- Aug 6, 2004
by Robert Shetterly
Before the votes were even counted, a strange chorus arose, like toads from the swamp, from every point on the Democratic compass --- so persistent, one might even think it choreographed --- croaking in a dire basso, “Now’s the time to work on fulfilling the Democrats agenda, not the time to hold anyone accountable for the massive corruption or the extraordinary lies that got us into this mess.” Let’s be moderate, let’s be wise, the toads all intoned, let’s don’t disintegrate into partisan bickering about who’s responsible. And, pullleeeease, don’t even utter the word impeachment. No, no, no, let’s repeal the tax cuts for the rich, raise the minimum wage, enact universal health care, raise the mileage on our cars, sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, reduce the debt, fund our schools, fix social security, and work in a bi-partisan way toward an exit strategy from Iraq. All very sensible. Every single one of those things needs to be fought for if we want to have economic and social justice.
But, that’s not enough. I thought one of the corner stones of our democratic republic was the rule of law. Transparency. Accountability. We hold people accountable so every bozo with a zip gun won’t stick up a 7-11 for fifty bucks or start a pre-emptive war by lying to the people. We sent a Japanese soldier to prison for twenty-five years after WW II for waterboarding a United States soldier; we hung Adolph Eichmann. I’m trying to imagine what our response would have been after that war if the Nazis had said, “Look, we lost the war, our cities are rubble, our people starving, we have no infrastructure, don’t waste your money on some stupid, inflammatory trials at Nuremberg about the people who started this war or thought the Holocaust was a cool idea. Sure, mistakes were made, but let’s just get on with re-building.” Very sensible.
Massive crimes have been committed. Our administration has ridden roughshod on our Constitution as though it were a hobbled and blind cow. What-might-have-been looks like a bomb crater. So irresponsible and massive are the crimes that the perpetrators have changed the laws to avoid being held accountable for crimes against humanity. So irresponsible that their failure to act to mitigate global warming endangers the very survival of human life on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of people are unnecessarily dead, many more hundreds of thousands maimed and wounded. The incredible debt undermines our economy and will plague our children. When is a crime so great that it shouldn’t be acknowledged? Or prosecuted? Do we pat Rummy & Dickie & Georgie & Connie on the butt and send them to the bench with a, “Nice game, kids. Let’s all be good sports and let someone else have a go at it”? Live and let live.
Behind all the outrageous events of this era --- Iraq, global warming, the debt, election fraud, war profiteering, failure to create alternative energies, species extinction --- is a culture of non-accountability, cronyism, and obscene profit. How will it stop? Raising the minimum wage by $1.50 over three years might not do it. Arrogance, deceit and blatant crime are responsible for these crises. Not poor execution. Accountability is the way out. There is no reason why we can’t pass fair, life-saving legislation at the same time. We can walk and chew gum. We have grown so accustomed to living in a world of euphemism and double speak, so accustomed to not calling reality by its name, that we think there is no reality except what we can get away with, the reality that sells the product or “develops the resource.” Not true. Nature won’t be fooled. And we only imperil ourselves and our cherished institutions if we don’t hold ourselves accountable. It’s not about partisan revenge, it’s about naming the crime. Some very bad people have broken our laws, dashed our hopes, mortgaged our futures, broken our hearts, and betrayed our country. They need to pay the piper. If we don’t hold them accountable, who will we allow to hold us accountable for making things right?
It’s a platitude to say that political progress is the art of compromise. We compromise in order to share as much justice and opportunity as evenly as we can. But when great crimes have been committed by our elected leaders, we shouldn’t compromise with our sense of justice. It’s hard to admit because as citizens we are responsible, too. But that responsibility demands an accounting, demands an earning back of national integrity by investigating the depth of the crimes. That’s called maturity. Our leaders have inflicted an enormous trauma on Iraq and on us. We will all be much healthier if we heal by inquiry and justice rather than repression.