Popular insistence upon prosecuting George W. Bush stems from at least two faulty assumptions: 1) that our political and economic systems function in the general interest, and 2) that the crimes of the Bush administration are isolated violations of those systems.
Now, that man over there — he’s the prosecuting attorney — and he couldn’t be happier today. He’s a happy man today, because today he’s going after a judge [President]. And if he gets him — if he gets him — he’s gonna be a STAR. He’s gonna have his name in this month’s ‘Law Review’ — centerfold — ‘Lawyer of the Month’.
Now, in order to win this case, he needs you [the jury], naturally. And you’re all he’s got, believe me. So he’s counting on tapping that emotion in you which says ‘let’s get somebody in power’. ‘Let’s get a judge’ [President]
However these proceedings are not about that. These proceedings are here to see that justice is done. And justice, as any reasonable person will tell ya, is the finding of the truth. And what is the truth, today?
As Arthur Kirkland (Al Pacino) goes on to explain, the “truth” is that someone has been abused (raped, tortured), and that the intention of justice is “to see that the guilty people are proven guilty and that the innocent are freed — Simple isn’t it?”
Only we have a problem here. Do you know what it is?
Both sides wanna win. We wanna win. We wanna win regardless of the truth, and we wanna win regardless of justice, regardless of who’s guilty or innocent — Winning — is everything.
In his big finish, Pacino exclaims: “That man there — [Dubya] — that man there is a SLIME! If he’s allowed to go free, then something REALLY WRONG is going on here!”
This memorable scene from And Justice For All1 comes to mind every time I see an article or hear a speech about prosecuting George W. Bush — and the people who write those articles are right. I certainly appreciate their sentiment. Al Pacino is right. They’re all right about the abuse and the rape and the torture and the law — and they’re even right about the “slime”. But does being “right” actually change anything?
“What is the truth, today?”
The “truth” is that we live under a political and economic system designed to support the interests of less than half of a percent of the total population, and to hell with everybody else. Capital ownership “wins” and the rest of us lose because we dropped out of the wrong vaginas.
So which is more important: 1) that George W. Bush -is- a “slime”, or 2) that “something really wrong is going on here” -produces- “slime” like George W. Bush? Which problem demands more attention, the system itself or its defective products? By reducing this to a question of quality assurance in production we are forced to ask; what kind of a system produces “slime” like George W. Bush? Can such an obviously failed system be revised (“reformed”), or must it be replaced altogether? Has the time finally come for us to withdraw our consent to be governed by criminals? If so, how can we prohibit our political and economic systems from hatching intolerable “slime” like George W. Bush in the future?
I should pause here to explain I am not at all opposed to prosecuting George W. Bush. But how likely is the success of that mission within the same crooked system that generated, perpetuated and now fiercely protects him? Good luck with that. Our broken system leaves we, the people, with no recourse in this matter. There is no ballot box on this issue. There is no referendum. The “decider” has spoken. There will be no prosecution of George W. Bush, now or ever. It’s time for every “American” to understand the grave implications of this reality, and begin to respond accordingly.
I realize that “Arrest Bush” and “Prosecute Bush” and “Impeach Bush” seem far more exciting and sensational than boring stuff like “Fix The Damn System”. But the profound waste of resources seems an unjustifiable distraction from the root of the problem. As long as the energies of brilliant “progressives” are tied up in attacking George W. Bush, those people won’t spend any time thinking about building a new system that doesn’t generate criminals like “Dubya” or enablers like Obama. Rather than challenging the status quo, this melodramatic obsession with prosecuting George W. Bush seems to actually support it.
The President of the United States is not an agent or a servant of the people and we do not live under a “democracy”. So it seems silly to approach the problem from that naive perspective. As an agent and a servant of capital, the President is obviously not bound by the democratic process or even by the law. As such, pleading or reasoning or negotiating with him seems utterly pointless — let alone “prosecuting” him. Agents of capital don’t honor petitions or pay any attention to protests and marches unless those efforts present a viable threat to the interests of the owners of capital. This was the genius and the courage of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to his nonviolent approach, he also knew where to grab them and how to yank. Sadly, this also happens to be the reason he’s dead.2 I rest my case.
Meanwhile, the agents of capital seem very happy when we invest all of our time and energy in pursuits other than in building a new system that might inherently prohibit their crimes. As Rob Kall reminds us, Bill Clinton failed (refused?) to investigate and prosecute Bush Sr. for his Iran Contra illegal dealings. Moreover, President Bush Sr. actually pardoned everyone who had been found guilty of their crimes in that affair. Meanwhile, after a street in Odon, Indiana was renamed to “John Poindexter Street”, Bill Breedan (a former minister) stole the street’s sign in protest of the Iran-Contra Affair. He claimed that he was holding it for a ransom of $30 million, a reference to the amount of money given to Iran to transfer to the contras. He was later arrested and confined to prison, making him, as satirized by Howard Zinn, “the only person to be imprisoned as a result of the Iran-Contra affair.”3
Does this mean protest and petitioning is pointless, overall? No. But these efforts do seem misdirected, pointless and futile unless they actually do something to change how the system works. Our political and economic systems work just fine for the people they are designed to serve. The problem is that those people comprise less than half of a percent of the total US population. This is the system that made sure George W. Bush was President of the United States for two full terms without winning a single election. This is the same system that hand-picked a young black man from Illinois to placate millions of angry “Americans”, and it’s the same system that will ensure Obama dutifully protects his predecessor from any sort of “prosecution” — against the best interest of every “American” who supposedly “elected” him to office.
