Thursday, January 01, 2009

How to Build a Better Mouse Trap

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said: "Build a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door," and that was before he could have met Dick Cheney.

After seeing the film "Frost/Nixon," with a friend, on New Year's Eve, I was struck by how dis- similar Richard Nixon is from, say, Dick Cheney. Consider, for example, last month's ABC interview with the vice president, and Cheney's assertion that waterboarding is an effective way to interrogate detainees, and that he thinks Guantanamo Bay should stay open as long as there is a "war on terror" (translation: as long as he's in the prison business).

One is almost moved by Nixon's acknowledgment of wrongdoing to David Frost. Compared with the current inhabitants of the executive branch, Nixon looks honest. Indeed, he even looks like a beauty queen. Admittedly, Nixon's confession didn't happen until the last inning, but the first president of the United States ever to resign told a talk show host, on national television, that he did things that were not worthy of his office, and stopped just short of admitting he committed a crime.

Contrast Nixon's contrition with the obstinate refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing, or failure, on the part of the current administration, one that has violated the Presidential Records Act by destroying 5 million White House e-mails, as well as engaged in warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens in defiance of FISA, broken international law, the Geneva Conventions, spit in the face of the Magna Carta, and issued executive memos approving the use of torture on prisoners held in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and the meter's still running. Mind you, this is only what we know they've done--stay tuned for what we'll find out if/when our new attorney general, or an independent prosecutor, decides to dig deeper.

The first sign that something might be rotten in the state of Denial was when former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales hired a private lawyer after stepping down. Then, of course, there was Gonzales' recent entanglement with Dick Cheney, and an attempt by a prosecutor to try them both on charges of war crimes for the way they handled inmates in a Texas federal prison, a case which conveniently fell apart.

Assuredly, Cheney and his partners in crime will get to retire, and reap the benefits of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which they instituted to reverse the 1994 War Crimes Act, and immunize themselves from criminal prosecution.

Mr. Cheney will go on the public speaking circuit, and Mr. Bush will go on to work on his presidential library, or will send Laura Bush out to speak for him. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will, most likely, return to college teaching. And, in a country famous for attention deficit disorder, as well as short term memory loss, after six months of President Obama, it will be like President 43 never happened. It's already starting to feel like President 43 never happened.

But, unless we learn to build a better mouse trap, we're only going to see more hubris on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue than we know what to do with, the kind of arrogance that drove Richard Nixon to tell David Frost something is "not illegal if the President of the United States does it." Oh, yes it is, and to think of Dick Cheney, Nixon on steroids, perfecting his golf game, or doing target practice at taxpayer expense, laughing all the way to the bank, makes one's blood boil.

If we can put a man on the moon, and Sarah Palin on the ballot, for cripe's sake, why can't we figure out how to move the Hague to K Street, or at the very least, build a bigger mouse trap, one strong enough to hold even the most virulent presidents, and vice presidents, until they can be held responsible for their actions.