Sunday, December 05, 2010

Try 'Em and Hang 'Em

This week's column was deemed too extreme for the paper. I understand that there are downsides to publishing radical commentary, and respect my editor's wishes. But since I've already written it, I'll post it here:

"It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged." - G.K. Chesterton

I run the risk of being thought sensational for starting a column with such an egregious quote. Good citizens are to know that the death of any public official, however mundane, is to be regarded as a tragedy. No matter the mistakes our leaders may have made—for it is to be understood that these morally superior beings could never commit crimes—we are to weep dutifully should they let slip this mortal coil. To argue for hanging outright is a far graver offense—probably treasonous.

The whole of the argument against punishing politicians depends on never applying the law to those who enforce it. Whether it's policemen who go free after shooting innocent people, or corrupt Congressmen who refuse to pay the taxes which fund their pet programs, authority is seldom held to the same standard imposed on the rest of us. This is very telling, for it demonstrates very clearly that, while the powers that be expect the peasantry to adhere to every jot and tittle of the law, they view themselves as above it.

If the object of the rulers was to instill virtue in the citizenry through the vehicle of law, it would be incumbent upon them to demonstrate respect by following the law themselves. Indeed, a case can be made that our leaders should be held to an even higher standard. For while the disinclination of the citizenry to follow a particular law can be altered through stricter penalties, once let the politicians ignore a law and it will become acceptable for it to be ignored in perpetuity.

In hanging politicians it can be difficult to know where to start. But then the reverse problem emerges: so many politicians are guilty of heinous crimes that we'll need more rope. Let us begin with the former Commander-in-Chief, that evil man, George W. Bush. It is to the eternal shame of the American people that we elected him, not once, but twice. In his recent book, which is selling like Mein Kampf, but which really ought to be compared to the non-existent memoirs of Commodus, he discusses his handling of the war in Iraq. This disastrous foreign policy misadventure has been written about incessantly over the last several years; there is no need to rehash the arguments against the war, or the paucity of the evidence which led us to undertake it.

But it is worth dwelling on the fact that no senior official has suffered appreciably for this nightmare foisted upon the American and Iraqi people. Oh, it's possible a few of them have consciences, and therefore lose sleep over the lives they've helped destroy; but no external punishment has been exacted, save to a few peons at Guantanamo. If starting a war under false pretenses isn't grounds for hanging, I'm not sure what is. Surely someone should be held responsible for the death and destruction. If a private citizen committed vigilante justice against a sex offender, he would still be tried, and it would require a sympathetic jury to acquit him for a righteous act. But start a war in which trillions of dollars are spent fruitlessly and thousands upon thousands die, and you get a nice little book tour.

Likewise with the current president. Republican rhetoric about Obama is so overwrought as to almost cause one to pity the man. The crucial thing to remember about Barry is that, like Bush, he's out of his depth. Bush was able to hide his shallowness through a team of Machiavellian advisors. Not so Barry, who is a clown surrounded by lesser clowns. Nowhere is this more evident than in the continuation of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no rationale offered by the administration for the further shedding of blood. The wars continue because ending them might be politically disastrous; such is the banality of evil of which Hannah Arendt wrote. People die because hope-and-change lacks the courage to alter the State's policy of warfare. The failure to try Bush and his administration means that Obama will never be tried for his complicity in the crimes against the Afghani and Iraqi people.

Hanging a president would be an excellent precedent and a notable step towards the day when it becomes possible that an honorable man is elected to that position. But there are other criminals besides presidents. There is, for instance, Congress, who has been complicit in the Bush/Obama wars. There is also John Pistole, the head of the TSA, whose goons molest children to protect us from the terrorists. His TSA flunkies, who participate in this blatant violation of our rights as citizens, should be tried as well. Nuremberg made it clear that following orders is not an excuse for committing crime. Fondling children is criminal, and TSA agents should be punished accordingly.

No doubt my argument will be seen as a radical one. Yet it's worth pondering how radical it truly is. Why should it be seen as extreme that politicians are held responsible for their actions? Why is it that they are only to be punished by the ballot box—that is, with a nice book deal and a job as a lobbyist, in other words, never punished at all? Why do we tolerate behavior from state officials which would be deemed unconscionable if done by ordinary citizens?

These questions have powerful ramifications, because they illustrate how far a once free people has been willing to acquiesce in government misrule. It has become quite obvious that the politicians have no fear of ever being held accountable by the citizenry. Until they are made to realize that the law does in fact apply to them, they will act as if it does not. A trial would go along way toward reminding them of this fact. And a nice hanging would reinforce the lesson to the most obdurate of rulers.

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