What's a Scandal?

What does and doesn't make a political scandal is always fascinating to watch. For the last two generations, the benchmark for public office misdeeds has been Watergate, as evidenced by the fact that "-gate" is attached to every act of malfeasance that comes down the pike. Given the horrors of Vietnam and other crimes committed by the Nixon crew, a bungled burglary struck most progressives at the time as the least of the nation's problems -- but they were willing to take it, since it's the only thing that seemed to stick.

That's what seems to be happening with the Rove/Plame affair, which Democrats are seizing on not only because someone in the White House broke the law, but also because it's the only charge against the Bush administration that appears to be getting any traction. Probably an added bonus is that it allows progressives to position themselves as hawks, concerned about how the White House has "endangered national security."

Of course, it's a double-edged sword, and one those on the left should handle carefully. I'm sure many of those now leading the charge against Bush and Rove are old-time progressives who would have welcomed "leaks" that exposed "operatives" involved in the illegal brutality of Reagan's wars against Central America, or indeed proxies for the wars on dissent at home and self-determination abroad during Nixon's reign.

There's also the problem that focusing merely on the scandals that are politically expedient -- a revenge-inspired press leak today, an affair with the house nanny tomorrow? -- by definition pulls progressives off message.

For example, I still believe that one of the biggest scandals today -- and one that makes sense to make an issue of strategically AND because of its substance -- is the looting of billions of dollars from U.S. taxpayers and the Iraqi people through war profiteering.

From the over $8 billion robbed from Iraq's government coffers, to the billions shoveled from the American public to Halliburton and other well-connected corporations, war profiteering draws out all that's wrong in the halls of government today: the subservience of human needs to corporate interests; cronyism, greed and mismanagement; unshared sacrifice in a time of war; the less-than-pure motives and operation of the U.S. mission in Iraq. It's all there, and could be easily transformed into a blockbuster scandal if progressives put their mind to it.

Indeed, maybe the issues that rampant war profiteering raises are so deep and fundamental that it doesn't constitute "scandal" material in the traditional sense. But there's still a high outrage factor, and the fact that it addresses the core issues we care about should make it all the better an issue for progressives to focus on.

By the way, for a good overview of the never-ending Halliburton scandal, check out Jeffrey St. Clair's excellent overview last week.