By Matthew E. Milliken
Sept. 18, 2015
Author’s note: I started to write about this topic in my inaugural Recent Readings and then realized that I had way too much material to pack into just a paragraph or three. Hence, the following post. MEM
Heather Digby Parton, the indispensable Salon commentator, began her column on Tuesday by assessing American unity immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Back then, Parton writes, “The man who should have been president, Al Gore, famously said, ‘George W. Bush is my commander in chief.’” By wide margins, Congress passed the Patriot Act and authorized military action in both Afghanistan, which harbored the masterminds of the 9/11 attacks, and Iraq, which had no connection to that tragedy and had not been actively developing weapons of mass destruction for years prior to the 2003 invasion.
Parton doesn’t delve into it, but, to my mind, it seems that very much the wrong set of people were in the White House in 2001. I write this not because I believe that there was a miscarriage of justice in the Florida elections process, and in the Supreme Court, although both of those things arguably happened.
Instead, I write this because of the determination of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, politico Karl Rove and many, many others to pursue their desired ends at all costs, no matter how dubious the means — and no matter what cautions were indicated by members of what a senior Bush adviser once infamously labeled “the reality-based community.”
That aide, widely identified as Rove, went on to say of the United States and its overlords:
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
The hubris on display there is astounding. When I look back on Gore’s concession on Dec. 13, 2000 — one in which he unconditionally embraced his not winning a presidential election in which he gained more than 500,000 votes than did Bush — I see a man who made a point of being gracious in defeat and who was not willing to try to advance his cause to or beyond a point where it might do irrevocable damage to the nation.
Consider this, perhaps the key passage in Gore’s televised concession address:
Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession. I also accept my responsibility, which I will discharge unconditionally, to honor the new President-elect and do everything possible to help him bring Americans together in fulfillment of the great vision that our Declaration of Independence defines and that our Constitution affirms and defends.
That kind of willingness to subordinate partisan and personal interests to those of the nation seems like a distant memory. As Parton noted in her column, a recent poll shows that more than two in five Republicans can imagine backing a military coup.
And yet conservatives repeatedly and stridently accuse Obama of flouting the rule of law. It’s kind of amazing, isn’t it?