Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What Will We Tell the Children?

Back when Bill Clinton was being impeached for having an extramarital affair, the pious and the sanctimonious of the right wing carried on and clutched their pearls about how hard it would be to explain to their children why the president was in trouble. How, they fretted, will we explain to our dear little ones that the president is being put on trial for receiving a consensual act of … oh dear…! It was intolerable, they said; we cannot have a man in the White House who so degrades the office that we can’t even mention what it was that got him in trouble.

The Republicans pronounced themselves as the bastions of purity and truth. We will restore honor and dignity to the Oval Office, they said. Never again will the Rule of Law be flouted so shamelessly, they promised. Never again will there be privileges for the few or will the law of the land be cast aside so that those in power can get away with horrible crimes that defy description. Lawbreakers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, and Americans will know that their leaders stand for truth, justice, and the American way.

Unless, of course, someone truly evil comes along to embarrass the president and writes an op-ed that calls into question one of the foundations of the reason the president started a preemptive war against a sovereign nation that never attacked us in the first place. Then all bets are off. The White House will let slip the dogs of war and no one — not even a covert CIA agent — will be safe because no one is allowed to question the rightness of the president. Anyone who steps up to the plate and does the bidding of the White House can rest assured that even if they break the law and do such things as lie to a grand jury and the federal prosecutor, they will be protected.

So Scooter Libby never really had to worry about going to jail. His defenders said that there was never a crime to cover up in the first place; the prosecutor never brought a charge against anyone for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to Robert Novak, so it’s terribly unfair to charge Mr. Libby with lying about something that no one was indicted for. (The fact that Mr. Libby was put on trial for succeeding with the cover-up seems to escape these people.) And once the court case was over, there was never any doubt that if Mr. Libby was convicted, the right wing would fly to his defense and demand that he be pardoned because there was a greater good at stake here: the good name and the reputation of the president, the vice president, and the fictions that got us into the war are far more important — they are a higher calling — than something as petty as telling the truth about the real story behind going to war.

Giving the right wing the benefit of the doubt and assuming for the sake of argument that Mr. Libby was prosecuted on a bullshit charge and that he was the scapegoat for the liberals’ demand that the Bush administration be held accountable for their conduct leading the nation into war, granting Mr. Libby a commutation of his “excessive” prison term seems like a strange way to respect the rule of law. After all, eight years ago we were told ad nauseum that justice must be allowed to run its course. The impeachment and trial of William Jefferson Clinton must go forward; how else could the people of this country trust their leaders to do the right thing if the most powerful man in the free world is allowed to escape the bar of justice? It would be a larger crime if the House and Senate did not attempt to prove that no man is above the law. Let the trial go forward! So why doesn’t the same standard apply this time around? Why, even before the appeal of the original conviction is heard, does Mr. Libby know that he will never spend a day in prison, and that his $250,000 fine will be paid for by the legal defense fund that was set up the day he was indicted? Why will he never lack for employment, even if he is disbarred? It’s because John Edwards is right when he says there are two Americas: the America where people are arrested, tried, and face their punishment, and then there’s the America where privilege and connections get you a free pass and your friends will bring all the political pressure to bear to get you home in time for cocktails and dinner. (It’s not for everybody; Randy “Duke” Cunningham is wondering if his commutation somehow got lost in the mail.)

So how do we explain to the children why Scooter Libby, a man who was tried and convicted by a jury, doesn’t have to go to jail for breaking the law? Why is it that the rule of law seems to apply to everybody else except the ruling class? Why is it that justice is blind except when it’s manipulated for the friends and the faithful servants of the people who are supposed to have sworn an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the laws of the United States only when it suits them? I’m looking forward to hearing how that’s an example of fairness — a concept children seem to grasp with amazing insight — and have it make sense to them.

It would probably be easier to explain to them what a blow job is.