57 YEARS AFTER HITLER: SIGNS OF SENSE IN GERMANY, NONSENSE IN AMERICA
By Bruce S. Ticker
The contrast in programming on C-Span was familiar and unsettling.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recounted the achievements of the eight justices from Massachusetts who preceded him - including Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. and Louis Brandeis - in a talk that was broadcast over the weekend. Yet C-Span also broadcast an interview with Lucianne Goldberg, the former book agent who orchestrated the Monica Lewinsky hassle. She dismissed critics of George W. Bush as "uninformed" and wondered how our country is becoming "a third-world nation." If for some reason she loses her fortune, she'll find out for herself.
What confuses is how lights like Holmes and Brandeis, that shone a century ago, and cranks like Goldberg could find a legitimate audience today.
Two news items in the past week show another kind of contrast, and underscore the shock that would jar us all should the Bush administration or the majority in Congress do anything that does not defy common sense, where common sense means casting a vote on going to war on the basis of principle or even, say, investigating suspected election improprieties swiftly, after they smack you in the face.
Senator Chuck Hagel admitted in a column by conservative Robert D. Novak that he did not know what he was doing (in my loose translation of Hagel's words) when he voted to authorize military force in Iraq.
In contrast, Germany's lower house of Parliament decided to investigate whether Chancellor Gerhard Schröder lied about the country's economic condition during his re-election campaign three months ago, while the same country that conquered the Germany of Hitler enters its third year with Congress's refusal to investigate the 2000 election scandal.
Hagel voted in October to hand Bush the authority to determine if and when to use military force in Iraq, yet as late as December 16, he expressed concern about Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's pressure on Bush to oust Saddam Hussein. "The road to Arab-Israeli peace will not likely go through Baghdad, as some may claim," Hagel told the Chicago Council of Foreign Relations. "Military force alone will neither assure a democratic transition in Iraq, bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians, nor assure stability in the Middle East." Novak reported that Hagel also said to the Chicago council, "We should refrain from a rush to declare a 'material breach' because of the gaps in Iraq's 12,000-page document."
If Hagel harbors such doubts, why did he vote to transfer his constitutional authority to declare war to the executive branch? Stupidity? Cowardice? The usual Bush bullying tactics, by any chance?
Even if he is not stupid or cowardly, anyone who is that vulnerable to pressure does not belong in such a powerful position.
In Germany, meanwhile, the nation that once gave all war-making authority to a mass murderer, democracy proved to be a living thing more than a week ago. The New York Times reported that the lower house of Parliament created a committee to inquire whether Schröder and others in the governing party lied about economic figures before September's election to conceal a growing budget deficit. The investigative panel was proposed by the opposition Christian Democrats. The chancellor leads the Social Democrats. "We suspect that not only Parliament, but also the people in this country were fooled by untruths about the economic situation," said Peter Altmaier of the Christian Democrats, who is leading the inquiry.
Except for African-American members of Congress, no Americans in power became concerned enough to investigate what many citizens have claimed was a stolen election in 2000.
The fact that a political faction in Germany could propel an investigation of suspected election improprieties suggests that citizens there care about preserving their democratic process. If Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress had sufficient support from the public, perhaps they would not be casting blind votes for an unjustified war or neglecting their responsibility to investigate an election scandal.
It is a sad irony that democracy lives in what was once Hitler's Germany and is deteriorating in what was once the America of Holmes, Brandeis and many like-minded defenders of liberty.