Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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A Requiem for Democracy?

Ernest Partridge

April, 1999

[Governor Willie Stark to his "investigator" Jack Burden]
"There is always something."
And I [Burden] said, "Maybe not on the Judge."
And he said, "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something."
And he told me to dig it out, dig it up, the dead cat with the patches of fur still clinging to the tight, swollen, dove-gray hide. It was the proper job for me, for, as I have said, I was once a student of history. A student of history does not care what he digs out of the ash pile, the midden, the sublunary dung heap, which is the human past. He doesn't care whether it is the dead pussy or the Kohinor diamond.
Robert Penn Warren
All the King's Men.

Ask the Republicans, "what is President Clinton's primary offense," and they will tell you, "perjury and obstruction of justice."

Ask the Democrats, and they will reply, "it's just about sex."

They are both wrong!

Clinton's offense was that he won a fair and honest election. This was an offense which the losers were determined to have undone, whatever the cost. And for this offense, the offender would pay dearly - as he has. For starters, over six million in legal fees, and added to that quite possibly his office, and surely his historical legacy.

Don't get us wrong: We won't hesitate to tell all who ask (and many who won't) that Clinton's behavior was outrageous and inexcusable. It was personally immoral, and politically reckless beyond belief.

But who can believe, for a moment, that if all conditions were the same - "Whitewater," "file-gate," "travelgate," "zippergate" - save that the President were a Republican, that any of this travesty would have even reached first base, or, for that matter, found itself in the political lineup. If you believe that a Republican similarly situated would never be subject to such abuse, then you must concede that this witch-hunt is purely political. (Still unconvinced? Then ask yourself, what penalty did Newt Gingrich pay for his damned lies to Congress. Never heard about that? We rest our case).

For four years, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, the "Special Persecutor" raked through bales of Clinton checks, receipts, bank records, transcripts, etc., apparently with no result, until "ordinary mom," Linda Tripp, rushed over to the SP's office, illegal tapes in hand, just ahead of Clinton's deposition, and just in time for SP to lay a perjury trap for the unsuspecting and unprepared Big Creep.

And bear in mind that, until the moment Clinton gave his Jones deposition, he was (apparently) innocent of any of the malfeasance that was so diligently sought out by the Starr's investigators. He was, in short, entrapped into lying on a non-material matter in a civil suit later tossed out of court. Whether or not this was "perjury" in the legal sense is still to be determined. However, the offense was less than Nixonian --it fell a trifle short of ordering burglaries, IRS harassments, and the bombing of a neutral country.

But never mind all that. The inquisition has, at length, accomplished its purpose: the disgrace and immobilization of the President, and thus an effective nullification of the 1996 presidential election.

Even so, Clinton's burden of culpability is enormous. For months, while under investigation by the Paula Jones morality police and the SP, the Prez carried on this reckless dalliance, virtually asking for a disastrous comeuppance. Meanwhile, his staff innocently conveyed his lies to the press and public, and acquired enormous legal debts. Clinton deserves what has happened to him.

But we, the American public, do not! We have been deprived of the leadership of the gifted but flawed man we elected to the Presidency. The domestic program that Clinton presented to the public in the election, and then to the Congress in his well-regarded State of the Union addresses has been effectively derailed by a Congress with no positive agenda of its own. Amidst the threats of international terrorism and economic dissolution, the US government has been effectively decapitated.


The Law: It is the task of most prosecutors, upon determination of a crime, to find and convict the suspect who, in a court of law, is afforded the presumption of innocence. In this case, our tradition of law and fair play was reversed. Here the suspect (the President) was identified at the outset, and the prosecutor was told to go out and find a crime. The ever-diligent and resourceful Starr did even better: he staged the crime. And in the process, he seriously eroded traditions of family confidence, weakened the Secret Service protection of the President, deprived the President of confidential advice and counsel, interrogated without cross-examination a crowd of witnesses and suspects who he deprived of legal counsel, and he selectively leaked Grand Jury testimony to the press -- in a word, Kenneth Starr carried on an inquisition. And now that all of this has manifestly been done to the President of the United States, none of us is safe.

Starr, who piously denounces those who "defile the temple of justice," does just that as he uses the letter of the law, and the considerable legal powers and resources put at his disposal, as means to serve his political ends. All the while this corruption of justice is cheered on by the same so-called "conservatives" who have persistently warned us of the threats of "government interferences" with our liberties and independence.

Gone is our tradition of politics as "the art of compromise," as we enter a new era of "politics as war by other means." (When James Carville said, last January, that "this is WAH!" -- that remark was as much an observation as it was a declaration. The "war" was launched by those who set up the Starr Chamber). When, at the GOP convention, Pat Buchanan announced a "holy war" against the liberals, he wasn't kidding, and neither, it seems, was his audience. This is a war that takes no prisoners. Political opponents are no longer "the loyal opposition;" they are regarded as the "locus of evil," deserving the financial ruin and character assassination that might be visited upon them if they dare to run for high public office.


The Media: Can anyone who is following this scandal still credit the "myth of the liberal media?" Let those who can, identify the alleged "media liberals." Where is the outrage against this coup d'etat masquerading as a moral crusade? Who in the press now writes in defense of the presidency, and of the voters decision in 1996? Ed Murrow, where are you now that we need you!

Pay close attention to the commentary of the "punditocracy," and every now and then a revealing insight escapes between the lines.

