Democrats & Liberals Archives

Picking at nits while ignoring the elephant

Rove and DeLay are the whipping boys for Democratic outrage these days. Were identities leaked inappropriately? Were trips paid for by lobbyists? These peccadillos are serious enough and likely to be breaches of the law, but the truly odious behavior is the whole gestalt of power abuse and slander which is not necessarily illegal, but has become standard operating procedure in the halls of power.

It's rather analogous (at a lower order of magnitude, of course) to the attempt to ding Saddam Hussein for maybe being out of compliance with his weapons development, when his indisputable history of genocide, torture, and oppression should be fully sufficient for the world community to demand his -bloodless- removal from power. The same is true for the scores of tyrannical despots still in power around the world - but I digress.

Must the opponents of treachery wait around for the perpetrators to slip up on the petty stuff in order to bring a halt to their treachery?

This elevation of the nits to public prominence in lieu of the overarching generalizations, however obvious they may seem to some observers, is nothing new and operates on all sides and from local politics to global diplomacy. I'll even concede that it is not all bad, as often the nits represent specifics which are less deniable than the more general observations which may spring unfairly from ideological bias. But it is important to understand the nits in context to the whole, lest the casual reader misconstrue the debate as defined wholly by how a particular conversation between Karl Rove and Matt Cooper started and proceeded, or whether Tom DeLay knew that his golf trip in the Marianas was being funded illegally by lobbyists.

Now it may be true that Karl Rove as he wanders the halls of the White House humming "Onward Christian Soldiers" believes that he is doing the Lord's work; but only by applying a "means justifies the ends" type of logic which I grew up associating with Marxism. The likelihood that his revelations to reporters (that Joe Wilson's wife was a CIA operative) was designed more to smear Wilson than to save the reporters from the embarrassment can be guessed at by Rove's historical track record of slander and innuendo. Frank Rich in his recent NYT Follow the Uranium (subscription required) op-ed piece is right on target when he writes:

This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons. The real culprit - the big enchilada, to borrow a 1973 John Ehrlichman phrase from the Nixon tapes - is not Mr. Rove but the gang that sent American sons and daughters to war on trumped-up grounds and in so doing diverted finite resources, human and otherwise, from fighting the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. That's why the stakes are so high: this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a C.I.A. operative who posed for Vanity Fair.

Similarly, in the case of Tom DeLay, it is laughable that the big news is that lobbyists might have paid for any number of his international jaunts. No, what is odious is that DeLay secures for the powerful business interests in the Marianas "protection" from American labor laws which might throw a wrench in their ability to exploit foreign workers in sickeningly inhumane fashion, while still being able to carry a "Made in America" label.

None of this was a secret back home in the U.S. In 1998, ABC, CNN, the BBC and the New York Times each confirmed reports of forced labor, sex slaves and domestic forced servitude among the Marianas' so-called "guest workers."

What is outrageous is that DeLay carries the power (apparently legally!) to prevent a measure holding Marianas manufacturers to these labor laws from even coming to a vote on the floor of the house in spite of widespread bipartisan support. He used the same power nearly two years ago in preventing a measure limiting media consolidation from coming to a vote, even though it would have won easily due to wide popular support. It is small wonder that our corporate controlled media did little to cover the story.

I believe that DeLay will get his comeuppance yet, as the TRMPAC scandal from several years back appears destined to expose plenty of illegality. It is sad, however, that we seem unable to derail the structure of power that allows one man elected from a single district to hold so much sway over our nation's laws.

Instead of insisting on decent public behavior from our officials, we are reduced to picking at the nits, which are easily cast as not so odious as a sitting president allowing his prestige and rank to afford him gratuitous sexual favors from a lowly intern. And make no mistake, I believe that too was a despicable abuse of rank. Clinton's behavior was clearly worse than allowing a lobbyist to pay for a trip, but not nearly as condemnable as leveraging one's power to perpetuate virtual slave labor abroad.

Ironically this administration's dishonesty with respect to "fixing the intelligence and facts around their policy" can be partly attributed to the tendency of the community of nations to pay more attention to nits than the big picture. As I stated earlier, Saddam's unfitness to rule any nation was starkly obvious to any observer, and yet for official steps to be taken it was necessary for him to violate particular rules which he could just avoid violating. The same can be said of dozens of other tyrants whose nations are officially represented at the United Nations. It is easy to understand conservatives' problems with taking the UN seriously when we are required to engage in diplomacy with the representives of thugs in order to accomplish baby steps in reining in the abuses of despots. But in spite of the necessary hypocrisies, the method of nations acting in concert to make demands of other nations, is far preferable to any one nation's unilateral military action.

Saddam was a particularly thorny problem because of the decades of Baathist rule which had allowed him to create layers of protection, and a whole class of people dependent on his despotism for their standard of living. Dethroning him and his party in a bloodless fashion was sure to be problematic in the extreme, while doing so militarily was bound to produce the type of fallout we're seeing today. Acting with the blessing of a much larger world community, and without the type of retributive actions as were undertaken in Fallujah would have certainly helped, though.

It is a sad testament to the disconnect between America's ideals and her foreign policy, that Saddam owed much of his ability over the past several decades to consolidate his iron grip to U.S. policy. It is a further irony that in attempting to reverse (selectively) our support of tyranny abroad, the current President has not taken seriously the need to curb our own excesses and fully honor longstanding Geneva protocols, leading to justifiable perceptions that we are the bullies on the world stage.

This is why much of the world, including plenty of Americans of diverse ideological stripes, stand in slack-jawed wonder at the willingness of a populace steeped in a democratic tradition, to reelect this administration.

Posted by Walker Willingham at July 22, 2005 2:11 AM