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A ittle of this and that....

Lots of politics in the air this week as the U.S. House of Representatives has begun impeachment hearings for the 45th President of the United States.  For some people, this has been a long time coming for serious violations of U.S. national interest; for others it is considered to be “the Democrats’ TV show” and a waste of time.  Both Democrats and Republicans are currently questioning witnesses who are presenting evidence in a public hearing to determine if articles of impeachment can be passed evidence to move to an impeachment vote, which would trigger a trial in the Senate to determine if the President should be removed from office.  Pretty big stuff going on.  It has happened only twice before in my lifetime.

            The last time this happened, Bill Clinton, the 42nd President, was impeached by the House but not convicted by trial in the Senate, so he remained in office.  My recollection is that he was not impeached because of the now-particularly-famous-sex-act with a female intern, but because he lied, under oath, to the American people, about that act happening.  While this kind of behavior is always wrong, simply because any intern, anywhere is, by definition, in a power position of neither being able to give or withhold vis a vs their supervisor, it is interesting that it was the lie rather than the act that led to the impeachment.  Democrats seemed to be more upset about the lie than the act itself, and Republicans were outraged by both the lie and the act.  Some Republicans felt that this was merely revenge for President Nixon’s 1974 resignation to avoid an impeachment vote and were happy with the impeachment without caring as much why it happened.

            Richard Nixon, the 37th President, also was in trouble because he clearly lied about his responsibility for the 1972 break-in at Democratic National Headquarters, located in the Watergate hotel in Washington D.C.  He resigned before he could be impeached because there came to be clear bi-partisan disapproval of his knowledge and instigation of such a “dirty tricks” crime against a political rival organization.  A number of his staff either resigned or tried to cover up the evidence trail leading back to their boss, and a number of them did prison time for their efforts. 

            I have watched or listened to impeachment hearings mentioned above; Andrew Jackson’s post-Civil war impeachment was a bit before my time.  And as time passes, the political spectrum seems to shift.  The Republican party that championed individual liberty, President Lincoln, and abolishing slavery is now the party that seems intent on favoring the super-rich to the detriment of everyday workers, the middle class, and immigrants, many of whom used to actually support that party, back when it was conservative.  The Democrats, a party rooted in staunch racism, are now the party that engages and sometimes even supports the Black community and some working people.  Both parties seem to try to engage fully with their wealthier members and sometimes to fear the vast majority of regular people.  Hence the rise of some progressives and also reinforcement of the far right in recent years (both in the U.S. and abroad).  We seem to be forgetting that we fought a war against the far right in Europe several decades ago.

            The presence of lots of money and power does tend to corrupt.  Just look at the way the Illinois congress eyes the state teacher’s retirement fund when times are tough!   But the Republican President Gen. Dwight Eisenhower warned the American public against the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell speech, even as he had supported high income taxes on wealthy individuals to support the needs of 20th-Century American and her people.  President Nixon, that most notorious of Republicans, established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because clean air and water make for a healthier populace and a better business environment.  Their party, once a bastion of individual economic liberty, now sees the EPA and such taxation as some sort of “liberal plot.”  From their own party?  Seriously?

            Not that the “liberals” in question are very liberal either.  Both President Barack Obama and Secretary Clinton are more conservative than Margaret Thatcher, the conservative Tory party’s “Iron Lady,” who was British Prime Minister from 1979-1990.  Both are considered to be extreme liberals in the current political environment.  Similarly, many of the candidates running for the Democratic party’s nomination fall into that category.  Not all of them, but many of them are far to the right of Eisenhower and Nixon in many ways.

            But what about Bernie, you say; isn’t he the liberal voice in the wilderness?  Well, he is actually a sort of centrist.   Does this seem crazy?  Don’t believe me?  Check out the website www.politicalcompass.org, where political scientists have used data from millions of people to re-tool the old-school left-right political spectrum into a two-dimensional grid that takes into account both economics and social issues in assessing the political position of candidate, a party or anyone.  They use a measure that a ranges of personal autonomy to government control, and apply that spectrum to economic autonomy versus control and social issue autonomy versus social control.  At the extremes, they end up with the varying degrees of economic and social freedom espoused by virtually any political movement in history.  From totalitarians and monarchists to anarchists and libertarians, from fascism to socialism and communism, with moderates and democracies and republics in between, the Political Compass people have a context for any political party or candidate.  They cover historical figures, political figures, and candidates and legislatures around the globe.  The do not endorse anyone, but they try to accurately place political figures in relation to one another. 

            In their measurement of the 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020 U.S. Presidential races, they compare candidates and place them on their compass: the two-dimensional spectrum mentioned above.  For example, it is interesting to note that President Obama and his 2008 rival Gov. Mitt Romney are not very far from each other on the compass, even though their parties are ideologically at odds.  And if you put all of those figures on one graph, it becomes clear that the entire “center” of the U.S. political system has shifted over the years into a space where Margaret Thatcher is a moderate!  Most recent U.S. Presidents were more authoritarian than she on the social issues scale, and but economic freedom allowed seems to apply mostly to the very, very wealthy.

            Traditional American ideas of “conserving” economic resources and “liberating” the people seem to be lost in a corporate, global power structure where “conservative” and “liberal” and “moderate” have lost their meanings.  Conservatives spend huge amounts of money on their pet projects, as do Liberals.  Neither can say much about being frugal these days.  And the culture wars have continued, with a body count that continues right along with our nation’s deficit.  Power games and petty revenge have replaced diplomacy and statesmanship, which brings me back to coverage of the latest impeachment hearings this week in Washington. D.C.

            Maybe an impeachment hearing is just the thing to shake us up a bit and get us to consider what we really value, and how those values can support and nourish all of our fellow citizens, not just our friends and buddies.  Maybe we need some re-vamped 21st-century values to support our country, its Constitution and Bill of Rights in ways that encourage individual liberty as well as economic support, that build a stronger middle class and a more compassionate culture for everyone rather than a slide toward oligarchy, and maybe we could have a focus on rule of law that recognizes each of us as valuable citizens who can contribute toward a better future for everyone.  Let’s get off of our phones and computers and try that one out for a change. 

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