Even after Watergate, even after Vietnam, we find it touchingly difficult to set as our default the idea that our leaders find it necessary, convenient and even easy to lie to our faces.
We want to believe the best, and so we turn away from those who accuse the president and all his men and women of conspiracy to harm the country; we call the accusers deluded, because we don’t want to see.
We want to believe the best, but this isn’t a TV show, and we can’t let the world we want to see blind us to the world that is. And in the latter, the president of the United States has been breaking the law, and he has been doing it for years.
For years. Torture, deportments, imprisonment without trial, secret prisons around the world. Barring immigrants’ entry into the country without showing cause. Warrantless wiretapping. Electronic surveillance of American citizens. He has been doing it for years.
He’s issued “signing statements,” essentially notes he writes in the margins of bills Congress has passed, saying the law is what he considers it to be rather than what is in front of him.
And until recently, those calling for investigations, for hearings, for answers, for justice in the face of any of this have been all but ignored.
Lawyers filed papers. The American Civil Liberties Union issued statements. People muttered darkly about government power grabs. But no one had the leverage to actually make the president stop. Opinion polls don’t bind him. Public censure doesn’t touch him. Judges can’t force him. His own party was perfectly content to ignore him.
That all changed with the elections last November, and Leahy showed that unequivocally when in his second week running the committee he questioned Bush’s attorney general under oath about the rendition and torture of an innocent man.