We don't need more convictions and pardons of government officials. We need scorn and shame for those who violate their oaths of office. And that is a penalty that the American people -- and only the American people -- can invoke.Someone interviewed last week about the Scooter Libby commutation on NPR (I'm far too lazy to look it up now!) said the problem isn't the commutation, it's the way we use the justice system. We should, she argued, lock up the people we are afraid of, not the people we are mad at. I think that would be a start toward real prison reform.
But, on the other hand, scolding the American people is perfectly pointless. We love our scoundrels and scalawags. Any convicted politician not barred from seeking public office almost ALWAYS runs again at some point, and wins, at least a "local" election, such as a Representative (or Mayor, State Senator, etc.). Your guys a bum, our guy got a bum rap! It's as American as violence and apple pie. And frankly, more convictions and greater incarcerations simply won't solve the problem. Mr. Broder is right: many of the Watergate convicts had to change careers to be respectable, but Oliver North was canonized because he was convicted of a felony. Who did that? The government? The GOP? No, the American people!
Don't ya love it?
It's of a piece with an idea that's been nagging me, though. Today I saw another sign about the military, about those who "are fighting for our freedom!" I finally realized what a relic of the Cold War that attitude was, and how far we've fallen since World War II from our ideals of a democratic republic.
I first noticed it yesterday, reading yet another publisher's catalog entry about yet another hagiography of Abrahamh Lincoln. I think Jan Reid actually wrote a book trying to undo the sainthood of "Honest Abe," but it sank beneath our collective wisdom like a stone. Once again, the blurb promises to tell the story of how Abe Lincoln's "melancholy genius" single-handedly saved the Union, restored peace, made the cows give sweeter milk, and established peace and prosperity from sea to shining sea.
Not the soldiers who fought, the volunteers who flocked to battle to defend the Republic; not the Congress, the generals, the states, Walt Whitman, nor anybody else. Nope. Just good ol' Abe, all by hisself, by cracky! I exaggerate, of course, and I only have a precis of the book to go by, but this veneration of the "strong leader" borders on either Fascism or Stalinism, I can't decide which. How long did America go before it decided the President was the reason we had a country at all, that the military was the only reason we had "our freedom"? Is that why we fought the Revolutionary War? So we could have a standing army to guarantee we would be free? I'd always thought we had a our freedom as an "inalienable right," as the Declaration said; and that freedom was ours as human beings, not as taxpayers who never questioned a military budget, a foreign policy decision, or a call to arms. When did we decide our freedom came from our government, rather than government from our freedom? When did we go through the national looking glass, and how do we get back?
Abraham Lincoln did not single-handedly start the Civil War in order to "solve" the slavery issue, and he did not single-handedly save the Union. He wasn't even around for the Reconstruction period, which made the war so much worse that 100 years later, in my childhood, people still praised "Civil War heroes" and proclaimed "The South Will Rise Again!" We didn't need a "strong leader" then, and we don't need a military to keep us free now.
But because of the military-industrial complex, we have people who venerate Marines who are dishonorably discharged, like Oliver North. Because of what former General Eisenhower warned us against, we now are taught to believe a standing army is the only defense between us and a "fate worse than death"(more on that later). We hear Jack Nicholson tell Tom Cruise that he eats breakfast 100 yards away from people who want to kill him, and we don't think Nicholson is a raving paranoiac (Cubans want to kill us all? Really? Maybe they just resent the US presence in Gitmo, huh? D'ya think? Even then, I don't think they're a nation bent on the death of the soldiers there.), we think it's a sign of his rational appreciation of the situation. Douglas Adams was right: we are in the insane asylum. We would have to build a small room and enter that, to leave the asylum.
The entire world must be crazy, if I'm agreeing with David Broder. We, not the "system," not the President or the Vice-President, not the Congress or the Democrats or the Republicans or even the justice system, we the people, are responsible for our government, and for our collective and national fate. It is in our hands.
It's high time we started acting like it.