Saturday, February 23, 2008

Honorable Men

These people have honorable records, and they're honorable people, and I'm proud to have them as part of my team.

-- John McCain, defending the lobbyists in his campaign

For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men--

-- Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, III:2
Isolated from its context, this particular aspect of McCain's defense of the tissue of lies that make up his reputation as a man of honor isn't really of much interest on its own -- it's just laughable. A politician who claims not to be influenced by lobbyists is surrounded by them -- lobbyists doing their lobbying from his campaign bus -- and his defense is to reassure us that it's okay because they're honorable? It's like a rejected draft of a comedy routine: "nah, that's not funny, it's just stupid."

Except that it isn't isolated: rather it's a perfect example of one of the key flaws in current Republican governance, a perfect synecdoche for Bush's foul theory of government.

Over and over, as Republicans have shredded the rules that make up our political and civil life, they have responded that it's okay because they are doing so for good motives -- and that they're good people. To any questioning of this dismantling of our basic governmental structure, they have replied, in effect: "are you saying that we aren't honorable?" -- As if that were the only objection.

When they break the law to spy without warrants, it's okay because they're only doing it to spy on terrorists -- and we know that that's true, because they're honorable men.

When they give no-bid contracts to their business contacts, it's okay because they're only doing it to expedite governmental processes -- and we know that that's true, because they're honorable men.

Over and over, the response to the shredding of rules is "trust us". This even transcends the national level: their basic principle in international affairs is to try to free the U.S. of all legal constraints -- which other countries are supposed to accept without worry because we are an honorable country.

Laughable, perhaps. Yet not really, because it isn't laughed at, but taken seriously.

It should go without saying that even if they were right that they are honorable men using these powers for honorable ends, this still wouldn't justify their actions: for the restraints are placed there because, eventually, we will be governed by not-so-honorable men -- so that honorable men follow the rules to ensure that their less honorable successors will have to too.

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. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

-- James Madison, Federalist 51

But, of course, they aren't honorable men. And we know this for certain -- because they're breaking the rules. Their actions make irrelevant what is in their hearts (that favorite Republican organ, appealed to again and again to justify the acts of their hands and heads).

The basic conservative defense of torture is that it's okay because we're the good guys, doing it for good reasons -- never seeing that the very act of torture belies our claims to be the good guys (not that it makes our opponents the good guys: both sides can be bad).

Conservatives believe that waging war on a country that is not threatening us is okay because we're the good guys, doing it for good reasons -- never seeing that the very act of aggressive war belies our claims to goodness.

It is this two-stage process that underlies so much of conservative thinking in the past decade. We don't need (can't risk) rules, because we're honorable men and need freedom of action; and our evil deeds are okay, because we are doing them for good ends.

McCain is, of course, in most ways simply the heir to Bush -- a believer in aggressive war and American Empire, and a defender of torture. But this statement of his demonstrates that he is an heir to the central theory of government that has propelled Bush in his worst excesses: on a national level, to have the rule, not of law, but of self-proclaimed honorable men; and on the international level, to have the rule, not of law, but of our self-proclaimed honorable nation. To throw out the rules as necessary only for lesser beings; to throw out even the moral rules, as inapplicable to those of our transcendent honor.

McCain's claim to honor has always been a sham: but now everyone should recognize that he will use that (false but widely believed) reputation to justify the continuation of the crimes of our current rulers. Our current honorable men.

1 comment:

Fisher said...

Thank you.