Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger
Do you wonder how American politics has gotten so crazy in the last five decades? As someone who has lived through them as an adult I have often been amazed by our evolving political scene. This week the PBS documentary series “The American Experience” focused on the life and the two terms of Bill Clinton. It was a typical PBS historical documentary in that it made sure to present all sides of the issues and of course it dealt with “Whitewater”, Monica Lewinsky and the Impeachment proceedings. While we all lived through this bizarre political period in the 90’s, time and personal matters no doubt has dimmed its memory for most of us who were not directly involved. What fascinated me about this four hour documentary was that even in its non-partisan fairness, it delved into the massive effort made to discredit Bill Clinton begun from even before the inception of his first term. Though he won his election fairly, Republican’s and Conservatives never accepted his legitimacy as a duly elected President. It was this perceived “illegitimacy” that undermined his efforts as President and was the focus of constant attacks from his enemies. I’m not writing this as someone who felt that Bill Clinton was a great President and there were many concessions he made like “Welfare Reform” and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that I still hold against him. My question is that given his legitimate electoral mandate, did he ever get a chance to actually put his programs into effect and be President?
Bill Clinton entered his Presidency at the end of the first Iraq War. His inaugural speech talked of healing and bi-partisanship, as he would work together with Republicans to create a bridge to the Twenty First Century. The country was in a recession, partly caused by the excesses of military overspending by Reagan and G.H.W. Bush and by their tax cuts for the wealthy. There was a shrinking middle class due to the outsourcing of our manufacturing base and also because the Reagan Social Security “Reform” was actually a massive, regressive tax raise on those of middle income. The Reagan and G.H.W. Bush years burdened the Country with massive budget deficits and in Clinton’s first years the clamoring of the Republicans, Wall Street and the “Chattering Classes” for “Deficit Reduction” was at a fever pitch. We had also seen an illegal involvement in trying to topple the government of Nicaragua, despite a strong Congressional ban and its’ direct perpetrators falling on their swords to protect President Reagan and Vice President Bush. The din of budget deficits was so loud, with predictions so dire, that this newly elected President, with no Washington experience, was forced to accept the specious merits of this argument. Forgotten of course was that it was these selfsame groups, had blithely ignored rising deficits during the twelve years past of Republican governance. Perhaps, in my re-visiting what you already probably knew, a sense of Deja’ Vu might be occurring when thinking of American politics and political issues today?
Direct parallels can be drawn between the treatment of Barack Obama in office, the specific problems he faced and Bill Clinton’s Presidency, I’m not writing this as a paean to our current President, since I believe he traveled down the same road Bill Clinton did. It was the wrong road of trying to appease, the unappeasable, based on an overestimation of his personal powers of persuasion and overlooking the fact that his “reaching out” was viewed as weakness by both the Republicans and the country. What got lost in the process for both men were the supposed principles that they ran on, which obviously had resonated enough with the public to get them elected in the first place.
The point I’m trying to make is that our current democratic system is irreparably broken as it stands and until some change is made, the interests of the general public will be of no account. Why is this so? In early January I did a blog entitled “America’s Transcendent Issue”. http://jonathanturley.org/2012/01/07/americas-transcendent-issue/ . My point was that money controlled our election process and until we dealt with the money issue none of America’s other problems could be solved, nor could we have a democratic electoral process. I still think this was a correct analysis, but it didn’t deal fully with the other factors that allow the 1% to control the 99% and lead directly to the inequality of resources among our citizenry.
How is it that Ronald Reagan and George Bush could on the day of their inauguration welcome home the Iran Embassy Hostages that probably got them elected in the first place? Had some backdoor negotiation gone on that may have delayed the “Hostage Crisis” past election day, in order to ensure
a Republican victory? We know that the hated Iranian’s received some missiles to sweeten their part of the deal. Surely there should have been wide media speculation on how this fortuitous happenstance occurred? Yet there wasn’t. From the outset of his term Ronald Reagan received generally adoring attention from the entire mainstream media and although some few raised objections and questions, these were drowned out by the indulgent, supposedly, “left wing” media.
Arguably the worst crisis of the Reagan terms was “Contra-Gate”, or the “Iran-Contra Scandal”. Nine high ranking members of the Reagan Administration were adjudged to have taken part in this illegal activity, yet they were all either pardoned, or in Ollie North’s case, “mistakenly” granted immunity for his testimony before the Senate where he admitted breaking the law. The following high officials’ guilt was established:
- Caspar Weinberger (R) Secretary of Defense, was indicted on two counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice on June 16, 1992. Weinberger received a pardon from George H. W. Bush on December 24, 1992 before he was tried.