Most importantly, this system keeps everyone so busy trying to prosecute and petition and protest the symptoms of the problem that we don’t have any time, energy or interest to invest in building a new system that doesn’t generate those kinds of symptoms. With due respect for all the moral crusaders who insist upon extracting truth and justice from this fiasco — what exactly is the plan? With such adamant refusal from our newly appointed leadership, how do we intend to enforce all these “laws” that George W. Bush has so casually dismissed?
What consequences does Obama face for not prosecuting George W. Bush? Will “progressives” withdraw their political support? Seems to me, “progressives” were fairly divided about Obama long before he was appointed to office. So what exactly is a “progressive”, anyway — and what sort of threat do they present to the newly selected President? Obama has firmly denounced any attempt to prosecute Bush and his pals. How “progressive” is that? Where do we turn next? Congress? The Supreme Court? The same people who appointed Bush to the Presidency in the first place?
As Dr. King suggests, laws are meaningless unless they are enforced — or at least enforceable. Now a black President — one of the most popular Presidents in US history — deliberately ignores King’s admonition with his refusal to enforce those laws. This, if nothing else, should clearly indicate there is enough wrong with our current system to warrant its replacement with something that functions more effectively in the general interest.
Do I agree with Barack Obama that nothing should be done regarding the crimes of the Bush administration? No. Quite the contrary, it seems reasonable to expect Obama — out of a little courage and common sense if nothing else — to voluntarily begin proceedings against the previous administration. But exactly the opposite is actually happening. What does this tell us about our system and Barack Obama and the “new” administration?
Good lord, this guy was a constitutional law professor for 12 years!4 So if we, the people, are forced to prod, coax, beg, plead, whip, shame, lobby, coerce, bribe, or petition him to do his duty according to the law, then “something REALLY WRONG is going on here!” But according to Aziz Huq, it’s worse than most Americans even realize. Turns out the US Constitution does not in any way obligate Barack Obama to pursue the prosecution of George W. Bush. Quite the contrary, there is plenty of “constitutional” incentive against the idea.5 But wait — it gets better. Now, when the President signs a new law, he can also approve another document reserving his right to ignore the law.6
What’s wrong with this picture?7
1) Less than half of a percent of the total US population are passive claimants of economic wealth, who are also the most active daily participants in the democratic process.
2) The rest of us tend to be active daily participants in generating economic wealth, but we are also the most passive observers in the democratic process.
We, the people, consent to this crippling arrangement every single day we get out of bed and go to work and hand over most of the value (power) we produce to passive ownership. But as Thomas Jefferson famously suggests, any time we get sick and tired of the system, all we have to do is scrap it and build a new one.
Is “too big to fail” too big to exist? No. In fact, “too big to fail” strongly suggests that certain structures must exist. But public structures like our government do seem far too big and essential to be privately owned and controlled by a few passive claimants of wealth and power. The question of civilization is no longer “who decides who gets what?” The more pressing question is, “how can the democratic process become an integral part of daily living to answer this and many other questions?”
Genuinely democratic control of our government and its policy might have prohibited the terrible tragedies of the past eight years (200-years?), making prosecution of George W. Bush completely unnecessary. But genuinely democratic control begins in the workplace and is then extended to government — not the other way around. Under the current system, no amount of protest or petitioning will result in the prosecution of George W. Bush or anyone else in his administration. I wish I was wrong. But once again, the model is upside-down. It’s time to flip it over.
- Pacino, Al. (1979). …And Justice For All. Columbia Pictures. [↩]
- Douglass, James W. (March, 2000). “The King Assassination: After Three Decades, Another Verdict“. Christian Century. [↩]
- Wikipedia. (May, 2009). “Iran-Contra affair: Convictions, pardons, and reinstatements“. [↩]
- Annenberg Political Fact Check. (March, 2008). “Was Barack Obama really a constitutional law professor?“. FactCheck.org. [↩]
- Huq, Aziz. (January, 2009). “No Looking Back For Guantanamo“. Guardian. [↩]
- Kellman, Laurie. (June, 2006). “Congress Questions Bush’s Claims He Can Ignore Laws He Signs“. Law.com. [↩]
- Chandler, David. (May, 2009). “The L-Curve“. [↩]