Democracy has no cure for a corrupt demos. Politicians misdeeds taint them alone, so long as their supporters do not embrace them. But when substantial constituencies continue to support their leaders despite their having broken faith, they turn democracys process of mutual persuasion into partisan war.
Consider: In 1974 President Richard Nixon lied publicly and officially to cover up his subordinates misdeeds. His own party forced him to resign. In 1998 President Bill Clinton lied under oath in an unsuccessful attempt to cover up his own. But his party rallied around him and accused his accusers. In 2013 President Barack Obama lied publicly and officially to secure passage of his most signature legislation. But when the lies became undeniable, his party joined him in maintaining that they had not been lies at all.
The point is that Nixons misdeeds harmed no one but himself because no one excused them. But Clintons and Obamas misdeeds contributed to the corruption of American democracy because a substantial part of the American people chose to be partners in them.
The difference between the mentalities of Republicans circa 1974 and of Democrats twenty-five and forty years later is the difference between a society before and after democratic corruption. Forty years ago, just as in our time, the President of the United States headed a coalition of groups with material and ideological interest in his Administration. But, back then, the beneficiaries of power were willing enough to subordinate their interests to the greater good of maintaining the bounds of democratic partisanship. In our time, however, the constituents of Democratic Administrations so identify their own status and benefits with the greater good that the very notion of bounds to their own partisanship makes no sense.
Todays Democrats argue that, some deceptive language aside, President Obama had every right to implement his view of medical care for America, as well as other things, because he was elected twice having promised something of the sort. But, in 1974, Republicans could have argued that Nixon had been elected twice, the second time by the largest margin in US history, specifically to undo the 1960s. In fact, Nixons lies about what he knew of his subordinates misdeeds were entirely irrelevant to the purpose for which he had been elected. Why should the Republican constituencies who had worked so hard have given up on the Nixon Administration? Why did Barry Goldwater, Mr. conservative himself, go to the White House to tell Nixon he had to resign?
Quite simply because he kneweveryone seemed to know, thenthat respect for the truth is what enables a democratic society that resolves its differences by mutual persuasion, and that absent that respect society devolves into civil war. Nixons lie had not imperiled the workings of American government. But it had transgressed the essential principle. Thenceforth, no one could take him at his word. All would have to regard him as acting for himself or his party, alien to the rest. And if his party stuck with him, the rest of America would have to regard that party as alien.
Bill Clintons 1998 lie under oath, and then on national television proved so by DNA analysis of his own sperm, placed him precisely in Nixons position. But his party, by sticking with him, reversed the essential principle to which the Republicans of 1974 had adhered. Its constituencies had worked hard to reverse Ronald Reagans 1980s. They had raised taxes, institutionalized abortion, and vastly expanded government. By this time, they had convinced themselves that the rest of America is composed of inferior people. Why should they have jeopardized their position just because their man had fellatio in the Oval Office and lied about it?
Thus by placing their own material and ideological interests above the truth, the Democrats took upon themselves a license to lienot just about personal matters, which was their argument at the timebut about whatever might serve their purpose.
Obamas premeditated, repeated, nationally televised lies about the Affordable Care Act are integral, indeed essential, to his presidency and to the workings of the US government. The outcome of two national elections depended on it.
Even more significant is his contention that he never said what he said, and that what he said was true anyhow. In interpersonal relations, such a contention is an insult that makes civility impossible; because to continue to treat with someone who makes such affronts is self-degradation of which few are capable. In political life, such an insult is a declaration of war.
The deadly problem is that Barack Obama is not just an individual, nor even the head of the US governments executive branch. He is the head of the party to which most government officials belong, the party of the media, of the educational establishment, of big corporationsin short of the ruling class. That class, it seems, has so taken ownership of Obamas lies that it pretends that those who are suffering from the Affordable Care Act dont really know what is good for them, or that they are perversely refusing to suffer for the greater good.
This class, in short, has placed itself as far beyond persuasion as Obama himself. Democracy by persuasion having become impossible, we are left with democracy as war.
|Angelo M. Codevilla is Professor Emeritus of International Relations at Boston University, and the author of the books, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It, Informing Statecraft, War: Ends and Means (with Paul Seabury), The Character of Nations, and Between the Alps and a Hard Place: Switzerland in World War II and the Rewriting of History.|