Those who still live in the reality-based community, however, may sense they're watching the beginning of the end of something big. It's not just Mr. DeLay, a k a the Hammer, who is on life support, but a Washington establishment whose infatuation with power and money has contaminated nearly every limb of government and turned off a public that by two to one finds the country on the wrong track.
The most important plot development of the past two weeks, in fact, has nothing to do with Mr. DeLay (as far as we know). It was instead the arrest of the administration's top procurement officer, David Safavian, on charges of lying and obstructing the investigation of Mr. Abramoff. And what an investigation it is: The F.B.I., the I.R.S., the Treasury Department and the Interior Department have all been involved. The popular theory of the case has it that Mr. Safavian, a former lobbying colleague of both Mr. Abramoff and Mr. Norquist, is being muscled by the feds to rat on the big guys in Washington - much as another smaller fish may have helped reel in Mr. DeLay in Texas.
The DeLay and Abramoff investigations are not to be confused with the many others percolating in the capital, including, most famously of late, the Justice Department and S.E.C. inquiries into the pious Bill Frist's divine stock-sale windfall and the homeland security inspector general's promised inquiry into possible fraud in the no-bid contracts doled out by FEMA for Hurricane Katrina. The mother of all investigations, of course, remains the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's pursuit of whoever outed the C.I.A. agent Valerie Wilson to Robert Novak and whoever may have lied to cover it up. The denouement is on its way.
But whatever the resolution of any of these individual dramas, they will not be the end of the story. Like the continuing revelations of detainee abuse emerging from Afghanistan, Iraq and Guant·namo, this is a crisis in the governing culture, not the tale of a few bad apples. Every time you turn over a rock, you find more vermin. We've only just learned from The Los Angeles Times that Joseph Schmitz, until last month the inspector general in charge of policing waste, fraud and abuse at the Pentagon, is himself the focus of a Congressional inquiry. He is accused of blocking the investigation of another Bush appointee who is suspected of siphoning Iraq reconstruction contracts to business cronies. At the Justice Department, the F.B.I. is looking into why a career prosecutor was demoted after he started probing alleged Abramoff illegality in Guam. According to The Los Angeles Times, the demoted prosecutor was then replaced by a Rove-approved Republican pol who just happened to be a cousin of a major target of another corruption investigation in Guam.
This is the culture that has given us the government we have. It's a government that has spent more of the taxpayers' money than any since L.B.J.'s (as calculated by the Cato Institute, a libertarian research institution), even as it rewards its benefactors with tax breaks and corporate pork. It's a government so used to lying that Mr. DeLay could say with a straight face that the cost of Katrina relief could not be offset by budget cuts because there was no governmental fat left to cut. It's the government that fostered the wholesale loss of American lives in both Iraq and on the Gulf Coast by putting cronyism above patriotism.
Cronyism above patriotism. Well put, Pop, but too mild. I call it Treason For Profit.