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Open Letter (3): Nixon, Reagan, and the Church

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If it seems to you. Ms Pelosi, Mr Obama, as if these events are long ago, far away, and hardly germane to a modern question like whether or not to impeach a president, let me try to clarify the context by resorting to some far more recent history.

Thirty-four years ago last week, Richard Nixon resigned as President of the United States after he was proved to have used agencies of the US government to spy on his domestic political enemies, among other crimes.
Barely a month later, on Sept 4, Gerald Ford, his Vice President. pardoned Nixon for any and all crimes he might have committed as president, calling the situation “a tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it.”

Sound familiar?

Nixon, who had been the first president to claim executive powers well beyond the Constitutional limitations put on the office by the Founding Fathers and the first to deliberately and with malice betray that Constitution in ways that wounded the nation so deeply that the effects are still being felt 30 years later, never saw a trial, never saw a minute in jail, never – to the disgust of the country he had treated like a dictator treats a banana republic – never saw a single consequence for criminal actions taken against all of us except the loss of the office he had violated repeatedly, not only without remorse but arrogantly insisting to the end that he had done nothing wrong.

Present VP Richard Cheney began his career in govt under Nixon, first as Donald Rumsfeld’s assistant at the OEO, then as Gerald Ford’s chief-of-staff after Nixon resigned and Ford became president. He has said that he developed the concept of the “unitary presidency”, in which he claims monarchical powers for the executive, in response to what he considered the “hounding” of Nixon from office.

Barely 12 years after Nixon’s resignation and Ford’s blanket pardon, President Ronald Reagan proceeded to appoint a rump government within the White House whose job it was to break laws and evade Congressional legislation and oversight – its Constitutional prerogative. In what came to be known as the Iran/Contra Affair, laws that were properly passed under the Constitution by the Congress of the United States were blatantly and recklessly violated in an arms-for-hostages deal that Reagan himself had publicly forbidden but privately ordered DefSec Casper Weinberger to carry out.

In all, 14 Reagan Administration officials were charged with crimes and 11 were convicted, including Weinberger and Ollie North. NOT ONE SAW A DAY OF JAIL TIME. North’s and John Poindexter’s convictions were overturned on technical grounds, and Federal prosecutors refused to try them again, possibly because they were aware that in the waning days of his administration, President George HW Bush was going to pardon them all, unconditionally.

And so not once, but twice, American presidential administrations have defamed and trampled on some of the most serious and solemn provisions of the Constitution of the United States WITHOUT LEGAL CONSEQUENCES OF ANY KIND FOR ANYONE INVOLVED. But most especially there was no action whatever taken against those at the top levels of govt who had ordered those violations: the president and the vice president.

Is it any wonder that the Bush Administration felt free to do whatever it wished, to violate US law, the Constitution, and Congressional orders lawfully given? To do its business entirely in secret, refusing even to let the Congress itself know what it was doing? The lesson they had learned and learned well was that a president could ignore laws, the Constitution, Congress, the judicial branch, and the people themselves WITHOUT FEAR THAT THEY WOULD EVER HAVE TO PAY A PRICE FOR THEIR CRIMES.

But the real tragedy is not in the lessons the criminals learned but in the lessons we, the people, have learned. Nixon, Iran/Contra, and now George W Bush, have taught us that we have no protection from runaway govt. That our politicians can violate the laws with impunity. That powerful men are allowed to do in the US as they have done everywhere else – betray the law, betray the people, betray their trust, lie, steal, even kill – and they will never have to pay the price for their illegal, unethical, immoral acts. That – and this is the worst consequence of all – the promise of America that has been held out as an example to generations of men and women longing to escape the tyranny of the rich and the powerful, that that promise is dead. That it is at best meaningless lip service. That the rich and powerful can get away with anything, and that our so-called “equality” is a sham.

Yet as bad as all that is, we have not yet hit bottom. If we return to the example of the Catholic Church in the previous post, we know that this is but the beginning of an unrelenting and inevitable process of decay if we insist on imitating their “move on”, “get past it” policy of denial and avoidance.

The history of the GC’s tells us that for as long as we avoid, so will the decay advance, even for 1000 years. The more recent history of the modern conservative movement tells us that modcon True Believers feel their sense of entitlement like a perpetual itch. They will not quit, they will not stop trying to get – by hook or, more likely, by crook – what they believe they are owed: power over the rest of us. And if they face no consequences for their actions, consequences serious enough to deter them from doing it all again the first chance they get, Church history says that we have a long way down yet and long before our thousand years are up, we will no longer be living in even the semblance of a democratic equality. The rich and powerful will run everything, the whole society will be as corrupt as the Bush/Cheney Regime, and the American Dream of freedom and equality for all will have become a nightmare of modern feudalism.

At this point, you are the only ones who can prevent this from happening. Please reconsider your decisions. For all our sakes. For the sake of our democracy. For the sake of our future.

