As our nation celebrates yet another birthday of independence from the tyrannical rule of hereditary monarchies, what exactly is the personality of America, at this critical juncture in our former child-star-nation’s turbulent adolescence?
In the last fortnight, seventeen-year-old fame-casualty Jamie Lynn Spears ignominiously celebrated the birth of Maddie Briann — the third Spears baby in recent years to be given the deep Southern equivalent of an anthropomorphic Disney chipmunk-name. Democrats in Congress bewildered supporters by allocating another $162 billion to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan until next June, while Democratic Presidential nominee Barak Obama bewildered supporters by drifting far enough into the creamy center of the political Oreo to change his last name to Lieberman. Meanwhile, the world waits with baited breath to view the newest acquisitions in the Jolie-Pitt signature child collection.
Two men perhaps illustrate the current persona of the United States better than anyone else.
On Thursday, June 26 (the “World Day in Support of Victims of Torture”), there was a U.S. House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing, featuring Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and former legal counsel David Addington, and former U.S. Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, the legal spin-art geniuses largely responsible for the infamous Torture Memo and Unitary Executive Doctrine (sometimes called the ‘Yoo Doctrine’ since nobody else wants to take any credit for it).
Yoo, and the elusive Mr. Addington (referred to by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank as “Cheney’s Cheney”) were subpoenaed in order to answer questions about the Bush administration’s interrogation rules. Yoo and Addington are, ostensibly, the last human shields protecting the executive office from the full weight of accountability for these policies.
The two men, who have arguably performed more radical and bizarre leaps in legal interpretations of the Constitution than an entire Federalist Society full of crackheads, made their case by being snide, nasty and rudely dismissive on the stand in a way that seemed melodramatically excessive even for archetypal Scooby Doo villains.
“Think of Addington as the id of the Bush White House,” wrote Milbank.
“Though his hidden hand is often merely suspected — in signing statements, torture policy and other brazen assertions of executive power — Addington’s unbridled hostility was live and unfiltered…”
Addington has long been legendary for being able to emit nearly lethal malodorant toxins from his personality glands, but both he and Yoo seemed to be resorting to the time-honored teenage male technique of being unbearably personally unpleasant in order to wear down their opposition, in an apparent effort to make the authority figures in the subcommittee throw up their hands and stomp into the kitchen in frustration from a desire to strangle them.
It was lame behavior unbecoming of even a Walmart shoplifter with any self-respect. Instead of putting on a display of stunning legal pyrotechnics to stun and silence their critics, the men, supposed legal geniuses, resorted to the cheapest, most classic, lowball, legal shyster and Busted Tween techniques available – hoary old reindeer games such as the ‘Conveniently Forgetting Everything That Ever Happened’ -gambit, and the ‘Questioning the Definitions of Even Real Simple Words Like “Implement”‘ – ruse. All they needed to complete their image of cartoonish evil was waxed, black Snidely Whiplash mustaches.
It was a war of attrition, with the subcommittee ultimately failing to get anywhere as the lawyers found all kinds of ways not to actually answer any questions and to casually insult the persons asking them.
“Yoo has described his role as a lawyer advising a client, in this case the CIA, NSA and other federal agencies, not as a policymaker,” wrote John Bresnahan for CBS News. “Yoo has also repeatedly said that he has been told by the Justice Dept. that he cannot answer specifics of what went on within the Bush administration regarding debates over interrogation policy. Yoo has cited attorney-client privilege, or said he would be forced to divulge classified information in order to respond.”
In short: I’d tell you, but then I’d have to shoot you.
“And I would have waterboarded all of the children of our enemy combatants and buried them alive, too – if it weren’t for you meddling kids,” Addington didn’t say, but may as well have said, given the impression he left with everyone who still cares about stuff like common courtesy and politesse.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Washington Monument, Amnesty International opened their “Guantanamo prison cell replica” on the National Mall, because nothing fights torture like a diorama.
Perhaps next year, Amnesty International can convince Brad and Angelina to adopt a Guantanamo detainee – until then, fiends, few people will really be very aware of any of this.
But in the scheme of things, it’s all just part of America’s awkward coming-of-age. But if Lindsay Lohan can turn over a new leaf, perhaps so can the White House.