« Davis Signs Health Care Law | Main | One Plus from Union Disclosure Rules »

October 06, 2003

I hate "Scandals"

"What did the President Know and When Did He Know It?"
"The Justice Department Needs to Appoint a Special Prosecutor"

I hate "scandals", that semi-official Beltway beast where political controversy can be boiled down to a yes-no criminal question of whether a crime has been commited. But such "scandals" miss the point, since the real scandal is not what's illegal but what is legal and accepted.

Who cares if Nixon knew about a third-rate burglary at the Watergate hotel? He bombed neutral Cambodia and killed an estimated 300-800,000 people with twice as many bombs as we used on Japan in World War II. That was a crime.

Iran-Contra at least had some real policy issues at stake, but it ultimately missed most of the real obscene political issues involved in the Contra war. (That was left to the Kerry commission to sort out later.)

Clinton's blowjob and possible lies about it were sad even at the time-- I yearned for the GOP to just say: "We hate his politics and think he should be impeached for wanting national health care." That at least I could respect.

The D.C. Game: As for the Plame affair, I've already said that outing CIA operatives is not exactly the most horrific crime in my mind. What CIA agents do a lot of the time is a far bigger scandal than anyone "outing them", but john c. halasz in the comments somewhat ironically chided me for not dealing with the rules of the DC game:

Of course, you know that big league politics operates through scandals rather than discussion and criticism of the issues, because what is at stake is the jockeying for power among the major players rather than the public good. And, of course, the ironical and hypocritical inversion between the liberals and conservatives in the Plame Game, the one side crying "Treason!" and the other denying any connection between morality and national security, is the stuff of low comedy amidst national and public catastrophe...(Of course, one wonders, if there had been no violation of law at stake, given the general state of national politics nowadays, whether there would have been any scandal at all.)
Yes, Bush's lies in this case stand in for his much bigger lies on the whole war in Iraq and on the economy itself, so "gotcha" here will hopefully destroy his credibility across the board. Yes, yes-- I get it.

Trusting the Public: But I think we have the issues and the public on our side and I just think "gotcha" investigations distract debate from the real lives of the American people-- their lack of decent jobs, lack of health care, underfunded schools, and a foreign policy that wastes their money for no gained security.

When the Right went after Clinton, I thought they destroyed themselves ideologically, since they substituted scandal for pursuasive ideological engagement with the public. They became obsessed with political gamesmanship and ran a rank liar for President, a "compassionate conservative" with a hidden agenda, which worked well in the short-term but I think is ultimately destructive to their cause. Say what you will about Reagan, but he was dangerously persuasive in selling conservative policies-- not just playing political games to disguise them.

Detailing Daily Life: I wish we had the same intensity and detail daily out on the blogs describing the failings of Bush's prescription drug plan, as clear an exegisis of the hidden motives of his union-busting proposals, as thorough an exposure of the lies around his "tort reform" proposals, and so on. Yes, a lot of that happens but it's the disproportion and obsession of discussion on "scandals" in elite circles that bothers me.

100,000 folks assembled in Flushing Meadows yesterday to talk about the real assaults on immigrants daily-- the illegal detainments, the workers exploited in sweatshops, and the assault on new citizens' voting rights. No one in that vast crowd cared a fig about "Plame"-- they cared about the things that make their lives hell every day.

I'm not urging unilateral disarmament-- a bit of hardball mudslinging is not uncalled for at times -- but we need to connect issues to those vast communities far more than we need to win the "scandal" wars.

Posted by Nathan at October 6, 2003 03:51 AM