Written by Mick

August 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Open Letter to Barack and Nancy: Why “Moving On” Is a Recipe for Disaster (1)

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Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership have chosen not to bring the Bush Administration to account for any of its crimes because they consider it a risky political decision that could potentially backfire on them and cost them the election. One can certainly make a good argument that polls would tend to pretty strongly suggest otherwise, but even if one accepts their argument, there is a far deeper problem they’re ducking: the effect on the country.

Barack Obama backs Pelosi’s decision to take impeachment “off the table” for a slightly different reason (although we have to assume that Nancy’s reason carries a lot of weight with him). He is looking forward to his administration having massive problems to deal with in the wake of the worst presidency in American history. The last thing he wants to do is stir up partisan resentment that will make reforms more difficult (if not impossible) by alienating Republicans who might be disposed to work with him. One can certainly make a good argument that the modern conservative movement is so filled with heterodoxical extremists and unbending ideologues that any truly bi-partisan relationship is nothing but an unrealistic dream, but even if one accepts his position, there is a far deeper problem he’s ducking: the effect on the country.

This past June in The Nation, Corey Robin, in an essay on the way the Right has always followed and/or copied the Left, made the point that in the 1960’s Goldwater saw that conservatives, who were taking a beating as corrupt, mindless, corporate puppets had to prove that they had a “credo” of strict values that they lived by. To some extent, the late “values movement” came out of that perception.

Making privilege palatable to the democratic masses is a permanent project for conservatives, but each generation must tailor it to the contours of its times. In 1960, Goldwater’s challenge was set out in his book’s title: to show that conservatives had a conscience. Not a heart–he lambasted Eisenhower and Nixon for trying to prove that they were compassionate–or a brain, which liberals from John Stuart Mill to Lionel Trilling had doubted. Political movements often have to show that they can win, that their cause is just and their leaders are savvy, but rarely must they prove that theirs is a march of inner lights. Goldwater thought otherwise: to attract new voters and rally the faithful, conservatism had to establish its idealism and integrity, its absolute independence from the beck and call of wealth, from privilege and materialism–reality itself. If they were to change reality, conservatives would have to divorce themselves, at least in their self-understanding, from reality.


Goldwater learned from the New Deal. During the Gilded Age, conservatives had opposed unions and government regulation by invoking workers’ freedom to contract with their employer. Liberals countered that this freedom was illusory: workers lacked the means to contract as they wished; real freedom required material means. Goldwater agreed, only he turned that argument against the New Deal: high taxes robbed workers of their wages, rendering them less free and less able to be free. Channeling John Dewey, he asked, “How can a man be truly free if he is denied the means to exercise freedom?”

FDR claimed that conservatives cared more about money than men. Goldwater said the same about liberals. Focusing on welfare and wages, he charged, they “look only at the material side of man’s nature” and “subordinate all other considerations to man’s material well being.” Conservatives took in “the whole man,” making his “spiritual nature” the “primary concern” of politics and putting “material things in their proper place.”

This romantic howl against the economism of the New Deal–similar to that of the New Left–was not a protest against politics or government; Goldwater was no libertarian. It was an attempt to elevate politics and government, to direct public discussion toward ends more noble and glorious than the management of creature comforts and material well-being.

It was all a scam, of course, an illusion they were selling the country, but it worked. Goldwater used an imaginary victimhood of conservatives as the basis of a cry for justice and “balance” that struck a chord with Americans who thought of themselves, too, as victims. Modern conservatism began as a sort of Victims’ Support Group. Robin writes, “Conservatives have asked us not to obey them but to feel sorry for them–or to obey them because we feel sorry for them.”

Reformers and radicals must convince the subordinated and disenfranchised that they have rights and power. Conservatives are different. They are aggrieved and entitled–aggrieved because entitled–and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitability of its triumph. They can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity the subaltern can only imagine, making them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection.

But we need to understand why it took “aggrieved” conservatives 30 years to conceive of a solution to FDR, and 30 more years to put it into victorious operation. The answer is actually fairly simple. Roosevelt didn’t just rout the conservative movement of his time, he resolved all the issues of its enemies and absorbed them into his coalition, an alliance that lasted 60 years and could have lasted longer if the Democrats who followed him hadn’t become so lazy and complacent.

What Pelosi and Obama (and the rest of the DLC-style leadership) is proposing to do is skip over this step and leave the hatred, anger, resentment, and sense of massive injustices done by the Bush/Cheney Gang to fester inside the body politic for the indefinite future. They can say that they’re “moving on” but what they’re actually doing is moving past – with their eyes shut – hoping the whole thing will just go away.

Unfortunately, history shows us that as a policy of providing for future peace and stability, you couldn’t make a worse choice.

(to be cont’d)

Written by Mick

August 13, 2008 at 2:20 pm