The Criminalization of Politics and Other Fine Talking Points

by Scott Creighton

Yesterday, during the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing ”Executive Power and it’s Constitutional Limitations“, as an argument for not opening an investigation into criminal acts by this administration, the same talking point came up time and time again; these “demented” people who call for impeachment are trying to “criminalise” political differences: the Criminalization of Politics.

Now this would normally fall into the silly smoke screen category (especially after what we KNOW happened at the Department of Justice with Carl Rove’s help) …if we hadn’t heard it before. But of course the interesting thing about this is where we have heard it before.

The other day, there was a debate on NPR’s Democracy Now, between Glenn Greenwald and Obama advisor Cass Sunstein about the need for impeachment. Sunstein made reference to a previous argument he had made at the recent NetRoots Conference about impeaching this administration seeming like criminalizing political differences.

“Prosecuting government officials risks a “cycle” of criminalizing public service, he argued, and Democrats should avoid replicating retributive efforts like the impeachment of President Clinton–or even the “slight appearance” of it.” Ari Membler on the Sunstein statement at the Netroots Conference from The Nation.

During the debate with Glenn Greenwald, Sunstein defended his previous comment by interjecting the notion that “egregious crimes” shouldn’t be overlooked. “When I talk about a fear of criminalizing political disagreement, I don’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t criminalize crimes. Crimes are against the law, and if there’s been egregious wrongdoing in violation of the law, then it’s not right to put a blind eye to that.” C. Sunstein, Democracy Now.

Of course, that begs the questions; which “crimes” do we “put a blind eye to…” and, who decides? The Congress? Pelosi? Conyers? Dean? Obama?

The problem there, is that ALL of the aforementioned potential “deciders” are representatives of THE PEOPLE. Presumably there to do the WILL of the people. And by all accounts, the vast majority of The People in this country want there to be accountability from this administration for their reckless assault on the Constitution and our liberties. Yet, Sunstein is debating that that shouldn’t happen. So, who is really “the decider”?

But, even granting Sunstein his little correction about egregious wrongdoings, he his still quite off-base with the principle argument.

A President should never to be allowed to get away with ANY crimes for he, above all others, must be held to a higher moral, legal, and ethical standard of any of us. Not the opposite. I made this same argument during the impeachment trial of President Clinton, when, in my opinion, he should have been impeached for lying to Congress and attempting to obstruct justice. It was quite clear.

But Sunstein goes even further in his blatant apologist’s rationalization of the crimes of this administration.

“Well, there has been a big debate among law professors and within the Supreme Court about the President’s adherent authority to wiretap people….the idea that it’s an impeachable offense to adopt an incorrect interpretation of the President’s power, that, I think, is too far-reaching. There are people in the Clinton administration who share Bush’s view with respect to foreign surveillance.” Sunstein.

The idea that the President or his staff may indeed avoid prosecution for their many crimes based on the notion that they can’t be held accountable for misinterpreting the law is completely disingenuous. The fact that an adviser to the presumptive candidate from the opposing political Party would advance this hogwash, in order to defend a criminal administration just months before the election, is, to say the least, very… revealing.

So, it is not surprising that several Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Rep. Lungren, picked up on this talking-point and parroted it during the hearing yesterday. The logic being now that a leading member of the majority party has made the claim that this whole thing could be nothing more than criminalizing politics, it is no longer just a smoke-screen, but instead it’s a bi-partisan statement of fact. Not because Sunstein is correct in his interpretation, but because the Republicans on the committee can put-forward the argument and then use Obama’s adviser’s statement to muddy the waters of the debate, forcing any argument to run down Sunstein’s comment first.

It’s a layered distraction, pre-manufactured for the minority Party in the House of Representatives by a usually thoughtful, legal scholar who calls himself a democrat and who should have known better. So, the next question must be, why would he do it, knowing that it would be picked up on and used to defend the rogue administration?

Layered distractions seemed to be the order of the day for the republicans in the committee yesterday. Both Trent Franks and Steve King, went through a rather short list of Democratic Party all-stars, when they tried to suggest that “everyone” believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

That argument was put to rest by panelist Vincent Bugliosi when he correctly pointed out that the reason that these people thought that there were weapons of mass destruction was because the administration had edited the intelligence estimate about Iraq so that it would better suit the war-mongers intentions of invading that country. They were basing their conclusions on the tainted evidence that Cheney’s “Office of Special Plans” had cherry-picked to justify going to war.

The circular logic of King and Lungren being obvious: Bush didn’t lie because he thought he was correct, and Clinton, Rockefeller, Albright, Kerry, Gore all thought the same thing (because of Bush’s lies). They were all just duped by the intel (that was created by Cheney’s OSP).

So again, the waters are muddied by the appearance of a bi-partisan consensus of misinformed agreement. Now remember what Sunstein said earlier? “There are people in the Clinton administration who share Bush’s view with respect to foreign surveillance.” Cass himself is also priming the pot for the bi-partisan cop-out meme. Again I ask, why?

Well, there may be one clue in the people they are quoting. Clinton, Rockefeller, Kerry, Gore, Albright… they are all deep political insiders with family ties to serious monied interests in this country. They are all players, so to speak, in what Greenwald calls the politico-class. Certainly, now, no matter what happens in November, Obama can be said to have joined that elite club of networked insiders in the investor/beltway club. As Nixon had his Kissenger and Clinton had his Albright, so to now does Obama have his Sunstein.

These people work on a level far beyond the limits of Party loyalty or agenda. They serve a class of people that don’t really care about anything more than maintaining the status-quo. As George Bush once said when addressing a fund raiser with “the haves and the have mores…”, “Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”

And I would suggest to you here now, that it isn’t Bush or Cheney that the Sunstein’s of our political crisis are protecting, it’s that “base”. Because if you allow impeachment hearings to get underway, without any reservations I will promise you this: the corrupt connections between the super-monied class and this administration will have to be exposed. And when that happens, many in this country are deathly afraid that the majority of Americans will start to see this savage capitalist system for what it is: a detriment to both our quality of life and democracy as a whole. With the economy as it is, just how far reaching could the ramifications of that become?

That’s why the Sunsteins and the Kissengers and the Albrights dutifully tow the line of both Parties and neither simultaneously. They must do what is necessary to maintain the status-quo for the elite class that runs this country.

And that is why we shouldn’t be surprised when we see certain talking points blurring Party lines. Because at that level, there is only one line: the one we can’t step across, that divides us from them.