I was listening to a story on CounterSpin where David Cole, Georgetown law professor and author of an article in Salon on "Bush's torture ban is full of loopholes", was talking about the executive order recently signed by U.S. President George W. Bush. Cole noted that one of the less noticed provisions of the document was that it absolved all present and past intelligence officials from any future litigation regarding any
torture "enhanced" interrogation practices in which they may have engaged in their service to our country.
Borrowing from the playbook of Barry Goldwater, who famously argued that "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice", it now appears that terrorism in the name of anti-terrorism is no crime ... leading me to wonder about how the "other side" thinks about its actions and justifications. But that's not why I started this post (and I've written about this "us vs. them" issue before).
The Bush Administration appears ready, willing and able to absolve anyone who acts on their behalf from any accountability for their actions. This week's executive order is simply the latest in a series of recent events - including Bush's ordering Harriet Miers to defy a Congressional subpoena and his pardoning of Scooter Libby - that remind me of a quote from Lord Acton:
Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
All these recent absolutions serve to increase the Bush Administration's power - at a time when a decreasing proportion of the people who the administration purportedly serves support the administration's policies. Bush may not yet have absolute power, and may not yet be absolutely corrupt, but it seems that Congress is unable or unwilling to constrain our government's executive branch in any meaningful way (which may explain why a recent poll shows Congressional favorability ratings at 14% while the president is enjoying a favorability rating of 34%). Interestingly, another recent poll reveals that 45% of Americans favor impeaching the president (and 54% favor impeaching the vice president, Dick Cheney). This is particularly interesting given that in 1998, polls showed that only 26% of Americans supported former President Bill Clinton's impeachment.
In another Salon article, "Why Bush hasn't been impeached", Gary Kamiya noted some compelling reasons why the Democrat-controlled Congress probably will not seek impeachment - it may serve to rally and unite the Republicans at a time when they are increasingly fragmented, and impeachment proceedings would likely preclude progress on any other Democrat (and Republican) initiatives through the end of Bush's presidency. He goes on to offer a deeper, more disturbing analysis of why we, the American people, and not just the Democrats, really won't impeach Bush:
To impeach Bush would force us to directly confront our national core of violent self-righteousness -- come to terms with it, understand it and reject it. And we're not ready to do that.
The truth is that Bush's high crimes and misdemeanors, far from being too small, are too great. What has saved Bush is the fact that his lies were, literally, a matter of life and death. They were about war. And they were sanctified by 9/11. Bush tapped into a deep American strain of fearful, reflexive bellicosity, which Congress and the media went along with for a long time and which has remained largely unexamined to this day. Congress, the media and most of the American people have yet to turn decisively against Bush because to do so would be to turn against some part of themselves. This doesn't mean we support Bush, simply that at some dim, half-conscious level we're too confused -- not least by our own complicity -- to work up the cold, final anger we'd need to go through impeachment. We haven't done the necessary work to separate ourselves from our abusive spouse. We need therapy -- not to save this disastrous marriage, but to end it.
So, just as Bush is absolving him self through his absolutions of others, we are, in effect, absolving ourselves through our implicit absolution of - or at least, our unwillingness to prosecute - Bush. Bush's absolvees are simply carrying out his orders, and he, in turn, is simply fulfilling our unconscious - and, at times, unconscionable - desires.
I hate to think of myself as complicit in all this, but I have to admit I haven't done much, myself, to reinvigorate our system of checks and balances. Once again, I have seen the enemy, and they is me.