If Presidential Perjury Worried You, If You Followed Investigations Into Whitewater Intently…

Then I assume you’re far more concerned about the far more systematic and dangerous abuse of executive power by the current administration.

Whether Lewis Libby is a fall guy or not, whether there’s a grey area in terms of his legal responsibility, whether or not it was actually dangerous to expose a CIA agent’s identity, whether or not the Washington press corps’ own complicity in the system has been exposed, I think one thing is and has been clear about this episode from the beginning. It was one example of a systematic attempt by the Administration to intimidate its critics within the government. If it hasn’t dawned on you yet how costly that attitude has been in terms of the actual execution of the war in Iraq, you’re not paying attention. When you regard all criticism as treasonous dissent and play hardball against anyone who isn’t “on message”, what you get is a slavering corps of yes-men who live in a world of dreams and phantoms. Step outside the moment, particularly if you’re a historian, and the pattern is fairly unmistakeable: it has happened time and time again within royal courts and the world of the powerful. Sometimes that just leads to King Midas getting asses’ ears while the people go about their business. Sometimes it leads to mass suffering and disaster.

Those who want to excuse Libby on various grounds may be right that the Plame affair is a relatively trivial incident (though I think its gravity far outweighs, oh, say, the Monica Lewinsky case). But just as Watergate was ultimately a small episode that exposed a much larger systematic problem, I think anybody who isn’t hopelessly partisan or dispassionately cynical about political process has to see that there are far graver instances of abuse that are visible to sight now. The case of the dismissed United States Attorneys, for one. That isn’t just about trying to keep critics of a war silent, it’s about the generalized desperation of a party apparatus to insulate itself from the electorate. It is an encouraging sign of the system’s overall resilience that even this kind of manipulation couldn’t control the electoral results. But trust me as an observer of postcolonial African politics: when you become resigned to something like, “Let’s fire the attorneys who won’t accelerate indictments of corruption to suit our short-term political needs, and put in our own guys instead”, your resignation is an open door to far nastier abuses of power.

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7 Responses to If Presidential Perjury Worried You, If You Followed Investigations Into Whitewater Intently…

  1. withywindle says:

    1) No, Plamegate was about Wilson telling falsehoods and smearing the administration (will you believe the Washington Post editorial page on this one? – http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/06/AR2007030602020.html?sub=AR ), the Administration understandably trying to counter his falsehoods, failing to engage in due diligence about Plame’s covert status as they sought to publicize the truth, and then, alas, Libby seems to have perjured himself in the ensuing investigation. It’s hardly a “conspiracy to silence dissent” when you’re responding to untrue accusations.

    (I have no particular urge to defend Libby now that’s he been convicted by a jury of his peers, nor to extenuate or justify his actions. Neither do I think his conviction proves the grand narrative you wish to construct about events.)

    2) I rather think that, the facts established, the same logic should have convicted both Pres. Clinton and Libby. I rather think that anybody who think Libby justly convicted should think that, as a matter of law, Pres. Clinton merited the same fate, if not as a matter of politics.

    3) Re the firing of attorneys: you are convinced of the accusations about Republican motives without waiting for a defense or a hearing of the evidence. I prefer to wait for the testimony before Congress. When next there is a Democratic administration, I will endeavor to provide them the same courtesy. (Speaking of Clinton, I did rather carefully read the transcript of his testimony, and the defenses he provided, before coming to my final conclusions on the matter.)

    4) We’re not postcolonial Africa. Me, I often see early modern Europe playing itself out again in the modern world, and every now and then I need to remind myself not to overestimate the echoes. You might do likewise.

    5) Now, I also think that what I would call a paranoiac defense of liberty–seeing monsters under the bed–is a healthy American tradition, and has helped establish and preserve our liberty. So I think your fears of the consequences of administration actions may be, in the long run, productive–just as John Adams’ fear that the British deliberately intended to establish a dictatorial regime in America was productive, and Lincoln’s fear that Southern politicians had a deliberate conspiracy in train to establish a slave regime in the north, was productive. But Adams was factually wrong, and so was Lincoln, and I rather think you are too.

    6) I remain unpleased by your rhetoric. Apparently I’m a bad historian, not paying attention, hopelessly partisan, and/or dispassionately cynical–and your own views have no trace of partisan commitment, evince your proper following of professional standards, diligent pursuit of all matters of political moment, and uplifting faith in and practice of liberal democracy. All of which is possible, but I am convinced neither by your condemnation of me or your implicit praise for yourself. Your rhetoric continues to dissuade me from lending too much credence to your arguments about modern politics and policy.

