Friday Fronts: David Cole on Jack Goldsmith

Although I have no doubt that history will regard the Bush Administration as willfully, consciously, and even self-righteously lawless, I’m sometimes afraid that we will emerge from the nightmare (assuming that we do) without having learned very much what it means to be lawful. Only a very naive observer expects a sovereign executive to “follow the law” as a matter of course. Executives are not only forced to interpret the law at every turn, but they are also in sole possession of information about national affairs that necessarily colors their interpretations. Regardless of presidential devotion to the Constitution, the attempt to legislate the executive’s course of behavior will always be met with structural resistance,

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the impact of Vietnam upon my Boomer generation. This week, I’m reminded of a similar vintage, the unpopularity of Richard Nixon. Of all modern presidents, none is more likely to be judged in psychopathological terms: the man wasn’t “bad” so much as he was “sick.” The feeling that he had acted incompetently – not foolishly so much as beyond his powers – led Congress to try to clarify the margins of executive authority. One might as well, I fear, legislate the path of a particle in a cyclotron. Presidential authority is largely beyond our control because we want it to be.

This isn’t kindergarten. Changing the rules is never as simple or attractive as disregarding them. I think that we need a more grown-up understanding of what we expect from the law.

David Cole on Jack Goldsmith, in the New York Review of Books.


One Response to “Friday Fronts: David Cole on Jack Goldsmith”

  1. George says:

    There is not ” tolerance” as you refer to it by the “mass of Americans” but rather apathy, apathy in the strongest sense. Perhaps even worse than that there is simply not enough knowledge by the mass of Americans to be aware enough of the current situation to even be truly apathetic. Perhaps you need to qualify “mass of Americans” further as “the mass of politically aware Americans” which would limit the group to its proper size which is indeed much much smaller than that mass of Americans who largely don’t vote and have the most minimal awareness of events, an awareness that extends no further than the offerings that the timorous media feeds them. The opinions, the popular opinions, of the mass of Americans are right out of the finestest traditions of E L Bernays’s seminal works Engineering of Consent and Crystallizing Public Opinion. We have truly arrived at the dream of 1984, it has become reality. More interesting to read again, if I had the time, would be the more recent, but still old, Engineering of Consent: Democracy and Authority in Twentieth-Century America by William Graebner, 1987. What do we do short of armed revolution which seems more and more possible everyday? Well, some kind of return to the grassroots political movements that produced the campaigns of Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern in my youth would seem a better step than armed revolution. However, much as you are at a loss so am I as to how to generate such grassroots involvement this day in age. Perhaps when my generation, and yours, finds their retirement funds compromised in the next few years we will take to the streets again. Perhaps, only perhaps, because most of my cohort of high potential, low savings rate, underachievers are, like myself, considering retirement in Mexico, Costa Rica or the Philippines where the dollars will go further with fairly adequate medical care.

    David Crosby very likely had it right years ago when he wrote

    Wooden ships on the water, very free and easy,
    Easy, you know the way it’s supposed to be,
    Silver people on the shoreline, let us be,
    Talkin’ ’bout very free and easy…
    Horror grips us as we watch you die,
    All we can do is echo your anguished cries,
    Stare as all human feelings die,
    We are leaving – you don’t need us.

    I see no choice but to follow Crosby’s lead and

    Go, take your sister then, by the hand,
    lead her away from this foreign land,
    Far away, where we might laugh again,
    We are leaving – you don’t need us.

    And it’s a fair wind, blowin’ warm,
    Out of the south over my shoulder,
    Guess I’ll set a course and go…

    and move on. Today we fill out the passport application and attach it to the old one that expired in 1972 which has my old duty station address in San Diego written in the front inside cover. San Miguel and isaw anyone?