Thursday, December 08, 2005

Thank You Al Gore Part III

Sorry about the light blogging....real life has been intervening. I can't blog at work anymore...I can't do any non-work related internet use at all I can only blog early in the morning and late at night. But, back to my story....

I was working as a General Counsel for the Christian Coalition of America in DC on election day, 2000. Our offices were directly across the street from DNC Headquarters (and their overflow offices were in our building. The headquarters for the RNC was just a few blocks away. At lunch I would see staff members from both parties milling around. It was a thrilling time to be in DC. It would have been more fun to have been in Florida (especially since I am admitted to the Bar there...but I was not permitted to go).

Whatever, I have some expertise in statutory analysis and giving legal advice to government officers. I did a thorough analysis of the Florida election law and it was clear to me that Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, was acting in a cautious, professional, and fair manner. The lower level Florida courts agreed...but the Florida Supreme Court jumped in with a blatantly partisan decision putting affairs in as favorable as possible for Gore.

I looked at the decision and I saw a problem...there is a test that courts are suppose to use when they overturn a ruling by an administrative agency. The Florida Supreme Court ignored that test (don't worry Megalon, I won't go into the finer points of the Chevron Doctrine). I knew that the Supreme Court of the United States would take action.

DO OVER! But the Florida High Court tried a dodge. It issued a second opinion that ignored the SCOTUS...and lower courts don't get to do that too often. The SCOTUS came back with a 7 to 2 decision overturning the Florida Court's decision (though Associate Justices Breyer and Souter disagreed with the other five members of the majority on the nature of the remedy...hence the fiction that it was a 5 to 4 decision).

Most non-lawyers don't understand these issues. Heck...most LAWYERS don't understand these issues. So, compliments of the Florida High Court and the partisan hacks in the Gore campaign, we have people running all over the country crying that the race was stolen.

I understand how they feel. I was ready to "man battlestations" if the SCOTUS had not intervened. Gore and the Dems were willing to risk the integrity of the Presidency in order to win at all costs. They figured that a win is a win, and even if they lost, the Bush Presidency would be handicapped by questions of its legitimacy.

Of course, how could Al Gore and the Dems know that 10 months after the election, the US would be hit by the worst act of terrorism in history? They may be forgiven for that, but the current actions of the Dems to question the competency of the Bush administration and our military (and even to question our ability to win in Iraq) is foolhardy.

The disrespect for the Presidency did not start with Bush. It did not start with Reagan, or even with Nixon. It really started with Lyndon Johnson. I am currently reading MEANS OF ASCENT, the second volume in Robert A. Caro's four volume history of LBJ. The introduction of the book is entitled "Ends and Means." In it, Caro points out Johnson's greatest personal flaw: his inability to stop lying.

March, 1965, had been a month of ringing words; April, 1965, was a month of whispers - whispers and lies. Making his decision to commit United States troops to the Asian conflict, Lyndon Johnson had warned participants in a crucial meeting in the White House that there was to be no mention of the new strategy to the press. When the truth crept out, almost two months later - in the words of one typically ourtaged editorial: "The American people were told by a minor State Department official yesterday that, in effect, they were in a land war on the continent of Asia" - Johnson ordered his aides to deny that such a decision had been made.

That had been one of the first duplicities, but it hadn't been the last. Nor did the duplicities concern only Vietnam. In an attempt to justify sending American troops into another small country, the Dominican Republic, (in that same month, April 1965), Lyndon Johnson told the press an the American people that the American Ambassador had said that otherwise "American blood will run in the streets." (He hadn't.) He said that the Ambassador had said tht he "was talking to us from under a desk while bullets were going through his windows." He hadn't. Johnson said that fifteen hundred innocent people had been murdered, some by decapitation. They hadn't. He said that the revolution had been taken over by "a band of Communist conspirators." They hadn't. Nor were the duplicities confined to foreign affairs. They were present in the President's discussions of the budget, of politics, of appointments - even of trip schedules. "Distrust of the President," as Theodore H. White put it, "was slow in growing." But the duplicities continued and multiplied; "thus, men paid attention to what he said and began to check his statements." And when they did, they found that the President lied - lied about big matters and small, lied not only about policy but about personal matters; his most publicized such misstatement, that his great-grandfather "died at the Alamo," although his great-grandparents had not arrived in Texas until years after the Alamo had fallen, was only one of many misleading remarks about his personal history. A new phrase - "Credibility Gap" - entered American political dialogue. It was printed in headlines, and on buttons, even on buttons pinned to fak jackets; men who had been sent to Vietnam on Lyndon Johnson's orders went int action wearing a button - "Ambushed at Credibility Gap" - that called their Commander and Chief a liar.

* * * *

"It is difficult today to remember, much less . . . . to understand, the extent to which 'the President' - any President - was then revered, respected, feared," Tom Wicker, who covered the White House for the New York Times, recalled in 1983. In times of foreign crisis, Wicker pointed out, the last two Presidents before Johnson, right or wrong, had been able to count on that reverence: Eisenhower after the U-2 incident, Kennedy despite the Bay of Pigs; Kennedy until the very day he died could be certain of the nation's loyalty, almost fealty, in summit confrontation or missile crisis.

* * * *

With a note of sadness, Wicker wrote in 1983 that "the reverence, the childlike dependence, the willingness to follow where the President leads, the trust, are long gone - gone, surely with Watergate, but gone before that . . . .After Lyndon Johnson, after the ugly war that consumed him, trust in 'the President' was tarnished forever."

Powerful words. And so true. The Presidents after Johnson had to fight for any credibility.

To be continued....


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