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Losing America

When I first started commenting here — in 2005? — about the time that some of the worst Constitutional abuses were being exposed, I noted that during the Nixon Watergate era, Americans held their collective breath not knowing whether the Constitution would hold. We weren’t sure whether Nixon would get away with his crimes, what Congress would do about impeachment, whether the Supreme Court would uphold Congress’ and the federal courts’ right to demand evidence of crimes from the Executive Branch.

But the Supreme Court ruled against Nixon, the House Committee voted out articles of impeachment, and the Constitution held. Our system of laws forced a criminal President to resign from office, and Americans were not just relieved; they were proud of how their nation had endured.

It may never happen again.

Over the last two nights, a lonely Congressman stood on the House floor and read through 35 Articles of Impeachment, many of them "worse than Watergate," some of them not just "high crimes and misdemeanors," but war crimes and offenses that needlessly sent thousands to their deaths, drove millions more from their homes, and permanently stained the nation’s honor. Surely this list of offenses, some more egregious than those in the Declaration of Independence, deserves a thorough and immediate hearing, even a rebellion?

But this is 2008, and where Nixon failed to overturn our Constitutional system of accountability, checks and balances, and the rule of law, George Bush has succeeded. Rep. Kucinich’s lonely quest to uphold the Constitution will be ridiculed by many, belittled as a waste of time and worse, an embarrassment to a Congressional leadership that has deservedly lost the nation’s respect.

Although Jonathan Turley appearing on Countdown last night expressed dismay at Congress’ passivity, Mr. Kucinich’s Articles will likely be referred to a committee for an indecent burial, while Congressional leaders claim they’re too busy doing the people’s business. But what will they cite as evidence of their diligence?

Will it be yesterday’s political stunt to pass a tax on oil company profits, which everyone knew would not gather enough votes to proceed to debate? Or how about the similar failure to hold a debate on incentives for renewable/alternative energy sources? Or perhaps they’ll cite last week’s vote that put off for another year any meaningful action on global climate change? Or the failure to override repeated vetoes of bills to provide health insurance for children? Where’s the legislation to help Americans save their homes? How about their inability to end/limit the Iraq occupation? Or the coming vote to "compromise" the 4th Amendment by gutting FISA yet again?

Yes, they’ve been very busy, accomplishing almost nothing, because our "government" is led by a cabal of incompetent, dishonest, law-breaking zealots who trashed the country and hold the American people in contempt. They’re supported by a rubber stamp Republican Party determined to prevent anything worthwhile from passing, even as the electorate prepares to throw them out of office, while the Democrats, savoring the elections can’t find the courage to defend their oaths and just say "enough."

The real reason for this burial is that our Congressional leaders find it embarrassing to admit how thoroughly Bush has beaten them in escaping accountability. They won’t even insist on their own Congressional perogatives to demand information from the Administration, let alone try to reestablish the simple concept that no man is above the law. That foundational democratic principle is just not true in America, because George Bush and Dick Cheney deliberately created conditions under which they and their closest advisers are above the law. In fact, with their compliant Attorney General, these people have become their own law.

After surviving Watergate, the country seemed to believe in itself more; we appreciated the brilliance and wisdom of its Constitution, the strength of its institutions. With them, a decent people and vigilant press could right the ship even when its President was corrupt. But somewhere in the deluge of money, the conservatives’ assault on government, and the concentration/corruption of our media, we lost a critical mass of patriots, people who understood and cared how it all worked and weren’t afraid to fight for it. We became a fearful, cynical nation.

All of this has happened in my lifetime. It will not be comforting to hear those wiser than I explain that this has been coming on for a long time, that America’s fall from grace merely accelerated and became more obvious during Bush’s lawless tenure. It is still heartbreaking.

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley