Thursday, July 12, 2007

Scooter's Surprise; Happy Independence Day!

Being this contrary sort of person that I am, I have to admit I dread most holidays, or at any rate, the prospect of spending them here in the city. They tend to involve things I simply do not enjoy. Parades, perhaps, or endless rounds of parties I don't really feel like I'm old enough to be at yet. Or worst, so far as I'm concerned, and most predictable of all, the flocks of tourists who descend upon us, thinking of our city as the perfect backdrop for their holiday getaways. So I do my best to make sure I've got a getaway of my own lined up, for most of the major holidays. It's just better for everyone that way.

The Fourth of July's a different story though. It's one holiday New York does to perfection. The slow easy day of movie going, maybe, reading or a little patriotic shopping, finding your way onto a rooftop party, as the day starts cooling down, flag-waving kept, of course, to a merciful minimum. Then an explosion into noisy spectacle, not just one, but two sets of fireworks over the East River. Those few short moments in which we lapse from our usual minimalistic good taste, fall into gaudy grace and generosity despite ourselves, ensuring everyone who's interested a halfway decent view of the pinwheels as they spiral and flame out above our heads. And the tourists even seem happy enough staying in their various and sundry hometowns, on the fourth of July.

This year though, I couldn't really conjure up much in the way of festive feeling. It might have had to do with the holiday falling on a Wednesday as it did this year, but I don't think so. Contrarian that I am, I like the disruptions a weekday holiday brings, the confusions and rushes, the nothing being as it ought to be. That's where the surprises turn up, isn't it? And what's life without surprises?

Some surprises aren't so welcome though, and it was an unwelcome surprise, last Monday, that took the fun out of my fourth this particular July. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, I should know better than that by now, I suppose, but surprised I was, all the same. Last Monday, you see, I was happily playing around online, reading an article about how a Federal Appeals court had declined I. "Scooter" Lewis Libby's request to delay the beginning of his 30 month prison sentence while he appealed his conviction of four felony counts of lying to federal agents, perjury, and obstruction of justice. Scooter, I was learning, had even been assigned his very own Federal Inmate Number by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, 29301-016. It really did look like Scooter was heading to jail. He'd been tried, convicted, sentenced, and the Bureau of Prisons was readying his room. Convicted felons go to prison in a nation that functions according to the rule of law, right? That's the way things work, when things are working, isn't it? So I was having this moment of actual optimism that things might possibly be working. I haven't had a moment like that in a while. I'd forgotten what it felt like, living in a country where things work the way they're supposed to. I have to tell you, it felt pretty great.

But you know where this is going, right? A few minutes later, I got my nasty surprise. A new story popped up on the website I'd been perusing, informing me that President Bush had commuted Scooter's sentence. He hadn't pardoned him, as he'd been rumored to be considering, but he'd commuted his sentence, decided the prison time was excessively harsh, the $250,000 fine, and probation period would be punishment enough for Scooter's crimes.

If you haven't been paying attention to Scooter's legal travails, you might be wondering why on earth our president, with approximately half the executive branch under some sort of congressional subpoena or other at the moment, his Attorney General Gonzalez looking more useless by the hour, the daily flow of bad news from his war in Iraq, not to mention the mystery of what exactly it is his Vice President is doing with all those "man sized" safes he's got there in his office, and everything else a president has to deal with on a daily basis, would be bothering with the details of this guy's sentencing. It's probably because Scooter, prior to his indictment, held the triple titles of Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs, Chief of Staff to the Vice President, and last but not least, Assistant to the President. You don't hear too much about that last one, do you? And possibly because, as you've probably heard, his indictment arose from the investigation into the 2003 leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a CIA covert agent, nasty, and not altogether finished, business that. Still and all though, you'd kind of think the erstwhile leader of the free world might have bigger fish to fry. Wasn't he supposed to be working on some sort of surge? How's that coming along, I wonder?

The real question, of course, is why this, of all things, came not just as a surprise, but as such a blow to me? Why Scooter's sentence, and not Cheney's safes, or Karl Rove's hundreds of thousands of vanished emails, or Bush's countless signing statements, or the twisted path that led us into the disaster that is Iraq? The reality is, Scooter's just a stand in, for any and all of those things. He's bit of a last straw, it's true, but mostly, he's a convenient shorthand for each new revelation of this administration's clear and shameless belief in its own omnipotence, its utter disconnection from the laws that created this country, from which it has evolved, and that have defined and sustained it so well for 221 years now. But now these people are in charge who just don't care. That's what I have finally concluded. The problem's not that they are acting from a different set of principles, one I happen not to understand. It's that they're lacking principles entirely, beyond the most basic, will to power. That's about it. As far as anything beyond that goes, or anyone so unfortunate as to be beyond their immediate circle, they simply do not care. I don't think they even understand that the rest of us exist as real, living, breathing people in quite the way they do. And these are the people we're allowing to run things, to act upon the world on our behalf, and in our names.

For all the destruction they have wrought, I do have to admit that Bush and his accomplices have given me one great gift, albeit unintentionally. They've made me realize just how much I believed in the America I learned about in my eighth grade civics class, for all that I've never been a fan of flag-waving. Remember that America? The one that actually was a "Beacon of freedom and opportunity"? The one that just didn't do things like torture? The place where freedoms of speech and of the press were simply beyond question? Where it never occurred to anyone to seriously question the validity of our elections? I liked living there, so much, in fact, that I never gave it a second thought. Seven years ago, though, things started to change, and suddenly I'm realizing my tax dollars are being spent on man sized safes to which I'll likely never get a key. Assuming, of course, that Vice President Cheney didn't buy those safes with his own money. In which case he really ought to keep them in his bunker, in that undisclosed location where he feels most at home. Otherwise, it's time he starts to wrap his head around the reality that they do not belong to him, no more than any of his other closely guarded secrets do. Each email, every single piece of paper he is so determined to keep hidden, is nothing more than the product of his work, and so ultimately, it's not his property. It's ours, it's yours and mine. Until Cheney and his President go so far as to declare our Constitution null and void they do still work for us. We're the ones who pay their salaries, after all.

Happy belated Independence Day!

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