[Continuing our series on deception in politics and public policy.]
But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.
– Publius (James Madison), The Federalist #51, February 6, 1788
What difference – at this point, what difference does it make?
– Hillary Clinton (on the Benghazi hoax she and President Obama perpetrated) at a House Oversight Committee hearing, May 8, 2013
Barack Obama tosses off the whoppers as easily as you and I breathe, from 97 percent of scientists believing in Global Warming theory to “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep it” to Al Qaeda being “on the run” to how you can’t get Ebola from sitting next to someone on a bus and how there’s “not even a smidgen of corruption” at the IRS that targeted his adversaries to secure his reelection.
A president today has such unbridled power that I don’t think we as a nation can survive another four or eight years with a habitual liar in that position.
Presidents have always had great power, of course, such as the power to put members of the military in harm’s way. (That in itself can be corrupting. See the story of King David.) Today, a president has greater power that ever before to impoverish continents and future generations, discredit science with false claims about the natural world, and set much of the world aflame with war and terrorism—and he or she can do such things with little opposition.
We see almost all Democrats falling into line behind President Obama no matter how harmful his policies, with most Republicans offering little resistance. When a Ted Cruz or a Rand Paul stands up and fights, you can count on establishment Republicans to respond with fury—anger directed at Cruz or Paul, not Obama. It’s hard to remember now, but establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans jointly backed the worst efforts of the G.W. Bush administration, from the expansion of so-called entitlements to “No Child Left Behind” to the promotion of Global Warming beliefs to the Iraq War and illegal spying on Americans’ phone records.
When a president wrecks the nation’s economy, vastly increases the threat of terrorism with foolish interventions, or shreds the Constitution he or she swore to protect, one party demands that its members acquiesce lest they be labeled as traitors, and members of the other party go along—“get along by going along,” they call it—lest they be seen as partisan and obstructionist. Increasingly, that blind loyalty holds when a president is not simply misguided but fanatical or worse.
Caught, they mock: “What are you going to do? Impeach me?”
Today, there are few limits on presidential power and on a president’s ability to get away with wrongdoing. It was honest Republicans who brought down Richard Nixon. By the time of Bill Clinton, so many people put party ahead of principle that Clinton survived an impeachment trial even though almost everyone acknowledged his guilt. In fact, if all the Democratic Senators who admitted Clinton was guilty had voted to convict, he would have been removed from office. These days, President Obama goes to the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, looks out on a crowd of tamed and neutered watchdogs, and makes jokes about the scandals that ought to have brought him down.
Of course, as James Madison no doubt would remind us, it’s not enough to put a seemingly honest person in the White House.
That’s because you can never see into a person’s heart. Take the case of former House Speaker Denny Hastert.
In the mid-1990s when Newt Gingrich was Speaker, the establishment despised him. He had led Republicans out of the wilderness, taking them to their first House majority in four decades, so it’s understandable that many Democrats would hate him, but establishment Republicans likewise hated him for trying to change Washington. They had waited years, some of them decades, to wield the power and attain the fortunes that their Democratic counterparts had enjoyed. Gingrich the reformer was a big problem. Armed with hundreds of ethics changes, they eventually ran him out of the Speakership. (He was eventually, too late, cleared of all charges.) Bob Livingston, a congressman from Louisiana, was picked to replace Gingrich, and probably would have been a good Speaker, but a pornographer friend of the Clinton administration spent lots of money to dig up dirt on Livingston (he had supposedly cheated on his wife) and he was out. So they turned to Denny Hastert, considered a paragon of virtue.
Everybody, Democrat and Republican, loved Denny. He would bring calm to the House. He would bring everyone together in a great big hug.
Once upon a time, Denny Hastert, a former high school teacher and wrestling coach, had a net worth of half a million dollars. That wasn’t enough. The Chicago Tribune reported in 2006 when he was Speaker of the House about his notable success in real estate, that “His biggest payday as a real estate investor — $2 million — has stirred controversy because it dovetailed with federal assistance he secured for the Prairie Parkway. As part of a real estate partnership, Hastert sold land that is 3 miles from the proposed freeway. The $207 million funding was inserted into the fine print of a mammoth federal transportation bill. He accumulated that wealth while he earned an annual salary that has ranged from $77,400 when he first entered Congress to his current salary as House speaker of $212,100 and as he put two sons through college. His wife brought home a teacher’s salary until she retired about six years ago.”
After Republicans lost the House in 2006—the direct, foreseeable result of the decision to invade Iraq—Hastert abruptly quit and became a lobbyist-for-hire. (It is important to note the distinction between a “hired gun” lobbyist and someone who lobbies for causes in which he or she believes. The former, if well connected and sufficiently supportive of Washington’s corrupt elite, can become extremely wealthy. The latter, if from the working class or small-business class, might struggle to make do in a city where the cost-of-living is perhaps 50 percent higher than in the average U.S. city. Hastert was the former.)
The Washington Post reported last week that Hastert “entered Congress in 1987 with a net worth of no more than $270,000 and then exited worth somewhere between $4 million and $17 million, according to congressional disclosure documents.”
That wealth, we know now, came in handy when he needed it for hush money.
The lesson: Don’t put someone in the Oval Office whom you wouldn’t trust with your tax returns, your doctor’s files, and your phone records, and FBI files with transcripts of interviews with every neighbor or co-worker you ever annoyed.
Oh, and you think you can trust your favorite presidential candidate with that information? No, you can’t. Remember: Everybody said Denny Hastert was nice.
Speaking of FBI files: If you’re younger than a certain age, you might not remember Hillary’s White House FBI Files scandal. Her sidekick Craig Livingstone was director of the White House Office of Personnel Security (a high-security job for which he had no known qualification but loyalty). Livingstone in 1993 and 1994 improperly requested, and received, hundreds of background reports that included White House employees from Republican administrations. The files included lots of personal information, including such material as interviews with angry ex-neighbors. Later, when the Clintons got involved in the Monica Lewinsky perjury scandal, that kind of information would be very valuable in the cover-up. On August 10, 1998, the organization Judicial Watch noted:
The Internet magazine Salon, a shill for the Clinton White House, boasted last Wednesday [August 5] of a “scorched-earth plan” to dig up dirt on critics of the Clinton Administration to protect against impeachment. George Stephanopoulos [once the Clintons’ communications director, now, in 2015, the top anchor for ABC News] first talked about this “Ellen Rometsch strategy” in early February , when he said there was an effort by “White House allies” to “bring down” perceived adversaries of the Clinton Administration by airing their dirty linen. Historically, the “Ellen Rometsch strategy” refers to the misuse of FBI files to blackmail members of Congress to prevent an investigation into President John Kennedy’s alleged affair with East German spy Ellen Rometsch.
Back then, Hillary & Company didn’t have access to records of my phone calls and my doctor’s files and everything I’ve posted for my friends to read on Facebook, all of which will make the Ellen Rometsch strategy that much easier in the years to come.