A Tale of Two Speakers

Honor and the lack thereof.

As many voters are already aware, a major ethics controversy has been swirling around the Speaker of the House.

For some years now, Nancy Pelosi has accused the Bush administration of torturing terrorists in secret; now that Democrats have total control over all the levers of power, she has been calling for investigations and prosecutions of Bush lawyers, cabinet secretaries, and even the ex President and Vice-President themselves as war criminals.  The underlying logic is as follows: a) waterboarding is torture, b) the Bush administration waterboarded without telling anybody, therefore c) Bush et al are torturers outside the pale of humanity and should be locked away where the sun don't shine.

Of course, the truth isn't nearly as simple as that - for one thing, as we've argued before, the "waterboarding" done to a handful of known, proven, confessed, conscienceless Islamic murderers was by no means clearly torture in the sense that the thumbscrew and the rack are.  For sure, waterboarding was not against American law; Congress voted down a bill to outlaw it during the Bush years.

More recently, the Democrats passed a bill banning the practice, but nobody is claiming any such thing has happened after that bill became law, and the Constitution bans ex post facto laws to punish people for doing things that weren't illegal at the time they did them.  Even with waterboarding now being illegal, it still doesn't qualify as torture by the standards of the federal torture statute.

Set aside legal technicalities for a moment.  After all, gassing Jews not only wasn't illegal in Hitler's Germany, it was required by law - yet that was no defense at Nuremberg.  If waterboarding is truly torture, or even if you believe it to be, then morally you are required to protest and fight the practice by every means available to you.  That's what the far left has done for years: protests, agitation, legal attacks, and of course, they've protested at the polls.

Our Speaker Speaks

However, as ranking member and then Speaker of the House, it seems passing strange for Ms. Pelosi to truly have no knowledge of what the CIA was up to until so recently.  Sure enough, CNN reports:

A source close to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now confirms that Pelosi was told in February 2003 by her intelligence aide, Michael Sheehy, that waterboarding was actually used on CIA detainee Abu Zubaydah. This appears to contradict Pelosi's account that she was never told waterboarding actually happened, only that the administration was considering using it. [emphasis added]

The fight escalated from there.  Nancy denied being told; the CIA produced a memo clearly documenting that she knew what and who, way back when.  Her response?  The CIA is lying!

We're not entirely unsympathetic to this plea; after all, lying and concealing the truth from our leaders is what the CIA does best.  But considering that Congressman Porter Goss has said he was in the room when the CIA told Pelosi the whole waterboarding story, right when the agency says they told her, it's hard not to conclude that she is lying through her teeth.

To lie, of course, comes to politicians as naturally as breathing.  One need only recall Bill Clinton to be buried under an avalanche of falsehoods.

As venal as Slick Willie's whoppers were, however, they rarely if ever involved anything directly relating to national security so far as we know; their primary harm was to the women he'd used and abused.  Bad enough, true, and unworthy of high office; but nothing that would sink the country.

What, then are we to make of a House Speaker who tells proven lies as part of an attempt to wrongfully imprison retired political opponents, who were working night and day to protect American lives?  Given that she did in fact know about the waterboarding long years ago, why did she not protest an act which, she says, is torture?  Her answer:

My job was to change the majority in Congress and to change --- to fight to have a new president.

So political victory is Job 1, 2, 3, and all the rest for our Speaker.  That explains a lot.

Bad things happen in war: the night raids Churchill ordered killed hundreds of thousands of civilians in Dresden; don't even mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Yet everyone knows that the goal of the Allied leaders was to end the slaughter at the earliest possible moment; they did what they thought they had to do.

You can second-guess them all you like, but their motives were pure.  They were not evil men; they did their best under trying circumstances.

The people pressured by the CIA were anything but innocent civilians; they were known terrorist monsters who confessed - nay, boasted - of their monstrosities past and future.  What responsible national leader could fail to do anything necessary to squeeze these guys?  If your government won't even try to protect your life, what good is it?

Dick Cheney reports that the information gleaned from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad directly saved thousands of American lives; Democrats say it didn't, but for some strange reason, the Obama administration has refused to declassify the records Cheney says would prove his point.

It's crystal clear why Nancy Pelosi cares nothing for the lives of Americans: being a Democrat, she's more likely to garner their votes after they're dead anyway.  Fortunately, she is not directly in charge of our national defense - yet.  Unfortunately, she is third in line for the Presidency.

Can we allow such a manifestly venal, corrupt, self-serving partisan within the same ZIP code as the Oval Office, now that we know that national intelligence gathering means nothing to her?

Their Speaker Resigns

It's a funny coincidence, but at this very moment a parallel scandal is raging across the pond.  The English Parliament is roiled with the discovery that its members charged to the government such necessary expenses as home repairs, cleaning out the moat at country estates, and hotel-room porn flicks.  All of these expenses were submitted in proper form, approved by the proper authorities, and paid in accordance with the laws passed by Parliament itself.

In short, as corrupt and wrong as they were, they were also entirely legal.

Yet not only the most ostentatiously pecuinary MPs are being forced from their seats by party leadership.  For the first time in three centuries, the Speaker of the House is resigning both from the Speakership and from Parliament altogether - not because any of his own expenses were egregious, but for having failed in his duty to oversee the business of the House with ethics and honor.

In his statement, Michael Martin said:

Since I came to this House 30 years ago, I have always felt that the House is at its best when it is united.  In order that unity can be maintained, I have decided that I will relinquish the office of Speaker.

It is far too late to expect any sort of unity in our Houses of Congress; that ship has sailed, but that doesn't mean Congress' ethics are irrelevant.  Every poll taken for years shows the reputation of our Congress to be almost as far down in the gutter as it's possible to go - and that's before it was revealed that its Speaker is prepared to risk seeing countless hundreds of thousands of American citizens sacrificed in a terrorist's inferno in order to see her political enemies thrown into prison on trumped-up charges.

Compared to that, a few thousands in bogus expense claims are nothing, yet the honor-bound British speaker resigned.

Perhaps the now-unemployed Mr. Martin would be interested in a job over here.  By having enough ethics and decency to resign on account of a responsibility scandal, he's shown himself to be leagues better than what we're stuck with.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments
I was watching one of the various morning shows a few days ago; they were talking about the republican party and how it is failing. Something interesting that was said, which didn't raise an eyebrow from anyone, is that it is a Republican's job to increase the power of the Republican party.

It was stated by Jefferson that creation of parties would be the death of the republic. I would say that he was right. To say that either republicans or democrats need to first worry about the the power of their parties is akin to Soviet idea that the state exists to benefit the party not the party to help the state.

Is it any wonder that there are major 'unsolvable' problems facing the several states and the Republic as a whole when the at least one of the two major parties in this Republic believe it is more important to increase their own power even at the expense of the Republic as a whole.
May 23, 2009 2:40 PM
Absolutely. The British gave our Founders the concept of a "loyal opposition" - that is, that you can disagree politically while both sides still do love their country and put it first. That's how, traditionally, "politics stops at the water's edge" and both parties work together as Americans when it comes to foreign policy and fighting wars.

Pretty obviously that doesn't work anymore, unfortunately. Nancy Pelosi's current treason - and yes, that's what it is - is merely the most prominent example, but it seems to extend all up and down the political spectrum. My party first, and the nation be damned. Your Jefferson reference could hardly be more appropriate.
May 23, 2009 8:03 PM
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