The latest one originated from the late Alexander Cockburn‘s typewriter back in the late 1980s:
I came to the United States in, June of 1972, the month Nixon’s burglars broke into the Watergate, and I am writing these lines fifteen years later while Colonel North lectures Congress about the role of executive power in the Iran-Contra scandal. Looking at North’s cocksure, edgy ingratiating profile I am reminded of his avatar: the ‘can do’ guy in Nixon’s White House, Gordon Liddy. The contrast is a good measure of the political and social distance the country has traveled between the two scandals.
Liddy, endlessly testing his ‘will’ and firing himself up with Nietzschean vitamins, had the beleaguered paranoia of a sworn foe of the sixties counter-culture. Bad fellow though Liddy was, there was always an element of Inspector Clouseau about him. He held his hand over a candle to prove his fortitude against pain, and when the time came, he stood by the can do’ guys code of omerta and served his time in Danbury federal penitentiary without a whimper.
Back in the Watergate hearings you could look at the burglars, at their sponsors in the White House, at Nixon himself and see that despite noises of defiance and protestations of innocence they knew they had been caught on the wrong side of the law and, though they would do their utmost to keep clear of the slammer, it would not come as a shock to them if the slammer was where they finally ended up.
North is as true a memento of the Reagan era as Liddy was of that earlier time. North has Reagan’s own capacity for the vibrant lie, uttered with such conviction that it is evident how formidable psychic mechanisms of self-validation, in the very instant of the lie’s utterance, convince the liar — Reagan, North — that what he is saying is true. But if Liddy embodied the spirit of fascism at the level of grand guignol, North has the aroma of the real thing, eighties all-American style: absolute moral assurance that his lawlessness was lawful; that though he was there to ‘get things done’, he was following orders; that all impediments in his path, legal or moral, were, obstructions erected by a hostile conspiracy.
From Liddy to North to whom? This obvious question lacks an obvious answer. One might consider George W. Bush to be the provider of that image. We need only recall his searching for WMD around his office and under his speaking lectern while the Washington press corps and other beltway insiders snickered, humorless and thoughtless shtick which amused these well-connected Washingtonians. Rahm Emanuel provides another worthy candidate. Surely his “fucking retarded” outburst when characterizing a few liberal groups that wanted to attack those Blue Dog Democrats who were unwilling to support Obama’s corporate-friendly health care bill stands out for what passes as noblesse oblige in contemporary Washington. Yet I believe that the compelling symbol today is not a member of the political elite justifying his or her actions to Congress or a court or the public. Rather today these men and women mostly need not justify their crimes for these crimes are largely ignored by the much of the press, the public in general and most politicians. In the United States today, the rule of law applies to the many whereas a few enjoy the rule by law. The image of lawlessness has thus shifted from key members of an amoral elite confronting their crimes in public to the well-known and not-so-well-known victims of those crimes — to the Mannings and Padillias, the Assanges and Stewarts, as well as every black site prisoner who exists as homo sacer, civilly dead beings wholly lacking political rights; to the individuals sprayed, cuffed and beaten by police forces which have come to use barely restrained power on America’s rights bearing citizens; to those made bankrupt by a predatory banking system, by job loss, by massive and unavoidable debt and by a government committed to austerity and war. This is America today:
Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever (Orwell, 1984).