April 20, 2006

The Worst President in History?

Sean Wilentz writes crisply and cuttingly in Rolling Stone. One of my favorite passages, which invokes in me the fury I feel when GOP talking-points-parrots start bleating about the corruption of Clinton Democrats, is the following:
A total of twenty-nine Reagan officials, including White House national security adviser Robert McFarlane and deputy chief of staff Michael Deaver, were convicted on charges stemming from the Iran-Contra affair, illegal lobbying and a looting scandal inside the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Three Cabinet officers -- HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce, Attorney General Edwin Meese and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger -- left their posts under clouds of scandal. In contrast, not a single official in the Clinton administration was even indicted over his or her White House duties, despite repeated high-profile investigations and a successful, highly partisan impeachment drive.

The full report, of course, has yet to come on the Bush administration. Because Bush, unlike Reagan or Clinton, enjoys a fiercely partisan and loyal majority in Congress, his administration has been spared scrutiny. Yet that mighty advantage has not prevented the indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges stemming from an alleged major security breach in the Valerie Plame matter. (The last White House official of comparable standing to be indicted while still in office was Grant's personal secretary, in 1875.) It has not headed off the unprecedented scandal involving Larry Franklin, a high-ranking Defense Department official, who has pleaded guilty to divulging classified information to a foreign power while working at the Pentagon -- a crime against national security. It has not forestalled the arrest and indictment of Bush's top federal procurement official, David Safavian, and the continuing investigations into Safavian's intrigues with the disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, recently sentenced to nearly six years in prison -- investigations in which some prominent Republicans, including former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed (and current GOP aspirant for lieutenant governor of Georgia) have already been implicated, and could well produce the largest congressional corruption scandal in American history. It has not dispelled the cloud of possible indictment that hangs over others of Bush's closest advisers.

I can't begin to even explain what this does to my blood pressure. This is a blog; it's not a scholarly paper. I have a milk crate here to stand on, from whence to vent spleen. I realize that this makes me not someone worth reading, really, for reasoned argument; not someone worth linking for facts or value-laden posts or propositions. It wars with my desire to actually serve my nation and its polity by being someone who can and does produce analytic information for the betterment of policy and people - both because what I produce here is tainted by my own anger, and because what I produce here most likely taints me, as a person, in the eyes of those who I might one day stand before and ask to trust in my motives.

All I can say is that the anger is not because I'm a Democrat thwarted. It's not because I'm a Liberal smelling blood. In point of fact, the anger is due to one simple piece of my makeup. I'm an American citizen. I am a multiracial, minority in ethnicity and beliefs citizen of the U.S. who believes firmly that the Constitution of the United States of America, and the vast majority of the people who inhabit the United States of America (and, indeed, the world in which it lives) are in the main a good and decent creation. I want things to get better. I want my children, and everyone's children, happy, well-fed, healthy and safe; I want the planet prosperous and peaceful. I want us reaching for the stars as a species.

I'm not naive enough to think this will magically happen.

However, I'm romantic enough that when I see policies and behaviors that, in my opinion, and in my analysis, throw away what small poor resources and chances we do have on this world for that to occur - when I see those chances and those resources thrown in the dirt, or stashed in a miser's pocket, and I see the Nation I do actually love led into a path of twisted behavior worthy more of its historical enemies than of the code it claims to aspire to reach in its own precious documents - then comes the anger. Then comes the fury. Then comes the frustration.

The current administration is a source, day by day, of that frustration. The Congress, in many ways, through active and passive failures, is a source of that frustration, on both sides of the aisle. The system is not; I believe the system itself can, when inhabited and pushed by men and women of vision and character, be a force for good and progress. But those currently in power are not they.

While this may doom whatever chances I have of ever working within that system, for whatever leaders and administrations, so be it. I can only say what I believe, for not doing so is a crime of silence. Not a large one, in my case, to be sure - I don't affect much. I don't influence much. But I would know. Even if I were to be working for the current government (which of course I'm not) I would be able to give it my all, if I would be working to serve the United States of America. Accurate (or at least, dedicated) analysis and monitoring are needed no matter who makes the decisions and what they are; and that's the only kind of thing I could ever see myself doing for the government anyway (at least, that's the only thing I could ever imagine the government wanting out of me other than taxes).

It's hard. I love this place. I know deep in my heart that I'm not a demographically representative American - but my voice should count as much as any other. That's what the system purports to say. However there appears to be a complete lack of accountability in Washington - indeed, the entire concept of failure appears to be gone. 'Failure' is something that occurs, to George Bush, in 'geologic time' - something that will only be an issue when he's dead and the historians can argue about it.

He's wrong. Failure is something that needs to be considered and addressed when it occurs, with an eye towards preventing it from happening again. A presidency is not a single event. It is a myriad of decisions. A president who is unable, during a debate, to come up with a single mistake he's made in his first term, however small - even for a joke! - is one too dangerous to be allowed to make decisions for this country. If there is no concept of failure, there is no concept of anyone (especially him) paying the consequences for a failure. If that's the case, then how can he be trusted to make decisions that affect the entire planet, much less the polity of the United States? A man who brushes off the notion that he might make a mistake as 'irrelevant' is a man unable to even recognize the path leading into error - and this particular man apparently is the one exploring 'all options' for dealing with other nations, including those involving nuclear weapons.

Does this make you feel safe?

Posted by jbz at April 20, 2006 11:44 PM | TrackBack

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