  • Item: During a discussion of public opinion on CNN's "Reliable Sources," (August 22 -- or possibly it was another panel show), the pundits noted that, despite Clinton's confession to the nation, his "job performance" ratings remained constant, above 60%. However, we were assured, in the face of constant editorial and op-ed criticism, the public is eventually bound to "wise up" and to see the error of its collective ways. Then Clinton will be a goner. The media as self-appointed leaders of public opinion! What arrogance! Is it not possible that the admittedly remarkable discrepancy between public approval of Clinton's performance, and disapproval of his conduct, conveys a public rebuke of both Starr and the media (the approval rating of both Starr and the Media being just slightly above that of Saddam Hussein)

  • Item: On ABC's "This Week" (August 23), George Stephanopolous correctly observed that, because of Clinton's legal troubles, there was no prospect that the Congress would act on tobacco legislation, HMO regulation, campaign finance reform, or Social Security legislation. "Neo-Conservative" William Kristol snapped back, "what's wrong with that!"

The New Anarchism: Kristol's remark reveals the dirty secret: the Congressional branch of our national government is in the control of individuals who do not believe in government. Echoing the line of their sponsors, the tobacco industry, they pretend that smoking is a free choice by the individual, not a public health menace aggressively promoted by a multi-billion ad campaign. Furthermore, they tell us that if HMOs are systematically organized and economically motivated to deny health care, that's a problem for the patients, not the government. Campaign finance reform? Get Real! "What do you suppose got us here in the first place!" Meanwhile, they invite corporate lobbyists into their caucuses to draft emasculations of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. These are individuals who believe, as they tell us repeatedly, that there is, in effect, no "public interest" apart from the blind and mysterious workings of "the free market" -- the outcome of countless personal and private "utility maximizing" decisions. Never mind that history has decisively refuted this strange dogma. (We have spelled out and defended these bold claims in "Kill the Umpire!," "With Liberty and Justice for Some" and "Environmental Justice and Shared Fate" in this website).

The key that unlocks the mystery of Clinton's downfall is the realization that it was motivated and carried out by anarchists. They call themselves "conservatives," but clearly they are not, for they are actively involved in the destruction of the long-standing principles of justice, liberty, equality, and community that our founding documents and our government were established to protect. There is another word that describes precisely, those who are dedicated to the destruction of government: that word is anarchism.

Does this sound extreme? Just consider: in "the Contract with America," the 104th Congress published its clear intention to abolish or to radically reduce federal government involvement in the promotion of the arts and sciences, in education, and in the protection of the environment. The exception was "corporate welfare," realized primarily through Defense appropriations. This program of government dismantlement was stymied by the President's veto pen, and by an outpouring of public protest. Whereupon, with their legislative program blocked, the Congress held up appropriations and shut down the government -- a stunt which dramatically backfired. (Remember the "conservatives" joke at the time? "The government has been shut down -- has anybody noticed?" The public noticed). The third attempt to cripple the federal government is with us today: the punishment and disgrace of the President who dared to defeat the anarchists in a fair and legal national election.

This erosion of democracy is accomplished and sustained by the simple device of utilizing the media to so discredit our government and its institutions that the majority of citizens stay at home while the few "true believers" in such irrelevancies as "Christian family values" faithfully cast their ballots.

And so, as we all (including the anarchists) discover that, in the face of international terrorism and economic emergency, we need a Head of State, we find that our elected leader has been immobilized. Who would have thought...


The Stakes: Clinton's confession has brought out an array of "misleading statements" (i.e., lies) from both national parties. Prominent GOP politicians demand that Clinton resign or that he be impeached and removed from office. They don't mean it, of course. Their "best case" is an incapacitated and disgraced Clinton in office, all the way to the year 2000 election. They have little interest in facing an incumbent President Gore in that election, with Clinton's peccadilloes a fading memory.

For their part, the Democrat loyalists insist that Clinton stay on and fight. And yet, for the very same reasons, they know that their best option is to send Bubba on his way, "sooner better than later."

The Gadfly, holding no public office or prospect of same, sides with the public statements of the GOP and the private sentiments of the Dems. He has to go!

To revive an old, but apt, phrase, this "inappropriate relationship" with Ms. Lewinsky has become "a cancer on the presidency" requiring radical surgery. A Clintonectomy. This entire nasty mess, which Clinton brought upon himself and his office, can be neatly and decisively excised by his departure. Al Gore fully endorses Clinton's platform (the environmental plank, much more enthusiastically), and carries none of Clinton's character baggage -- Bubba as Eagle Scout! True, the anarchists are trying mightily to sic another SP, "Son-of -Starr," on Gore. (Something to do with telephone calls, we are told. Would you believe?) But we suspect that the public will have none of this, and that President Gore will be able to brush it aside. Then we can proceed with the long struggle to take back our government.

Early resignation would be an extraordinarily courageous and appropriate act on the part of Clinton -- an act placing loyalty to his office and to his political agenda above his personal ambitions. It would be an act of high moral integrity, and for this very reason, we suspect that it is beyond Bill Clinton's capacity.

The best hope, it seems, is for the voters to get off their duffs next November, and to toss the anarchists out of the public offices that they don't really believe in. But that is a long shot.

Perhaps, instead, we will all have to learn anew, through a painful object lesson, what our founding fathers knew so well: That no civilized society can endure without a government. And thus, that

We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The wise men who wrote that Preamble, having tried and rejected anarchy, gave us a government that was and is the envy of the world.

It did not come with a guarantee.

"Eternal vigilance," wrote Thomas Jefferson, "is the price of liberty."

Copyright 1998 by Ernest Partridge   


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .