Dover Bitch

Monday, July 02, 2007

Popular Impressions Outside Government

A couple weeks ago, for a different reason, I quoted a passage from Richard E. Neustadt's Presidential Power:

What is incredibly gut-wrenching to so many of us is the previously unimaginable extent to which the GOP Congressional leadership and noise machine has been willing to defend the indefensible. Which brings me to the opposite page (165) of my copy of Presidential Power:

In the aftermath of Watergate, however, we have seen occasions where distinctions between reputation and prestige seemed to dissolve, where Washingtonians seemed quite like members of the general public, reacting to a President in almost the same terms, conducting themselves accordingly.' One such occasion was the "Saturday night massacre" of 1973 when Nixon fired the Watergate Prosecutor, forcing resignations from the Attorney General and his Deputy, all of whom responded on TV. This dramatic sequence-televised and thus "firsthand" in all parts of the country seemed so to contradict the President's contentions as to drain them of credibility, enlarging what we now label a credibility "gap," indeed extending it so wide as to cast doubt on his legitimacy and with it his authority as President. Nixon seemed to be engaging in a cover-up of criminal activity. He seemingly was fighting law enforcement. But he had sworn an oath of office encompassing the "take-care" clause. Hence the cloud on his legitimacy. The "massacre" tripped off impeachment proceedings. It is easy to see why.

What was striking then is that inside the government or near it, in the watchful circle of the Washington community, reactions against Nixon seemed to have so much in common with the popular impressions outside government. Citizens at large were swept into a "firestorm" of protest and suspicion. But so were commentators, congressmen, and civil servants. Apparently the President's behavior planted the same question in all minds. Some Washingtonians, waiting upon evidence, were slower than others to draw ultimate conclusions, and slower by far than some citizens, but he was treated henceforth with reserve throughout the Washington community. Diplomacy aside-there was a crisis in the Middle East-he turned away from governing and focused on the prospect of impeachment. Had Nixon tried to be assertive in domestic spheres, I take it that he would have been ignored or resisted. All over town officials shook themselves free of the White House, released by suspicion from deference, distancing their programs from his person. This occurred within one year of his triumphant re-election, three years before expiration of his term. For Washingtonians it was a most uncharacteristic reaction, especially so early in the term. Calculations about possible impeachment played a part, no doubt. But so did outraged feelings about Nixon's performance. There was precious little rallying around him. Instead, so far as I can judge, there was a widespread sense, even in some quarters of the White House, that he had compromised his right to be there and should go, impeached or not.

It is hard to imagine Washingtonians having less "in common with the popular impressions outside government" today (or during the Clinton impeachment proceedings.) As Digby correctly noted in her magnificent speech, the mainstream media -- the High Broderism and Meal Ticket Journalists -- have failed us completely.

Sure enough, today provides yet another example of "official punditry" marching completely out of step with the public at large. I'd link straight to Timothy Noah's piece in Slate, but (as always) I found Digby had already told him how it is by the time I finished reading it.

But poor little Scooter can't even spend a month in jail. He can't even spend a day in jail.

And apparently, as predicted, that's just fine with a good portion of the DC establishment. The oh-so-jaded political observers like Tim Noah see this whole thing as some sort of partisan game of tag. Let the plebes natter on about the following the rules --- we'll call the play by play and let the little people know who's "winning." From their perches atop the commentariat they smugly dismiss the concerns of average Americans who are enraged that these people keep cheating and getting away with things that ordinary citizens and even powerful Democrats could never dream of getting away with --- they relentlessly smear their opponents with the filthiest lies, they stage partisan impeachments, they steal elections, they illegally start wars and make up novel authoritarian theories of governance --- and then they use their powers to excuse their minions from the consequences of these actions if they happen to get sloppy and get caught. None of them ever pay. Ever.

How revolting.

Labels: , , ,