“The siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.”
—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World.
“No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”
—Edmund Burke, On the Sublime and Beautiful
Fifteen years after his impeachment, we’re still dragging the ball and chain of Clinton’s impeachment behind us. Capitol Hill is as willing as ever to open a tab in the name of National Disgrace and Congress’ true bipartite purpose is revealed:
- Hold “hearings.” (i.e. fishing expeditions.)
- Impeach the President.
As the nation waits (well, not really) for all the facts to emerge on Benghazi-gate, IRSgate, APgate or Fox News-Reportergate, fill-in-the-blank-gate, let’s not forget: The whole high crimes and misdemeanor thing isn’t what it used to be. In Washington, “good enough” reasons are as ubiquitous as politicians. “Good enough” even resists logic. Clinton’s transgressions earned him an impeachment on principle in the sharp eyes of the law while Bush’s transgressions sent 4,500 American troops to their deaths, cost $810 billion and began the titanic tanking of our economy.
Meanwhile, the law went blind, deaf and stupid.
Bush supporters hold that the removal of Saddam was worth the lie used to sell the invasion, and they’re consistent in their reasoning. The ends justified the means in every corner of the Bush presidency: the Justice Department’s politically motivated firings, rampant NSA wiretapping program, establishment of “free speech zones,” IRS targeting of Greenpeace and the NAACP, the “war on journalism,” signing statements used to circumvent Congress—the list is virtually endless. Clinton may have been just as corrupt, but we impeached him over his parsing of the word “is” while doing nothing about Bush’s parsing of the word “torture.”
Nevertheless, assessing all three presidencies, it’s readily apparent that this is altogether what we now do: We elect a president, immediately launch the investigation machine, and use impeachment as finish line chalk. We choose a guilty verdict, then search for the right case to build. This is the politics of unreason and fear. The cost is the erosion of public trust, the only power our elected leaders had. Without that power, nothing gets done.
There will be much gnashing of teeth if the GOP is unsuccessful in toppling the President. The right will wonder why the American people aren’t more outraged at what Barrack has done, but what room do any of us have to be more outraged? The public is already in a constant fury. The ceiling has already been hit. An entire generation has grown up knowing nothing but dysfunction in Washington and reason has no seat at the table of fear and hate.
In fact, our politics have little more value than yelling the opposite thing at one another, and what good is that? In a democracy, what good is it to have differences of opinion without the ability to find middle ground? Thomas Paine, on this point, once said, “He who denies to another [the right to a difference of opinion], makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.” And slaves we have become. The unreason of the tenacious minority demands the majority present political unity. Take these gems: Women’s reproductive systems have ways of shutting down rape sperm. There’s no such thing as climate change. Intelligent Design is science. Defund education, but fund teacher weapons training programs. So, we ride the partisan wave while the siren song of unreason grows sweeter.
The fact that Republicans supported their corrupt president doesn’t make the accusations against the Obama Administration baseless, but it should be enough to give Republican voters pause as we go forward. After all, Obama is merely the face they’ve put on corruption, not corruption itself. For that we have to dig deeper. We have to look into our hearts.
We’ve become a nation divided into special interests. The country has signed on to the lobbyists’ rules; it’s every group for themselves, each vigorously defending their turf in the sure knowledge that anything less will do no good. The power of lobbyists against the people demands the resistance of conscience. There can be no “in between position” because “in between” means failure to achieve the Pet Goal. Everyone becomes extremists.
Perhaps term limits and meaningful campaign finance reform are good places to begin. We’ve seen what working within the system does; Congress is a stain on the fabric of our national heritage. This Memorial Day weekend, let us all reflect on the legacy of endless character assassination. At what cost do we continue to elect these people? Is it worth the lives of those who have died for our country, or those who have yet to die for tomorrow’s freedom? These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m interested in hearing your answer. For me, the answer looks like this:
Eroding trust is eroding power. Eroding power is eroding function. Eroding function is eroding purpose. What is to be done with a government without purpose?