“What will be the next thing that challenges us? That makes us work harder and go farther? You know, when smallpox was eradicated, it was considered the single greatest humanitarian achievement of this century. Surely, we can do it again. As we did in the time when our eyes looked towards the heavens, and with outstretched fingers, we touched the face of God. Here’s to (toasting) absent friends, and the ones that are here now.”
- President Bartlett, The West Wing, Season 1, Episode 5
When the running dialogue in the real Presidential race gets too much to bear, I take a moment away from this computer screen and pop a DVD in from the fictional White House to chase my own higher angels and prayers of a new White House. I look past the slimy ads, liars, crooks, thieves, agendas, polls, speeches, SPIN, and see moments here of pure inspiration, emotion and a government as it should be versus the government as it today is.
The people in that show serve a higher purpose, truly focused on Country First as more than a slogan.
When at the end of this current DVD, Josh Lyman stops the President in the portico and simply says, “Mr. President, we talk about enemies more than we used to.” He simply replies, “yeah.”
And while it was clear the seeds for where we are today in this epic campaign’s seeming archetypal struggle of good vs. evil were planted long before 1999 when this episode first aired, indeed nothing in the political landscape looks as it did back in 1994 when the Gingrich Revolution first hit Washington, or earlier.
I watch this DVD and am taken back to early spring of 1973 and a week-long excursion to Washington DC as a 16-year old high school junior in the Close-Up program. There we met giants of politics, including a freshman senator from Delaware, now Vice Presidential candidate, on the subway between the Capitol and Senate Office buildings. We sat next to him and the late Senator Heinz from Pennsylvania. These gentlemen and they remain as such in my memory, stopped their conversation to converse with two young kids from Massachusetts.
We were young and the antithesis of cynicism. We had high ideals as we sat at the feet of Senator Burke listening to him challenge us in a way no politician has since though inspiring oratory, not knowing or caring he was at that time having a torrid affair with television’s Barbara Walters. Those sorts of things happened in private, were no one else’s business and were not the fodder of tabloid journalism or dramatic television self confessions to boost book sales.
The Watergate story was breaking furiously all week and we clamoured to the hotel newsstand for the next big revelation in the venerable Washington Post, now a shadow of its former self. There was no CNN or even much cable television so we read newspapers and read great writers and editorialists and this was just two short months after the President was re-inaugurated for a second term.
We had faith the truth would come out and indeed it did and he was shown the door a year later. We believed in justice and accountability. We watched as Attorney General Elliott Richardson resigned as U.S. attorney general when he refused, as directed by President Nixon, to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal rather than take part in a cover-up.
Today, sadly, neither he nor Nixon would be gone because our own standards have so slipped so badly. As I watched Karl Rove pull the puppet strings in Texas for Bush 43 without a shred of dignity or decency, just how low can we go and what can we get away with, it was clear we’d not just lost our moral compass, it was thrown out with the trash.
And yet I always kept hope.
I lived in The Netherlands and was so inspired when Minister-President Wim Kok resigned on April 16, 1999, the day it became widely reported that Dutch UN Peacekeeping troops stood by and did nothing while the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys was carried out by Serbian troops.
That was a statement of honour that is much missing in today’s governance. If something bad happens on my watch, the buck stops here and I take personal responsibility. Sadly, I cannot see an American President ever again resigning unless frog-marched out of the Oval Office with a smoking gun in his hand, a dead body on the carpet.
Meanwhile, the current looting of the Treasury produced this e-mail in my box today:
Dear American Friend:
I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.
I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had a crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.
I am working with Mr. Phil Gramm, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transaction is 100% safe.
This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.
Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to firstname.lastname@example.org so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.
Minister of Treasury
Denis Campbell edits a daily e-newsmagazine at www.vadimuspost.com.