Sunday, April 04, 2010

Glenn G remembers Jerry terHorst's resignation after the Nixon pardon as something "that would not happen today"


Let's see, at last count the total number of Obama administration officials who have quit in protest of White House retention and enforcement of Republican policies is . . . er . . . wait, let me check my notes . . . hold on . . . um, roughly zero.

"The principle in which [Ford press secretary Jerald terHorst's] resignation was grounded -- that the highest political elites should be held to the same standards as ordinary Americans when it comes to breaking the law -- is one of the most widely mocked and explicitly rejected ideas in our current political culture."
-- Glenn Greenwald in his Friday post,

by Ken

I'm just catching up with Glenn Greenwald's Friday post, "Things that would not happen today," spurred by news of the death of Jerald terHorst, who served as White House press secretary for 30 days after Gerald Ford succeeded the resigned-in-disgrace Richard Nixon as president in 1974 -- until he resigned the day after President Ford issued his blanket pardon of Nixon, writing in his resignation letter:
As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes -- and imprisoned -- stemming from the same Watergate situation.

More power to Glenn for jumping on this. As he writes:
It's virtually impossible to imagine anyone undertaking an act like this in contemporary Washington. Indeed, the principle in which his resignation was grounded -- that the highest political elites should be held to the same standards as ordinary Americans when it comes to breaking the law -- is one of the most widely mocked and explicitly rejected ideas in our current political culture (Look Forward, Not Backward -- for Elite Crimes). Beyond that, anyone who sacrificed a position of political power, and did so based on an announced principle, would be derided by our power-worshiping political media as UnSerious, UnSavvy, and an overly earnest loser.

Ain't that the truth? The post obviously struck a nerve. The last time I looked, it had drawn 438 comments. I haven't even tried to read through them. I have a pretty good idea what they're saying, and I agree. Here's one near the beginning of the procession from commenter Ed Miller: "Politicians vet their underlings for moral integrity and disqualify them if they have any. They need people with more flexibility."

The case of former Secretary of State Colin Powell comes up, I note, on the ground that he eventually revealed that he thought about quitting over the Bush regime's campaign of lies about Iraq. In fact, the Powell case is a perfect illustration of Glenn's point. Powell gets no points, zero, for thinking about quitting. He had his chance to quit, and chose not to. Maybe it wouldn't have made a difference, but we'll never know. At least Powell could have claimed to have some principles.

As Glenn writes (with abundant links onsite):
A decade of government radicalism and lawbreaking that included torture, aggressive war, indefinite detentions, and illegal domestic surveillance did not generate a single resignation of this kind. We had a handful of truly brave whistle-blowers, but other than that, the most that happened was that officials were willing to reveal and condemn the corruption in which they actively participated -- only long after it happened and once they needed a way to sell a book and rehabilitate their reputation.

Interestingly, in his updates, Glenn records reports of "a couple mid-level resignations" in the Bush regime "in protest over the core unfairness of the military commissions system -- notably from members of the U.S. military who apparently took concepts of 'honor' seriously," and another, similar example in " the recent resignation of former Marine Capt. Matthew Hoh in protest over the futility of the war in Afghanistan," adding: "It is interesting that such conscience resignations occur among mid-level current and former military members, but not among the political class."

This all rises a level or two of chillingness when Glenn raises his speculative stakes:
Then again, it's virtually impossible to imagine Richard Nixon being forced to resign in today's political culture. After all, a federal court just ruled that the prior President violated the criminal law in how he spied for years on American citizens, while the current administration did everything possible to shield those crimes from judicial review (by claiming they were "state secrets"), and it barely caused a ripple.

For today's pols, getting caught in a sex scandal or a financial one can trigger the unraveling of a career. (Note that I say "can trigger," not "will trigger" career demise. While John Ensign seems on political death watch -- if not headed for the slammer, for his parlay of sex + financial scandal -- David "The Diaper Man" Vitter continues to mouth loony-right faux pieties as he slithers his way to reelection.) Short of that, it's all a question of how good your P.R. operation is.


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At 2:22 AM, Blogger DownWithTyranny said...

Wouldn't it be ironic if Obama finally decides to do something to fulfill the dreams he sparked with his Hope and Change campaign, and Rahm Emanuel quits in disgust (and in fear that he could lose favor with his corporate sponsors)?

At 5:44 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

OK, I'll run with this fantasy of the president hitting his head or something and coming to think that he really believes in Hope 'n' Change. Somehow, as between him and Master Rahm, I'm not sure I see the master as the one doing the quitting. Of course the president might not find out that he's quit till he reads about it in the newspaper.


At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Bil said...

THANKS for the Greenwald Jerald terHorst story. REALLY nice to be reminded that there are people of principle who can stand on the same career changing decision they made 36 years ago.

While we are talking amongst ourselves here AND fantasizing, how about MORE of that Prez gone wild drift where he wakes up the next day (kind of like Lincoln- "I freed WHO?) and finds out he has hired Little Johnny Edwards (plus chastity belt) to run a major "End Poverty in America" initiative, Wesley Clark (thrown under the Obama bus for telling the non-pc truth about John McCain's command experience) to lead a worldwide reconfiguration of US Military forces, and Dennis Kucinich appointed as the First Cabinet Level Minister of Peace. Amen.

And it's only MONDAY!

At 1:12 PM, Anonymous Bil said...

We CAN at least thank Ford for the good justice Stevens:)

I believe that Ford said even though Stevens had surprised him, he still thought he was a good judge.

So dumb, but not totally stupid.

At 1:42 PM, Anonymous me said...

Just remember that Stephens is always called "liberal" only by corporations, via the politicians and media they own.

The plain truth is, there are NO liberals on the court, and there haven't been for decades, not since Douglas and Brennan.

Stephens seems good mainly in comparison to his colleagues.

At 6:50 AM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Sorry, I'm just catching up with your comment now, me, but as I hope you saw in my post last night, our thinking about "liberals" on the Supreme Court is pretty much the same. (It's a point I think I've made a number of times -- most recently, as near as I can tell, here.)

I would say, though, that John Paul Stevens has been a great justice in his zealous, courageously untiring, and eloquent defense of the Constitution, and I think David Souter was also a great justice. Not great liberal justices, mind you, but they rendered honest and distinguished services nevertheless, much of those services in exceedingly difficult times on the Court (think: the Bush years, and now the Roberts Court). I have great admiration for Justice Ginsburg too, and Justice Sotomayor shows signs of providing honorable service.



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