History repeating itself

nixon

I’ve been doing lots of travelling lately for work purposes – this time New York City and Florida – and got time to catch up on my movie watching. In particular, I’d been meaning to watch Frost Nixon for quite some time, and finally got the chane on a seven hour flight from JFK. It was excellent (as was Madagascar 2 – but that’s what I like about movie selections on planes – bordom leads you to choices you might not otherwise make.)

Anyway . . . like everyone else too young to remember Richard Nixon as president and the aftermath of the Watergate incident, I was shocked at the scene where David Frost badgers Nixon on the issue of what limits, if any, there are to presidential powers? Can the President essentially break the law if he thinks it’s in the best interests of the country. Nixon notoriously replied:

“If the president does it,that means it’s not illegal.  In war time, a president does have certain extraordinary powers which would make acts that would otherwise be unlawful, lawful if undertaken for the purpose of preserving the nation and the Constitution”

Astonishing hubris, and the kind of thing that you would think is relegated to the mists of time. Except it isn’t. Condoleezza Rice said something astonishingly similar this week to a group of primary school kids at a Washington School. She gave a talk, and according to the Washington Post, opened the floor to questions. This following passage is an excerpt from a WP story.

Then Misha Lerner, a student from Bethesda, asked: What did Rice think about the things President Obama’s administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from detainees?

Rice took the question in stride. saying that she was reluctant to criticize Obama, then getting to the heart of the matter.

“Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country,” she said. “But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.”

She added: “I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die. . . . Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.”

Misha’s mother, Inna Lerner, said the question her son had initially come up with was even tougher: “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?”

“They wanted him to soften it and take out the word ‘torture.’ But the essence of it was the same,” Lerner said.

Rice touched off a firestorm last week when she told students at Stanford that “we did not torture anyone.”

“The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations, under the Convention Against Torture,” Rice said at Stanford, before adding: “And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.”

Anyone else find this disturbing? I’m not an American and couldn’t vote for Barack Obama, but I did follow his election enthusiastically. One of the criticisms thrown at him by Republicans, if I recall correctly, during the campaing was he was part of the liberal elite. The implication was that there was a political class of people who  thought they were better than everyone else and would squash the little guy to further their own aims.

Well, anyone who thinks that wasn’t going on already needs to read that Washington Post story and follow up the youtube clips where this was caught on film. As an aside, what an impressive question from a kid, and how brave they must have been to challenge her. Well done Misha. What ever you think of that kids politics, the world is a better place for people who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo.

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