I have previously written about the need, as I then saw it, to impeach both President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to approve such hearings by Representative Conyers’s committee and thus nothing happened.
With the inauguration of President Obama and Vice President Biden, we are once again faced with a dilemma that is becoming all too familiar in modern American national politics, namely, to investigate and punish or not to investigate and punish. Put another way, we might say to restore the rule of law or not to restore the rule of law.
Why do I say this is all too familiar? The answer is simple. We have been faced with this problem before and each time we have failed to have the courage to face up to it and do the right thing. Why? I believe it is because it would have been ugly, unpleasant, and rife with open conflict. Indeed, former President Ford said as much at his pardon of Richard Nixon. Not to act on these grounds is simply immature and indicative of a seriously dysfunctional political system. Much of life is unpleasand or difficult, but such things need to be done. President Obama announced that we must put aside childish things and begin a new era of responsibility. However, as others have recently noted, our failure to investigate and litigate these criminals has lead to their return as bigger and more dangerous agents of corruption and danger to our ideals and to the peace of the world.
The Bush-Cheney Administration did not emerge out of a political or historical vaccuum. It developed from a series of administrations that desired to ignore the law or the procedures of the Constitution. During the Nixon years and the Watergate Scandal, John Dean reported telling the President that there was a cancer on the presidency. For me, that is the appropriate metaphor. Just as cancer cells can be done away with, they can re-emerge and spread, becoming worse and worse with each return.
Consider the following sequence of history. In 1964 after the death of President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson used every trick in the book to try to dictate to America and wage his own illegal war in Vietnam. When Richard Nixon followed him in office, things went immediately from bad to much worse. The Nixon years are marked by one infraction after another against the Constitution. Nixon’s famous comment that if the President does it, it is legal still haunts us to this day and has been visible in the daily insolence of both Bush and Cheney. When Ford (the go-to guy of the right wing in America during that era) refused to investigate and prosecute, and chose instead to pardon Nixon, the nation screamed in futile protest. Sadly, our system was then left open to future violations by the Executive branch.
After Nixon, the activities of the Reagan-Bush presidencies pushed our cultural elastic even further. Reagan and his people worked around Congress so that they could wage their own illegal policies against Communism. Their actions lead to the Iran-Contra scandal that promoted further violations of the Constitution and the rule of law in the U.S. And because President Clinton refused to investigate and prosecute these anti-American and anti-Constitutional behaviors and policies, they returned with a real vengeance for the past 8 years under Bush and Cheney. These two usurpers of the rule of law tried to elevate Nixon’s adage to be the new de facto rule of the land. They tried at every turn to overturn the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We now face a situation in which the net effect of a series of laws and executive orders leave the U.S. in a very precarious position. Unless President Obama reverses these Bush-Cheney actions and precedents, a future U.S. leader will inherit much more power than the founders of our Constitutional ever envisaged or wanted.
I have often told my friends that while I was adamantly opposed to the Bush-Cheney regime, the thing that scared me the most was the cabal or person who might come in the future. The Bush-Cheney regime was reckless and arrogant. However, they left behind them a set of powers that could be put to use in very dangerous and damaging ways. A future president would only have to act on a danger or an attack like or worse to 911 in a way that would enable them to seize complete and dictatorial power. In 1932 incoming President Roosevelt was encouraged by his aides and by many Americans to assume full and dictatorial powers according to Jonathan Alter in his masterpiece book The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. Alter notes that it took an individual of clear purpose and well defined ego that could resist this temptation. I am reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as even the great wizard Gandalf was afraid to face the temptation of the power of the Great Ring.
Our current situation unfortunately is not a piece of fantasy fiction. We have emerged from one of the darkest and most dangerous periods in our nation’s history. The great baseball pitcher Satchel Paige once said “Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." While I support President Obama’s desire to look forward, I must condition that support on the premise that we have cleaned up our past so that it does not catch up on us. There are recent signs that the Democratic Congress is moving in this direction. I hope they carry it to its necessary conclusion. The United States must abide by the rule of law and no one can be above the law.