Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Last Honest Republican

Clearly, at least to some degree, the "consent of the governed" was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish. -- The Assault on Reason, Al Gore
During the Clinton remember, the days of wine and roses?...there was a clear separation between the political wing of the White House and the Department of Justice, embodied by the first woman (and longest-serving) Attorney General, Janet Reno.

When she could have taken the easy way out to let Clinton wriggle off the hook in the Lewinski scandal with a minor and perfunctory (and probably more productive) inquiry, followed by a "Who the hell cares? Let's work on terrorism!" report, Reno went out of her way to ensure that the investigation was thorough, naming not one, but two right wing Republican knuckleheads as special prosecutor.

Now, imagine if Monica Lewinski had blown George W. Bush...

Integrity seems to have a dear price in this administration, which is why I think it's important to point out when someone has consistently acted with integrity and on principle. Introducing James Comey:
As deputy attorney general in 2003, he appointed his old friend Patrick J. Fitzgerald as independent counsel in the C.I.A. leak case, leading to the perjury conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr.

In 2004, he backed Justice Department subordinates who withdrew a legal memorandum justifying harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists. This spring, more than a year after leaving the government, he publicly praised several United States attorneys who had been dismissed, undermining the administration’s claim that they were removed for poor performance.

Finally, at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Comey gave a riveting account of how he intervened in 2004 at the hospital bedside of Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent two top White House officials from persuading Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping program. The Justice Department had ruled that the program would not be lawful without certain changes, and President Bush subsequently directed that the changes be made.

Colleagues say Mr. Comey is, even now, a reluctant critic of the administration he served. But they say he feels strongly that there was no justification for the purge of prosecutors and remains furious about what he saw in 2004 as an improper attempt by the White House to bypass the Justice Department.
Every once in a while, a Republican comes along who espouses principle above expediency. Comey is one. Elliot Richardson was another.

Isn't it funny, tho, how you never hear about "Democractic men (and women) of principle"? Maybe that's because Democrats assume that principle, generally, trumps political expediency. This is not to give them carte blanche, no way, but to point out that, on the whole, Republican administrations (and now, Congresses) are far more corrupt and corrupting than Democratic ones.

If the past six years have taught us anything, it's that Republicans simply can't be trusted with the keys to the car. Name one senior Bush Cabinet official who hasn't been embroiled in some major scandal, right up the UN Ambassador, John Bolton! The leadership of the House and Senate was another place where the pockets of wealthy donors were lined tenfold beyond the pockets of the legislators they bought off.

It will take decades, decades, to uncover and undo the damage of allowing lobbyists to write legislation designed to protect the average citizen from the predations of Corporate America. My great fear is that Democrats will succumb to the same temptation, now that the barn door is open and the first horse has strolled off the ranch.

Think about the rape of environmental, consumer protection, & civil rights legislation:
Rich, a former chief of the voting section in the civil rights division who worked at the Justice Department for 35 years before leaving in 2005, says that from 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African-American or Native American voters. Instead, he alleges, U.S.attorneys were told to give priority to voter-fraud cases, which civil rights groups have long contended are actually meant to depress voter turnout in minority communities.
The Justice Department has become a repository of political hackery and is in no way, shape or form providing the single fiduciary function that any government of the people, by the people and for the people should provide: shelter from the gouging and scaveging of far larger, far wealthier, entities whose very survival relies on the sweat of your brow and my brow.

The social contract with governments, that we consent to be governed, is made in exchange for the protections of our civil rights, more loosely defined as that wonderful phrase in the Declaration of Independence: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Rights bestowed on all of us, not just those who can afford a ticket to the Inaugural Ball. Rights that are all but natural rights of human beings, just by being born. Rights that are yours and mine.

We could think of government in classical psychological terms as the ego between the id of commerce and the superego of the will of the people. A moderator between the rapacious commercial interests engaged in making a profit, and the greed of people who see a richer target in the concentrations of wealth that are businesses and want to take it for all its worth. This is why we have both civil and criminal codes that can be enforced in both directions.

But lets face facts: people are like ants at a picnic in this instance and can be squashed easily under the wheels of commerce no matter how many people are trying to take what they perceive is theirs, so government's real job is to protect you and I from the nebulous "them," making sure that business abides by the same criminal laws that you and I would get dragged into court for: littering, assault, theft, among others.

When commerce turns against us, our recourse is to petition our government.

However, when government turns against us, we have no recourse. It's a handicap wrestling match, two on one, and unfortunately, we're still ants.

The one illusion that we can cling to right now is, in less than two years, we can get rid of these assholes, and find a new set of people to take up the shield for us. I say that's an illusion because there's no guarantee that the next regime won't be as bad or worse, than the Bush junta.

Men and women like James Comey, like the 9/11 widows, like Janet Reno, like Patrick Fitzgerald, may be our last best hope for a free future.