  2. Joey Headset says:

    “will you believe the Washington Post editorial page on this one?”

    Uh, no. The Washington Post love them some Iraq War. Like Depeche Mode, they just can’t get enough. So, no… I don’t think I’ll trust an editorial page to evaluate this situation. And, really, if we’re going to play the “I know I’m right, because here’s an editorial page that agrees with me” game, we can do this ad infinitum. Fine, I’ll see your Washington Post editorial and raise you… all of these:


    Does this prove anything? No. No matter what opinion you have, you can probably find an editorial page somewhere that agrees with you. Though, admittedly, for the more exotic PoVs you need to scour Scientologist newsletters and Lyndon LaRouche’s back catalogue.

  3. withywindle says:

    Oh, and just to answer your initial question directly: the Whitewater investigation made My Eyes Glaze Over. Sure seemed suspicious and all, shredded files, people going to jail rather than testify, sudden profits, and all that, but the details were dull dull dull, and I’ve forgotten most of them long since. And, yes, presidential lying-under-oath did bug me, but I don’t believe I equated it with that dangerously inexact concept “abuse of executive power.” There’s a whole litany of conservative complaint against Pres. Clinton for abusing executive power, not all of which I found particularly convincing, and which I found and find to be a separate issue from the very narrow and discrete one of whether he lied under oath. (At the time, some distinction was made between that and perjury; I gather he was guilty of the one, but not the other.) So I am perfectly willing to condemn both Pres. Clinton and Libby for lying under oath/perjury, but not to think that either crime necessarily implicated the Clinton and Bush administrations writ large in Abuse of Executive Power. But there you go, I’m pollyanna.

  4. hestal says:


    You are not Pollyanna, you are clearly right wing. Even though we have disagreed before on this blog, I actually thought better of you.

    The Post is moving toward the editorial policies of the Washington Times and it is a sad thing to watch, but it is well documented elsewhere.

    The attorney firings were political, but the interference by Republican elected Congresspersons was unethical and I hope you will stay tuned. One of the offenders is on the ehtics committee and it should be fascinating to see what happens.

    The Democrats are moving toward the right, and that is sad to see. But both parties worship the God of Reelection.

    As I recall, Clinton was tried for lying under oath and he was acquitted.

    Wilson did not tell falsehoods. The prosecutor, Fitzgerald, said that Plame was covert. In fact, he said it was a “fact.” The judge did not permit that issue to become part of Libby’s trial because he, the judge, said the case was about whether Libby lied — and as you now admit that has been established, he did indeed lie several times.

    As for Mr. Clinton, I think you should heed the advice of one of your ideological soulmates, former Justice O’Connor, and just “get over it.”

    Dissent can be true or untrue. It is always dissent. And of course protecting political turf is often one of the reasons that lies are told. So it is not surprising at all that one side will lie to counter the other side’s lies. So the issue was about lying under oath, but there were many people within the White House Circle of Power who were telling the same lies as Libby, just not under oath.

    I think that our system is so damaged by the evil acts of Republicans which started with Richard Nixon’s team, that it will be a long time before it rights itself. The weight of criminal and unethical activities carried out by the Republicans has so unbalanced the scales that our national government and national parties have moved rightward so far that we now have a Democratic presidential candidate taking positions on gay marriage, school prayer, and faith-based programs that mirror Bush’s. So you can take comfort that our nation has moved closer to dismantling its democracy and replacing it with a tyranno-theocracy in which the Bible, not the Constitution, is the supreme law of the land — and the principal political discussion is soon to be which interpretation of the Bible will be enshrined as official. Religionists and right-wing exploiters are already at work, staking out their ideological positions.

    Which Bible do you prefer to replace the Constitution, the Bible of Jerry Fallwell or the Bible of Jimmy Carter? I think I can guess the answer, but I won’t state it here, for I don’t want to influence your decision.

    There, that was fun. Engaging in vituperation is a real kick. Thanks for bringing it out in me. Walking on the tyranno-side of life can be cleansing for a time, but not for long. I am already getting dizzy…

  5. Brad says:

    “So you can take comfort that our nation has moved closer to dismantling its democracy and replacing it with a tyranno-theocracy”

    Paranoid ravings of someone out of touch with reality.

    You need serious help.

  6. akotsko says:

    In the final paragraph, “systematic” s/b “systemic.”

  7. hestal says:

    The USA plot is thickening.

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