Bush's Unified Government

" ... We will let you know."

- President George W. Bush, during his announcement of the formation Friday of a commission to investigate national intelligence lapses.

In the 27 months since he lost the popular vote by half a million ballots and won a majority in the Electoral College only by the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, George W. Bush has become leader of a uniquely unified government.

His party doesn't just control the White House, the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

It seems to have somehow gained exclusive rights to these institutions - barring Democrats from almost every aspect of policy-making or governance.

Democrats were excluded from almost all crucial negotiations over major bills passed last year - the Medicare prescription drug bill, the energy bill, the tax-cut bill, the budget bill.

They have been excluded from conference committees, where differences between House and Senate versions of legislation are reconciled.

Prominent Democrats outside Congress have been removed from Pentagon advisory boards that traditionally were bipartisan.

Democratic congressional leaders have even been excluded from White House briefings on contingency plans dealing with a hypothetical nuclear attack on Washington.

In a country still more or less evenly divided between Democrat and Republican, the president has become a "unifier," as he once promised, but in a way that you might not have predicted.

He has become a unifier of his power, not of his country.

As a result, the 2004 budget Bush signed last month - after it was redrafted in a Republican-only conference committee - overrode most of the objections that had been brought by Democrats and moderate Republicans during the past year: Media conglomerates got the green light to grow bigger. Overtime pay for millions of workers was abolished. Proposed food labeling rules were axed, as were social programs and education funding.

"He ... is shutting out the representatives of 130 million Americans on our side of the aisle," Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House's second-ranked Democrat, said in protest last week.

On Friday, Bush shut out the branch of government that is supposed to oversee intelligence gathering - the U.S. Congress - in order to appoint his own commission to investigate his administration's intelligence gathering.

The commission will look at the gathering and handling of intelligence information about weapons of mass destruction - a self-scrutiny the White House was more or less forced into by the recent testimony of former chief weapons inspector David Kay.

Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Jan. 28 that contrary to what everyone might have thought, Iraq probably didn't have WMD prior to the war launched by Bush in March 2003 to rid the world of Iraq's WMD. He said there should be an investigation.

"I do believe we have to understand why reality turned out to be different than expectations and estimates," he said.

The White House, then, which processed all those "expectations and estimates," has now handpicked all seven people to serve on the commission to investigate why reality turned out different.

There were no nominations made by any congressional leaders, much less by the Democratic minority, though the oversight of intelligence agencies is the Congress' bailiwick.

There was no discussion outside the White House about what the scope of the investigation would be. The White House decided everything. It would be to "review" and "compare" intelligence operations concerning WMD not just in Iraq but in a host of other countries, including Libya, North Korea and Afghanistan. It would then recommend ways of making intelligence better in the future.

A key question - of how equivocal and contradictory U.S. intelligence on Iraq's WMD capability before the war was transformed at the White House into a clarion call to arms against Iraq - does not seem to be on the mission statement.

The commission will deliver its report in March 2005, well past time when it might affect the 2004 presidential election. The White House decided that, too.

Meanwhile, soldiers will continue getting killed in a country that looks more every day like what one War College professor recently called "a detour in the war on terror."

The Iraqi people will keep suffering the occupation of their country by an ever more wary and defensive American occupation force.

The U.S. budget deficit will approach a half-trillion dollars.

And you should just go about your business as you normally would. If he needs anything further from you - your freedoms, your money, your children, whatever - President Bush will let you know.