I have not worried about the fundamental commitment of the American people since 1974. In that year, they were confronted with the stunning evidence that their president had conducted a criminal conspiracy out of the Oval Office. In response, the American people reminded Richard Nixon, the man they had just recently reelected overwhelmingly, that in this country, no one, not even the president, is above the law. They required him to yield his office.
That is not the sign of a nation that has lost its sense of values or forgotten the principles on which this system rests.
And yet here we are in 2008. And I don't think anyone can seriously dispute that the current President of the United States violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or any number of legal commitments to refrain from torture. Some people think these violations were good policy. Many of those who regard those violations as good policy, also maintain that higher constitutional principles grant the President the right to break the law. Which is precisely what you could say on behalf of Richard Nixon. And Bush, like Nixon, has become unpopular. But Bush won't be hounded out of office.
I'm not exactly sure what accounts for the difference. I wasn't alive in 1973-74. I have a vague sense that at that time America's elites operated with some sense of conscience and dignity, and it was taken for granted even among Republican leaders that one couldn't just break the law. These days, a misleading deposition taken in the course of a frivolous lawsuit aimed at avoiding the revelation of an affair is a grave national crisis, but it's taken for granted that only a lunatic would believe that Bush or any of his henchmen should be held accountable in any way for repeated violations of the law. I don't really know what changed, or why David Broder and other gatekeepers of elite consensus can't see that something's gone wrong here, but I'm not happy about it.
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