Thursday, March 26, 2009
Here richly, with ridiculous display,
The politician’s corpse was laid away.
— Hilaire Belloc, Epitaph on the Politician Himself
It was a study in contrasts. One fallen politician returned to the headlines reminding us that it was a shame his personal peccadilloes had led to his downfall and another, a disgrace to the country, returned in a flurry of self-importance and verbal flatulence.
Eliot Spitzer was last heard from in 2008 following disclosure of his dalliances with prostitutes. That would not have been particularly noteworthy but for the fact that as attorney general of New York, he had made a name for himself for trying to put prostitutes out of business. In 2004 he announced the arrest of 18 people for promoting prostitution and on related charges. At the time he said that the enterprise was a sophisticated and lucrative operation that was, nonetheless, “nothing more than a prostitution ring and now its owners and operators will be held accountable.” Subsequent events suggested that his efforts were either hypocritical or an attempt to remove from New York the temptation to which he succumbed. Now he is back in the news reminding us that whatever his flaws, his downfall was a loss to those who like clear thinking and cogent analysis. He was expressing his opinion about the financial mess in which we find ourselves.
In an interview with Brian Lehrer on WNYC he traced the funds that went from the taxpayer to AIG to Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, et al and observed that the bonuses that were creating such a furor, though outrageous, were “penny ante” compared to the money sent to those unworthy recipients. In an article in Slate on the same subject he observed that the concern about breaking contracts was hardly a legitimate concern saying: “Workers around the country are being asked to take pay cuts and accept shorter work weeks so that colleagues won’t be laid off. Why can’t Wall Street royalty shoulder some of the burden?” He reminded his interviewer that he had sued AIG in 2006 when Attorney General for the state of New York and gotten a $1.4 billion settlement. In addressing Mr. Lehrer he said: “[W]hat we saw was a company, when you peeled back the first layer of the onion, that was without anything close to adequate controls and adequate structure to know what was going. The way they put their financials together was something that was absolutely beyond what was acceptable.” Mr. Spitzer’s comments were constructive comments addressing a serious crisis. His comments stood in stark contrast to those of Dick Cheney.
Dick Cheney was last seen being wheeled out of town hunched over in a wheel chair. Dick was the former president of Halliburton. After leaving Halliburton he had an 8-year stint in the federal government, which was, by any measure, undistinguished but far-reaching. In January he left that position and returned to private life. On March 15 he emerged from Jackson Hole, the hole into which he crawled following his retirement and appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” told the interviewer how far downhill the country has already gone even though the new administration has been in office just two months. In forming his opinions he was greatly affected (and troubled) by the respect that the new administration has demonstrated for the Constitution of the United States, a document for which Mr. Cheney had the same regard as King Henry the II for Thomas Becket. The United States Constitution proved to be somewhat more resilient than Thomas, however, for once Mr. Cheney was out of the picture it proved possible to bring life back into the Constitution, a fact that deeply troubled Mr. Cheney. Accordingly he found a soapbox in need of a speaker and took it upon himself to pronounce the country less safe than when he ruled the kingdom through his surrogate, George Bush II.
Lamenting the end of torture (although not in so many words) he said that the changes to detention and interrogation programs for terrorism suspects would make the country considerably less safe than formerly. In establishing himself not only as a guru but as a prophet he said: “He [President Obama] is making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.” Grabbing hold firmly of his bootstraps as he spoke, he said that the destruction of the Constitutional safeguards for prisoners were “absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that’s a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.”
If there is no terrorist attack, the message will be forgotten. If a terrorist attack occurs, Mr. Cheney can sagely pronounce, “I told you so” and suggest that only a trashing of the Constitution once again can protect the Constitution from terrorists other, of course, than the likes of him and others like him.