We all know how common it is for politicians to lack self-awareness. If they did not make their ill-thought, contradictory statements on a regular basis, then satirists would be out of a job. It is the sincerety of the politician that makes the satirist funny.
It is also funny because we assume that the politicians in question do care about what the public thinks. We assume that they value their reputation, and that they will not be happy to see it eroded through mockery. This acts as a check on their actions. If they will not avoid the contradictory or the counter-productive because it is right, then at least they will make an attempt to do so in order to preserve their standing.
America is in the midst of a crisis, a breakdown in the realtionship between its Executive and the people. Most recently the focus has been on Vice-President Dick Cheney’s rejection of any kind of scrutiny of his role and activities from Congress. Meanwhile, President ‘King George’ Bush has just commuted the sentence of Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, who was convicted of perjury. Senator Barak Obama’s statement gts to the nub of the issue:
This decision to commute the sentence of a man who compromised our national security cements the legacy of an Administration characterized by a politics of cynicism and division, one that has consistently placed itself and its ideology above the law.
Both Bush and Cheney have been accused of acting in a ‘regal‘ manner (via Andrew). In the case of both men, and in contrast to other politicians who face criticism, the ‘self-aware’ streak seems to be missing. Its no longer the ironic-tragic-oxymoronic policies of giving up rights and civil liberties in order to protect “freedom” or “our way of life”. By treating the law with contempt, by applying it arbitrarily, they are perpetrating exactly the kind of offence which caused the founding fathers to declare themselves independent from King George III:
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power;
For depriving us, in many Cases, of the Benefits of Trial by Jury;
For transporting us beyond the Seas to be tried for pretended Offences;
Many people say the reason for this imperviousness to public opinion is that both men are effectively ‘lame ducks’. Neither are seeking a further term of office. This explanation only goes so far, however. Even ‘lame ducks’ have a party, and should understand that their conduct reflects on their political colleagues. They also have a political legacy to think about. Their carelessness seems of a more pathological nature. I am not sure which is more worrying – the notion that they simply don’t care, or the notion that they are simply unaware of the gravity of their actions.
Either way, I fear that many of the shields a citizenry can use to protect themselves from abuses of power, such as debate and satire, are no longer effective. It needs a noisier, angrier response – The righteous indignation of Keith Olbermann over the suave satire of Jon Stewart.