WATERGATE AND THE ABSENCE OF OUTRAGE
In May, 1973, the specially appointed Watergate Committee, chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC), the astute self-described "country lawyer" behind the microphone on the right, opened its hearings. The nation's self-understanding was drastically altered. It was as if humanity, at least on this side of the Atlantic, had again eaten of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and had experienced both its blessing and curse. True, we were enlightened. The doors of Richard M. Nixon's presidency were opened to public view, and we were captivated by factual accounts of "White House horrors;" i.e., dirty tricks, break-ins, illegal wiretapping, bribery, and numerous additional forms of execrable behavior. Our new depth of awareness was offset by the death of our collective idealism. No longer did Americans view their government through romantic lenses. Presidents and other elected national officials became, for better or worse, human, all-too-human. The effect is that we now expect from them nothing heroic. "So politicians lie, cheat, engage in promiscuous sex, indulge their greed, and involve us in unjust wars – what else is new?" asks the rank and file citizen. My response is, "Nothing at all, except the absence of outrage, perhaps Richard Nixon's most lasting and far-reaching legacy to the American people."
For the benefit of those who differ with me, I respectfully note the obvious, that many Americans are skeptical of government. All of them seem to assume as a matter of course that their government is broken. This is why Congress commands a public approval rating of less than ten percent. The executive and the judicial branches do approximately two and a half to three times better on this score than the legislative, but how impressive is it, pray tell me, when the benchmark is so abysmally low?
That Barack Obama is on the verge of being our next President is sure to be viewed as one of the great ironies of American history. A citizenry who does not believe in government will now be led by a man who wants nothing more than to increase its size and power. Voters see in him an intelligent, articulate outsider. But his readiness to increase the ubiquitous presence of government in their lives, such that all will worship at the feet of what Thomas Hobbes called "Leviathan," has failed to register upon most of us. It is as anomalous an occurrence as imagining the Rev. Billy Graham in charge of the old Soviet Union.
One would think that John McCain's theme of "Reform" would impress voters far more favorably than Obama's paean to the increased centralization of government. In truth and in fact, McCain's theme is resonant with the electorate. The problem is that so much of what he says and does counters this theme. He has failed to do what any successful reformer must, and that is to re-kindle a burning sense of outrage, which was been extinguished since Tricky Dick was at the helm.
A stark example. When McCain was asked about taxes on a day when the Dow Jones had plummeted almost 800 points, he uttered not a single word about bringing to justice those who had sabotaged the American (and global) economy. How can he be serious regarding the reformation of government and remain silent in the face of this monstrous crime? Why didn't he look into the eye of the camera and, without blinking, declare: "Additional taxes are out of the question. Our economy, to which Mr. Obama with his vast spending proposals seems oblivious, has been torpedoed by a bunch of unscrupulous, greed-heads. I am mad as hell about it. I promise you that, if and when I am President, my first act in office will be the appointment of a special prosecutor to go after these vermin. By the time I am finished – and I am telling you that you can take what I am saying here to the bank – you will not only know their names, but will see their faces behind bars!" Now this is a sense of outrage!
A second example. McCain has taken a pro-life stance on the issue of abortion his entire political career. But when he was asked about the issue by the moderator of the third presidential debate, Bob Schieffer, the response was anemic, bordering upon political correctness. A genuine reformer could and should have expressed the matter like this: "Mr. Obama and I disagree on the question of abortion. I think that abortion as a means of birth control, which is usually all that it is, is a moral abomination. Mr. Obama has voted in favor of 'partial birth abortion.' I am wondering how many of you know exactly what this term means. Let me tell you. The aborting physician inserts scissors into the back of the infant's skull and opens the blades to produce a hole. The child's brains are then sucked out, the skull collapses, and the rest of the little one's corpse is scraped out. Mr. Obama approves of this procedure, but I do not, nor will I ever. " This is outrage.
As a langniappe for voters, McCain might have pointed out, at some point during his campaign, that Obama is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. This organization should be abolished, because it supports priorities on the basis of race, specifically for black people, often when doing so is not in the national best interest. Consider the manner in which one member of the Caucus after another spoke up for Franklin D. Raines as CEO of Fannie Mae. William L. Clay Jr. (D-Mo.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Melvin L. Watt (D-NC), and Gregory Meeks (D-NY) all spoke in favor of this world-class thief. Mr. Obama's campaign has also sought Raines's counsel on mortgage and financial matters! A reformer would have stated something like the following: "Mr. Obama is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, which supported Franklin D. Raines over the interests of the United States of America. Google Clay, Waters, Watt, and Meeks if you don't believe me. Also, Mr. Obama has sought and received the advice of Raines during this campaign. This thief belongs in jail, and I think it is outrageous that Mr. Obama has sought his 'wisdom' on anything! I would just as soon seek the mathematical expertise of the Unabomber in our national space program!" Tell me, how would Obama have responded -- by defending Raines? Oh, sure.
John McCain asserts that he believes in reform, but this is precisely where the matter ends. He neither talks the talk nor walks the walk. The American people despise a phony to the extent that they will not hesitate to vote against their own interest in opposition to a counterfeit! Every time the Arizonan opens his mouth about reform, he sounds illegitimate, like a Washington insider whose moral sensibilities have been skewed by too many years on the Hill. So the cry of "Throw the bums out!" also includes John McCain, who has failed to inspire because he himself, as yet another casualty of Watergate, has forgotten the meaning of outrage.
I predict that, when the history of the 2008 Presidential Campaign is written, some acclaimed historian will maintain that Mr. Obama did not win the election so much as John McCain lost it, and that the result represented a disastrous turning point in American history.
October 18, 2008