Picture yourself a conflicted White House adviser at midnight. Do we dutifully prosecute the domestic Axis of Evil (Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld), though doubtful any jury will convict? Won’t “not guilty” findings turn evildoers into martyrs? Or do we look writ large, confident the best ways to trump an eight-year train wreck are high-performance, paradigm-shifting feats that, by contrast, affirm fiascos? Yet won’t justice suffer?
“Why not both,” yells the irate peanut gallery? Since we don’t jail ex-Presidents, our chief executive’s reluctance affirms precedence: media-crazed circus trials would stop cold desperately needed legislation. And yet, what invaluable lessons would accrue from Watergate-quality inquests into war crimes, Constitutional violations, and corruptions that gutted federal efficacy (emergency aid, illegal hiring/firings, censorship of fact-driven reports, or billions squandered in Iraq)? Weekly revelations, moreover, only remind us what we still don’t know. I feverishly await the shadowy Bush “Executive Order” noted in the Torture Memos that authorized crimes.
Would voters judge it revenge – or criminalizing politics – were defendants Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, or Alberto Gonzales frogmarched to jail? Who could possibly challenge holding well-paid, high status officials to literal oaths of office: to support and defend our laws and the Constitution?
MIA: Presidential Stop Signs
Don’t count on jail for top brass. Brace for indignation and pieties, “what happened will never happen again.” Yet what laws, however brilliant, will handcuff the next rogue commander-in-chief deciding tomorrow’s emergency puts him or her above the law? What soldiers or CIA agent in 2030 will disobey direct orders, buttressed with Executive Orders? This very week, former Bush Sec’y of State Rice dismayed a student questioner (and millions) by summoning the disgraced Nixon Creed, what a president orders is, by definition, not illegal. Mind-numbing.
This much is true: until we punish top lawbreakers, criminal personalities will treat law as hurdles, relegated to “signing statements.” The blanket called “national Security” covers both safety and wrongdoing too threatening or too high up for scrutiny, let alone penalty. Truly, politicians get slammed for adultery, bribery, or material payoffs, but not misusing power, panicking us into war, concocting a “war president,” or outing a CIA agent for revenge. Nixon got off; so will today’s top malefactors (though I’d love to be wrong).
History’s Judgments Have Staying Power
That leaves voters and historians to arbitrate assaults against our system of government. And thus this decisive first step: startling Obama competence returns us to the rule of law (circa 1995) and honors reality by consensus (rather than faith), government that resolves human and resource challenges, and majority consent. That’s radical change we can believe in.
The first 100 Days are about confidence and public perception. Presidential esteem is a vector, not proof of enduring success, the antidote to Bushthink. That 81% “like” the president defines a “relief rally,” stock jargon for optimism when moderate news displaces feared disaster. Obama’s popularity marks the confluence of John McBush’s loss amplified by the new team full of rational, if establishment adults, cheerleading that doesn’t minimize dilemmas, openness to input, and graciously admitting error. Obama the “devout, non-ideologue” has apologized more in 100 days than W. in a lifetime.
Buoyancy does not banish doomsayers who complain American civilization has peaked, 9/11 was one signal, and some damage Bush-Cheney wrought isn’t fixable. Nothing kills the “happy days are here again” narrative like remembering how close we came to Sarah Palin in the White House, Mitt Romney or Rudy Guiliani in the cabinet, and Phil Gramm’s wizardry deciding economic “reform.” And you thought planetary pandemics were scary.
Obama Blocks the Sun, Illuminating Misdeeds
Yet clearly visible are tectonic shifts, set off by electing a still improbable candidate, advanced by surprising public approval of his quick-study mastery. Everyone sane, including ultra-conservative William Bennett, concedes a turning point: Obama is already “a huge political figure . . . the guy blocks the sun. He won the election. He commands everything in sight.”
Contrast this eclipse to four years ago when terrified, dispirited voters re-elected two “rough men,” in Garrison Keillor’s words, who “did not run on a human-rights platform.” Today, the nation squirms at harsh tactics by “rough men,” thus W.’s public fall from grace accelerates. With Obama hitting 2/3s approval, one senses a country beginning to admit misjudgments, perhaps complicity and absolute need to make amends.
Most favor in-depth investigations by Congress and the Dept. of Justice, even Special Prosecution into the double outrage of alleging necessity when forcing waterboarding on reluctant interrogators, then defending it as neither forbidden nor illegal. That Cheney (Ashcroft, Gonzales, Yoo) aggressively crusade for torture beggars belief, just as world-class lawyers and judges talk obligatory war crimes investigations.
And yet, if a top prosecutor only tagged Scooter Libby for perjury after a transparently wicked, anti-CIA conspiracy, can we expect full justice for well-shielded untouchables? Instead, look to the court of public opinion and history to indict and certify criminals and crimes, many done as we all watched and in our name. That, plus the promising marvel of Obama, are the palpable reckonings we can take to the bank.Filed under: Archive