investigation that actually accomplished something (most notably, the revelation of the Nixon tapes). The Democrats should hope that the Dubai ports deal doesn't completely wake the Republicans from their robotic obeisance to their leader, or at least that it doesn't translate into party defections on other issues (as it seems unlikely to, given the party line vote on the NSA investigation question).

The Democrats need to keep their powder dry for when it will count---the upcoming elections. In the meantime, and as I've predicted before, the only meaningful accountability this administration is likely to suffer will be at the hands of the federal judiciary which, as we speak, is handling lawsuits covering virtually every Bush/Republican excess, from the NSA debacle to prisoner abuse/torture to Katrina. I'm still holding out hope that Henry Whittington will realize he's a lawyer, not a priest, and change his apology for getting in the way of Cheney's shotgun into a big fat personal injury suit, since that too is the only way we'll ever find out what really happened that fateful day on the real-life Ponderosa.

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