Let me pull a three wood out of the bag for this shot.
Where we are as a nation today is a direct result of a historical tension that first arose in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and is best understood by reading the its exposition in the Federalist Papers and in the writings of Thomas Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists. That tension literally blew up at the time of the Civil War, was partially resolved through Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and has been in dynamic flux ever since. There have been anomalies and extremes along the way: The Gilded Age’s “Robber Barons,” Wobblies, Huey Long, Supreme Court packing, Texas politics, HUAC, and the Reagan Revolution.
What the Reagan Revolution really brought was the ascendance of people who were fundamentally anti-democratic, and lead to their control of the political and social agendas of the United States. The Republican Party, and the men who had come to control it used the guise of the need for action against foreign threats and domestic problems to strengthen the Executive Branch and the Federal government at the same time they championed “states rights” and the need for a smaller Federal government. The anti-Federalist, “small government, individual responsibility” head fake distracted people. They thought and were told one thing: that the Federal government was bad. At the same time, the Reagan Administration was pursuing a massive military buildup and using it to support an interventionist foreign policy – a foreign policy that frequently ignored the rule of law. The anti-democratic and authoritarian nature of the Reagan Administration was revealed in many ways, but the Iran-Contra scandals and the activities disclosed in by both the House and Senate Select Iran-Contra Committee and the Iran-Contra Investigation lead by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh are the ones I believe are most important to consider.
The Democrats who controlled both the House and the Senate at the time failed to prosecute the Iran-Contra investigation in a way that lead to the identification of the principals involved with the original events, the cover-up, and the orchestrated obstruction of justice. The identity of the principals was never revealed in criminal or civil court. (And we may never know the true identity of those principals – but it is likely they include Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, James Baker, and William Casey.) The minimal convictions of the supporting figures in the scandal – Elliot Abrams, Robert McFarlane, Oliver North, John Poindexter, Richard Secord, Casper Weinberger and others – were overturned or were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Many of their deputies and supporters now make up the White House staff of President George W. Bush.
The pardons reinforced the clear intention of the principals not to abide the rule of law. And the success of the strategy and tactics emboldened the Republicans to employ a similar strategy and use the same tactics once they had again had control of the White House.
And the results? A political system without accountability. The Global War on Terror. The war in Iraq.
So, we now have at least these issues to address as a country:
• The prosecution of not one, but two wars in countries where there is no realistic hope of a conventional victory;
• A dysfunctional Executive Branch – one that is the focus of an ongoing criminal investigation that has produced one indictment of a senior aide to the Vice-President of the United States on five felony charges, and which may yield more indictments; and
• A Legislative Branch where the leadership of both Houses are being investigated for possible criminal and ethical violations, including “pay for play” scandals involving Republican political appointees, lobbyists, and political operatives.
This sad laundry list is not an indictment of conservatism or Republicans. It is a stinging rebuke to anyone who believes that “the ends justify the means” with regards to political control in the United States. Senator Barry Goldwater famously stated, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice.” And while he might have appreciated the intentions of a Grover Norquist, I am certain he would repudiate the techniques Norquist, Karl Rove, Jack Abramhoff, Tom DeLay and others use to win elections. More to the point, Goldwater would be appalled by the actions of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and the rest of the Bush Administration use to
The rule of law applies to all the citizens of the state, governed and governors alike. The founders – the men who wrote the Constitution, and who struggled with the tension of a unitary, federal United States versus a confederated United States believed in the rule of law above all else. They were not above the law they created in the Constitution.
If we as a people fail to hold our elected leaders accountable for their actions, then we will surely loose the Republic that was created 229 years ago.
It is only in the rule of law that the United States Constitution defines that we can find a way to hold our political leadership – Democrat and Republican alike – accountable, to us, and to the ideals they swear to uphold. We must demand careful, thorough, and transparent investigation of their actions, and the actions of the people who support them. We must demand that the appropriate criminal and civil penalties be applied to any elected official, and any appointed official who is found to have violated the law in any way.
This must not become a witch hunt. It is a test of our Constitution, and our willingness to test ourselves, and the ideas on which our country was founded. Members of both political parties are likely to be found guilty of crimes, and must be punished. And we must be prepared to hold ourselves up to a higher standard of behavior and accountability from this moment on.
If the media (who have been complicit in the failure so far to hold our government accountable for its collective actions, and of the individual actions of its elected and appointed members) fails to assist the investigation, then we must do it. We have a tool in the Internet that allows for the collection of data and information, its analysis, and the wide dissemination of knowledge in a substantively different way than ever available to individual citizens before.
Governor Howard Dean said it simply: “You have the power.” We do have the power. Do not believe otherwise. That power is what created this great country. That power will save this great country.
I’m not a historian, or a political scientist, or a philosopher. I’m just a citizen who’s made as hell at what has become of a country I am proud of. I had to do something. This is my first step.
OK, we’ll now return to our regularly scheduled programming of light entertainment.