Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Heads or Tails #13 (Vote)

A year from today we will elect a new President here in the United States. One fearless prediction: It won't be George W. Bush. Say what you will about his apparent disregard for constitutional niceties, Mr. Bush will lay down the burden of office in January 2009 -- right on schedule.

Are you listening Hugo Chavez? Vladimir Putin? Pervez Musharraf?

American policy is criticized in every corner of the globe -- and we can argue about policies -- but the near-inevitability of a peaceful transfer of power makes America very unusual in the history of the world. And that should make all Americans proud -- whether they are eager they are to see Mr. Bush leave or hoping that his policies will be continued by someone else.

Remember what George III said of George Washington was retiring as Commander in Chief of the Army in 1783: "If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world."

Well, he did retire. And he did it again in 1797, when he made way for John Adams.

Washington was keenly aware that he was setting the tone for all the others who would come after him, whether they would be judged lesser or greater by the wise men of History. He said, "I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent."

And the most important precedent he set was stepping aside. "I had rather be on my farm than be emperor of the world," he said. And he followed through. His attitude, thankfully, became embedded in the American psyche.

Washington and the other Founders were students of the Roman Republic, the longest lasting and largest scale precedent for the experiment they were launching in North America. Ironically, Washington seems to have been most taken with Cato and the other boni who -- in the traditional view -- resisted Julius Caesar's efforts to make himself king.

I've seen a different lesson in the incessant political trials of the late Republic: The incentive to return to the plow is greatly diminished if prosecution is part of the pension plan for retiring politicians. Caesar faced certain prosecution, likely exile, and possibly even execution at the hands of his political enemies. Why would he surrender his imperium?

Just because I'm from Chicago, please don't assume that I am suggesting tolerance for corruption in office. But there is a disturbing trend in our politics now to try and criminalize policy decisions. This has been a truly bipartisan concept, flourishing in the last days of the Clinton administration, and flourishing certainly in the dying days of the Bush presidency. And it's so terribly dangerous.

Don't prosecute the rascals -- whoever you think the rascals are. Vote 'em out of office.

Oh -- and one more fearless prediction -- I think the 2012 primaries will start by April 2008....


Shelby said...

vote 'em out... love it! :)

Cliff said...

If you want change, start at the local level.

Next year the lines will be long. the rationale will be that it's an important election. My answer to that always is they all are important.

Rambler said...

I like the way you ended it.. thats the spirit

Anonymous said...

great post!! Have a great Tuesday!

bundle-o-contradictions said...

Nicely written!
Happy Tuesday. :)

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Voting is what it is all about.

Misty DawnS said...

Very well written post!

peppylady (Dora) said...

I agree!!! Vote them out!!! Well said!!!

katherine. said...

vote. amen!

vote 'em in...vote 'em out.
and the length of the campaign.

you and I are of similar mind....but you are far nicer...

Andree said...

You have a lot of great ideas for me to chew on; I hate the idea of the "rascals" getting off scott free. But you have a lot of good points.

Hilda said...

I agree that the practically guaranteed peaceful transition of power is one of the many things that makes this country great.

However, are you really espousing that "the rascals" not be penalized for criminal behavior? Are lawmakers above the law? That's how dictatorships work - or try to anyway. Sorry Curmudgeon, you lost me there...

rdl said...

when my son & i were in NY this yr. i saw a bumper sticker in a store window with the date the George leave office. Not to sound like a 15 yr. old but - I So wanted one! not that i have any great hopes of things being very different but i am sick to death of that man. but then it saddened me the day he took office.

The Curmudgeon said...

Hilda -- If a politician trades favors for dollars, he should go to jail. Of course. If you are President and you invade Lower Obscuristan and I don't like it, that alone doesn't make you a criminal. I think we're still on the same page here.

It's when you go in between these two poles that there's an issue.

Please don't misunderstand: I'm all for prosecuting the war profiteers who have reaped ill-gotten gains while our troop suffered for lack of armor. But I really worry about criminalizing politics.

We're awash in corruption in Chicago -- some of us take a perverse pride in it, I suppose. Our current governor's immediate predecessor entered a Federal prison yesterday; speculation is that the current governor will also be indicted ere long.

But the theory that is being used to convict underlings here allows for convictions even though the defendant never took a dime or received any material benefit other than the posted salary. That frightens me.

And the drums are beating to find some way to charge members of the current national administration because of positions they've taken on torture and terrorism. That frightens me.

I want clear-cut laws: The congressman who has $100,000 in his frig (cold cash indeed) and no way of showing a legal source for these funds... that's clear to me. That someone used a desk phone instead of a cell phone to make a political call... that's not so clear to me.

I guess it's not something I can articulate in a comment -- and probably not in just one law review article -- but it's a disturbing trend.

Hilda said...

I agree with you about the severity of the *crime* and whether it should be prosecuted, petty corruption frankly, IMO, isn;t worth the trouble - just vote them out and be done with it. But when you say:

"And the drums are beating to find some way to charge members of the current national administration because of positions they've taken on torture and terrorism. That frightens me."

I am more frightened that whoever is responsible *not* be charged for their positions on torture. Do you want another Pinochet scenario, where he got away scott-free for decades after being responsible for the torture, disappearance and death of thousands - and died of old age before he was forced to pay for his crimes?

Maybe this boils down to whether one thinks government-sanctioned torture can ever be justified. I don't - to me it is most definitely a crime, and a crime that must be punished as publically as possible.