Contempt on Both Their Houses

Among those who refused to comply with Congressional subpoenas, never mind requests, while George W. Bush was president were: the Department of Justice, the Secretary of State (“not inclined” was Condi’s explanation), the Vice President (who preemptively announced he would probably not comply with such silliness and didn’t), the White House Counsel, the White House Chief of Staff, the White House Political Director, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, the White House Deputy Political Director, the White House Office of Management and Budget, and so on.  There’s a collection of these subpoenas (the targets being Republicans) over at

Congress held lots of the aforementioned bums in contempt, as did most of the rest of us.  But it didn’t actually hold them.  In fact it expected the Justice Department to do the enforcement of the subpoenas — even those addressed to the Justice Department.  In decades gone by, Congress used to make use of a power called inherent contempt, which meant the power to preserve its own existence by compelling witnesses to cooperate and holding them in jail on Capitol Hill until they saw fit.  No more.  Now “inherent contempt” is just the feeling that bubbles up in the stomach of your average American when a member of Congress walks by.  Don’t believe me?  Check the polls. Pink slime in your hamburgers is significantly more popular than Congress.

Now the blue and red slime in Congress have switched sides.  Now Republicans want to hold a Democratic Attorney General in contempt.  Get in line, schmucks!  This is a government with secret trade deals worse than NAFTA, secret meetings to let health insurance executives “reform” healthcare, secret drone wars, not-so-secret wars launched in defiance of Congress, executive orders throwing out half the Bill of Rights, and wild claims of state secrets powers made in courts to protect law-breaking predecessors, corporate partners, and themselves.  This is a White House that won’t tell Congress how its murder by drone program is legal or how it justifies killing unidentified people with “signature strikes.”  This is an administration that tells senators to their faces that they will be informed of any war on Syria or Iran after it’s begun.  These guys used to hide the White House visitor logs and now just hold their meetings away from the White House.  John Dean and Daniel Ellsberg are in agreement that secrecy has reached new heights.  And now, finally, you want to hold them in contempt?  Get in line!

Most contemptible, of course, is that virtually nobody in Washington gives a rat’s derriere about the institution of Congress or the representation of majority will or enforcement of the rule of law against the powerful.  The branches of government are now the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  The remnants of the previous system are employed for motivations created in the current one.  So, when the President is a Democrat, the Republicans in Congress toil and sweat to give him the power to lock people up without charge, deploy the military within the United States, spy into every corner of the land without probable cause, etc., because they want those powers for Republican presidents and for the military.  But they also go after the Democratic administration viciously on usually less serious but highly inflammatory matters.  Meanwhile, the Democrats, who are outraged by any and all presidential abuses by Republicans, are eager to help Obama dwarf King George III’s list of crimes before the Fourth of July.

The trouble is not that we just happen to be trading back and forth between horribly bad presidents from one party and even worse presidents from the other.  The trouble is that when you give absolute power to an individual, it corrupts him absolutely.  Listen to all the lamentations over Egypt’s weak president.  The founders of the United States allowed this country to last as long as it has by creating a weak president.  Egypt’s problem is an empowered military.  Our problem in the United States is an empowered military, corporatocracy, and president.  What we need is power for the people and their legitimate representatives.  Electing a really great all-powerful dictator from a benevolent and progressive third party is no more of a solution than is lesser-evilism.  A move toward an actual solution would be observable if Congress actually came to care about being more than a crowd of court jesters.  It could start by enforcing all outstanding subpoenas and requests from the past 12 years, regardless of party.

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