March 16, 2009, 10:45 A.M.
Last week Dianne and I saw the movie Frost/Nixon. It brought back a lot of memories for me because I followed the Watergate coverage very closely when I was in high school, and I had a lot of strong feelings about the situation.
The last two years of Nixon’s presidency seriously eroded the constitutional foundations of our government. Nixon abused the office like no one before him and he soured an entire generation on government and government service as a result.
When Nixon resigned there was a massive ground swell of public opinion aimed at seeing that he was punished, prosecuted and humiliated. That was a time when we could still muster a major protest in this country. Ford’s pardon of Nixon, in the face of all of that negative public opinion against the pardon really sealed Ford’s fate, ended any chance he had of re-election and paved the way for Carter’s 1976 sweep. Mickey Mouse could have swept the Republicans from office after the Nixon/Agnew/Ford years.
People really wanted Nixon’s head on a platter. They wanted him humiliated. I think that Ford, rather astutely, saw that the country really was not going to benefit from the domestic prosecution of a disgraced president. Ford wanted the whole sordid affair over and a pardon was the only way to accomplish that goal.
For me, it really did not matter what happened to Nixon. True, I really despised him. I had an in depth unde3rstanding of what had gone on. I read the transcripts of the tapes. I read the New York Times every day during that period of time and I read the Washington Post almost as often. I was a sophomore in high school, but I understood the magnitude of the constitutional crisis. The Saturday Night Massacre scared me because I honestly believed that Nixon would not relinquish power and that we would either see a coup, or that we would see the first removal of a sitting president through the impeachment process. This was also when I learned that impeachment was only the formal charging of a president, like an indictment, and that following impeachment, there would be a trial and vote by the Senate on removal from office.
Even though I despised him, with good reason, I did not care what happened after he left office. I just wanted him gone. It really was not personal. If he went to jail, I didn’t care. I was relieved that he was gone, and that a criminal was gone from the head of government.
Nixon’s crimes were domestic. Ford’s pardon was aimed at healing the country after a terrible period of lawlessness. That leaves me thinking about what to do with Bush, Cheney, Gonzalez, Rumsfeld and the rest of them. Their crimes were perhaps more widespread and serious than even Nixon’s and were no less injurious to our national government. More than that, however, their crimes were possibly war crimes – substantial, grievous and prosecutable violations of international law.
In this case, even a presidential pardon couldn’t help. The president, were he so inclined (and I hope he is not) could pardon the Bushies for their domestic crimes. He could not, however, effectively forgive their international crimes. No one could.
Where I saw Nixon’s pardon as a salve, I have no such view with regard to Bush. The salve for our international reputation may be to serve up the bad guys and to once and for all demonstrate that we as a nation are not above the law. Just like Nixon was not about our domestic laws., so too, our leaders are not above international laws, the ones we helped write and often are called upon to enforce. What credibility do we have in prosecuting war crimes against dictators and criminals when our own leaders profess to be above the law?
Understand my point. I don’t want this to happen and I am ashamed that it is a possibility. But how do we protect our own people from waterboarding, and other forms of torture when we are doing it ourselves? At a minimum, we should do nothing to protect them, and their successors should take notice. We are a nation of laws and we are a part of a larger community of nations striving for the same standards.
Situational morality and selective adherence to law is not acceptable and should not be tolerated. Bush and his buddies should be left twisting in the wind. They did nothing less for us.
March 16, 2009, 10:40 A.M.
During the past
seven years, since the September 11 World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, popular television shows have had a strong Machiavellian influence that bugs me. We see shows like “24" where the clear message is that, as long as you get the bad guy, it doesn’t matter what rules or laws you break. In fact, no one who is a legitimate agent of government is capable of getting the bad guy. Only someone operating outside of it can. The ends justify the means.
I think that these shows reflect the opinions and values that are cultivated by our leaders. It is propaganda, pure and simple.
Just like Josh Marshall identified that fact that Washington is still “wired” Republican, I think television and the entertainment industry are still “wired” Machiavellian (or more precisely, Chenian). This will take time to undo, but it needs to be undone. Our popular media reflects our popular culture, but right and wrong, good and bad, have to be measured by an objective standard. In our society, there are rules and laws which are not situational. Morality is not situational. It’s simply not acceptable to kill someone because you are a cop and he is a “bad guy,” and it’s not acceptable for TV to try to make it okay.
No one is or should be above the law. The ends don’t justify the means, and wrong is wrong, regardless of the situation. Let’s try to keep it that way. It’s a lot earlier than trying to sort through the alternatives.