- William Casey (R) Head of the CIA. Thought to have conceived the plan, was stricken ill hours before he would testify. Reporter Bob Woodward records that Casey knew of and approved the plan.
- Robert C. McFarlane (R) National Security Adviser, convicted of withholding evidence, but after a plea bargain was given only 2 years probation. Later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush
- Elliott Abrams (R) Assistant Secretary of State, convicted of withholding evidence, but after a plea bargain was given only 2 years probation. Later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush
- Alan D. Fiers Chief of the CIA‘s Central American Task Force, convicted of withholding evidence and sentenced to one year probation. Later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush
- Clair George Chief of Covert Ops-CIA, convicted on 2 charges of perjury, but pardoned by President George H. W. Bush before sentencing.
- Oliver North (R) member of the National Security Council convicted of accepting an illegal gratuity, obstruction of a congressional inquiry, and destruction of documents, but the ruling was overturned since he had been granted immunity.
- John Poindexter National Security Advisor (R) convicted of 5 counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury, defrauding the government, and the alteration and destruction of evidence. The Supreme Court overturned this ruling.
- Richard V. Secord Ex-major general in the Air Force who organized the Iran arms sales and Contra aid. He pleaded guilty in November 1989 to making false statements to Congress. Sentenced to two years of probation.
Bill Clinton was brought within seventeen votes of impeachment because of receiving oral sex from an intern and lying about it. The Supreme Court speciously ruled that a sitting President must take part in a minor civil lawsuit and from there Clinton made the mistake of lying about a legal act. Yet Ronald Reagan and G.H.W. Bush were allowed to be deposed at their convenience about Iran-Contra and stated they didn’t remember giving any order mobilizing it. The Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA and National Security Advisor were in on this illegal plan and two were pardoned by G.H.W. Bush. There was never a hint of a call for impeachment and the press in its coverage was curiously deferential in their dealings with both the President and his Vice-President.
In the early 1980’s there were fifty corporations that controlled most mainstream media, today there are only six corporations. These corporations are decidedly Republican/Conservative in management. I do believe that freedom of the press still hangs on by a fraying thread in this country due to the Internet. However, that “freedom” is limned by its’ corporate ownership. If a particular reporter, commentator or newscaster wants to keep their jobs they must perform within written and/or unwritten parameters.
MSNBC, for instance, got rid of Phil Donahue, Keith Obermann and Cenk Ungyar for perhaps straying outside of corporate political parameters. Of course MSNBC is perceived as the country’s most left leaning news source, even though their morning show is hosted by conservatives and they are controlled by a major corporation not known for its’ “liberalism”. NBC Universal is owned by Comcast and GE, which is America’s premier defense contractor. FOXNews and CNN are both right of center, with FOX of course veering off into radical territory. Media watchdogs have proven that male Republicans represent more than two thirds of the guests on the previously prestigious Sunday Morning news shows. Talk radio is predominantly owned by “Clear Channel”, which is a decidedly conservative corporation that presents overwhelmingly conservative talk show hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, with ties to the Bush Family constellation, presenting overwhelmingly conservative talk show hosts like Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck.
My belief, backed factually below, is that part of the reason democracy is failing in this country is that the people are being kept seriously misinformed. Television has still been shown to be the place where most Americans get their news and television commentators and reporters help set our national agendas and priorities. In a Pew Poll referenced below 66% of Americans prefer TV as their news source, but 41% now prefer the Internet and that preference is ascending. This is why there are so many efforts being made to rein in the Internet so that corporate control of information can be solidified.
In my opinion neither Bill Clinton, nor Barack Obama were able to comprehend exactly what was facing them as they tried to govern. They were convinced through prior successes, that with their personal charisma, if they just kept repeating the old formulas of reaching out and making compromises they could achieve the goals of greatness each had set for himself. They were both unprepared for having the agenda-setting torn from their hands and instead having to deal with firestorms of made up controversy. They are to be blamed for their naivete/narcissism, but we citizens too must assume some of that blame. When 9/11 occurred we Americans allowed ourselves to be stampeded into two wars, costing many innocent lives and much money that could have been used for better purposes. There are ways, hard as they may be, to take money out of the political system, but what do we do to re-establish a free press that can give Americans the access to the information necessary to democratically govern ourselves? To answer my original question, “what’s going on” is that our media has become as phony as Pravda and Tass were to the people of the Soviet Union. The difference is that most Soviet citizens knew they were being lied to, while most Americans are only dimly aware of this truth and believe that it can’t happen here.
Submitted by: Mike Spindell, Guest Blogger.