The Bush/Cheney Impeachment Papers

Dedicated to Constitutional Accountability

Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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

with one comment

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 (2): The Catholic Church and the Danger of Irresolution

with 4 comments

An essential component of conservatism is the conservative’s active sense of entitlement (see Corey Robin). He sees himself as someone to whom the world owes whatever he wants (nearly always, desires are expressed by conservatives as necessities) or believes he and, perhaps, he alone has a right to have. He is set off from the rest of his neighbors by some special attribute – he has more money, he has the “right” skin color, the “right’ background, the “right” ethnicity, is of an elite class, and so on – but more relevantly for our purposes, he believes that this “special quality”, whatever it is, absolves him from following the rules he expects the rest of us to live by.

Of all the world’s ultraconservative institutions, including empires and monarchies, arguably the longest-lived and least flexible of them is the Catholic Church. For some 2000 years, for 3/4 of which it was the single most powerful body in the Western world, forcing kings and empires to obey its dictates, it has survived virtually intact even as its enemies have fallen by the historical wayside. Empires are gone, kings dethroned, feudalism a bygone historical oddity but the Church remains, essentially unchanged, doctrinally at least, from the Church as it was in the very beginning. If there is a conservative success story – and there are very few – it must be the Catholic Church’s survival through ages of chaos and massive change.

We may ask, how did they do it? And at what price? The answers to those questions provide the modern world with a cautionary tale for, yes, it survived, but it did so at the cost of its integrity, its influence, most of its power, and the lives of millions of innocent people, most of them non-Catholic. As for the “how?” I can answer that in a single phrase: through evasion and a stout refusal to address risky realities. In other words, it ran like a rabbit.

~~~~~~~

The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325-1870 by Catholic historian Monsignor Philip Hughes is a popular summarization of the background and actions of over 1500 years worth of General Councils of the Catholic Church. “General Councils”, as opposed to local or regional councils, are periodic gatherings of the entire Church structure – archbishops, bishops, cardinals, monks, prelates – the entire gamut of the hierarchy from every country on the globe. They meet at irregular intervals and only when they are called to meet to resolve weighty issues that involve the entire Church, usually theological issues, and while they’re at it they promulgate and vote on a list of canons (laws that regulate the actions of Church members much the same way that civil laws regulate the actions of citizens).

There are two things we can say about every GC from the first, the council of Nicaea in 325, to the Council of Trent 1200 years later.

  1. They were rubber stamps, every single one of them. Each of them – and there were 18 – met with orders from the pope laying out what they were to do and how they were to decide each question of canon law and theological dispute already in their hands. In no case, whatever blustering some did, whatever objections some loudly proclaimed, did any of the legal GC’s disobey those instructions. They might change a little wording here and there in order to assert their limited power, but they never materially altered what Authority told them to do. (They reminded me of the Democrats bragging about how they had won “major concessions” from Bush over the FISA bill when the “compromises” they had “won” amounted to little more than the bishops’ changing of an insignificant word in a papal canon to prove they had done something.)
  2. They consistently ducked every serious issue of theology or clerical behavior except heresy. While they came down like a ton of bricks on anyone who deviated even slightly from papally-approved dogma, every other issue that had raised its ugly head since the last GC was invoked was swept swiftly under the carpet, usually on the orders of a pope who feared retribution from either a political source (the wars between the popes and various kings and emperors are infamous) or the laity itself. Delay, denial, and disinterest were every pope’s best weapons when it came to avoiding confrontation, and they weren’t shy about using them.

The classic example of papal and episcopal duck-and-cover is probably the issue that finally brought about rebellion in 1517 when Martin Luther broke away from the Church and began the Protestant Reformation. It will be a familiar one to those following the ins-and-outs of the Bush GOP as it has run amok the last 8 years.

Corruption.

As early as the Council of Ephesus in 431, the issue of bribery was already simmering behind the scenes. In a theological confrontation between two antagionists, a pope-approved Cyril and a pope-disapproved “heretic” named Nestorius, Cyril – who was a pretty rich prelate – decided to bend the issue a bit by spreading some of his wealth around. Hughes admiringly quotes a French historian, Msgr Pierre Batiffol, “At the court every man had his price, and Cyril did not stop to count the price.” Hughes then gives us a sense of what that meant.

We have a list of the valuable presents that flowed in, carpets (of various sizes), furnishings, valuable silks, jewels, ivory chairs, ostriches, and good plain golden coin. Of this last, one group of fifteen high personages “touched” between them the equivalent of nearly a million dollars.

Cyril won the argument when those who got the goodies voted for his side. He bought the outcome, plain and simple, the same way a Mafia don might have bought the verdict of a jury.

For this act of excessive zeal, they made him a saint.
The fish rots from the head.
 
With examples like St Cyril to lead them, it isn’t surprising that the corruption spread.
  • At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 the bishops found it necessary to warn monks not to take “secular employment” for money and castigated them for their wasteful lifestyles spent in “unedifying idleness”.
  • At the Fourth Council of Constantinople 400 years later, the bishops had to forbid each other from selling off church property and pocketing the money, and from selling ordinations (the making of a priest).
  • At the Second Lateran Council (1139) 300 years after that, there were canons forbidding inherited benefices (the income-producing properties or legacies that kept a parish or bishopric financially afloat) because it was common for priests and bishops to treat the income as their own and pass it on to their children or relatives (oh, yes – children; morality was a whole separate problem and there, too, no one wanted to face the music).
 
It was also at the Second Lateran that clerics of all stripes had to be warned against the wearing of too much finery when they went about visiting the common folk because all those furs and jewels might be considered “unseemly” by parishioners sunk in poverty. They were also told to lay off the heavy taxation of their laity, and forbidden to continue lending money at usurious rates. The bishops at the Council were very clear and very strict and excommunication was the least a cleric could expect for disobedience.
 
Not that any of that stopped them. The rules, as they expected, were never enforced. There were no consequences, you see. Everyone wanted to “move on”, “get past it”. There was a pretense that, since the Councils were the Last Word in Church law, they would, of course, be obeyed. No more would need to be said or done, and the High ranks of the Church could move to more pressing matters, like the Emperor Frederick II’s kidnapping of their pope or the invasion of the Huns, Saracens, or French, whichever was trying to take them over this week. So they never put any teeth into the laws, no enforcement, no consequences.
 
As a result, by the time Pope Julius II (Michelangelo’s patron? Rex Harrison played him in the movie?) called the Fifth Lateran Council in March of 1517 just 7 months before Luther hung his treatises on that Wittenburg door, the situation had deteriorated to such a degree that the Council’s whole purpose was reform of a badly corrupted system. The reforms, even then, were put in place without any system of enforcing them, and the abuses continued for another 25 years until the Council of Trent (1545) finally took this horrendous state of affairs seriously enough to enact facilities for seeing to it that consequences happened and the abuses were, once and for all, ended.
It was Luther and the Reformation who finally forced the Church’s hand. The loss of half the Western world was what it took to make them stop “moving on”. They had to backtrack and undo over 1000 years of overlooked crimes, and by the time they did the disgust with the corruption they had allowed to flourish unchecked and unpunished was general in most of Europe.
(to be cont’d)

Written by Mick

August 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Posted in History

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

with one comment

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