PRIMAL SCREED/James McCarty Yeager

Pardoner's Tale

Washington, D.C.

There used to be a regular ecclesiastical rank called pardoner. Like exorcist. Or deacon. For a scarifying portrait of one man who held the rank, see Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1386), in which the pardoner, a seller of false relics, is a great performer but a dead soul. His tale is of three crooks who say they intend to kill Death but instead cheat each other, a typical morality tale made the more powerful by the obliviousness of this particular teller to the personal moral implications of his particular tale. Some Chaucer scholarship explicitly draws comparisons between the hypocritical pardoner and others in modern life who make their livings by distorting speech, such as politicians and the media. Amazing how useless and out of date old literature is, isn't it?

It seems the Republicans will never rest until they have gotten Bill Clinton to have to accept a pardon. They have had themselves convinced for eight years that he was guilty of something (it all depended on what day it was as to what crime had been committed) and now they think they have finally, finally, found it. The current fantasy is particularly vicious because of the Hillary hook. Oh, wait. So was the original one.

But here's the deal: If the presidential power to pardon is not absolute, unconditional, and irreversible, why does it exist? For once, I agree with those who constantly argue that the president has certain inalienable powers. The pardon is first among them. Lists of unsuitable Republican pardons have appeared in media unexamined by the bombthrowing right, who are behind the current purge. I wish we had had this stink when Reagan and Bush Sr. pardoned the Constitution-bruisers of Iran-Contra.

While it is true that governors regularly get indicted for selling pardons, the current attempt to imagine that Clinton traded pardons for money, or votes, or snowshoes, or any goddamned thing under the sun, would be laughable were it not for the evidence-faking capabilities of the Republicans.

After all, they faked an impeachment and, when that didn't work, they faked an electoral victory. So they're experts. So much so they apparently don't know how to do anything else. Can you say, stuck record?

History will no doubt record that, as a matter of assassinating the remains of Clinton's character among his supporters, this was the last straw. But people who get pardoned are by definition unworthy. That is why they are in a condition to need a pardon. And if you issue a pardon to someone who doesn't deserve it, you have done no more than issue a pardon in the first place. And since neither ex-president nor current senator actually got anything back out of the Marc Rich deal, all the smoke and mirrors amounts to no more than one last attempt to find a way to indict the demon spawn Clintons. If you stand at the corner of First and C Streets Southwest in Washington DC, right near the House Office Buildings, you can hear Republican Committee Chairman Dan ("Completely Insane") Burton of Indiana slobbering in anticipation already.

Meanwhile the Irish parliament, composed of a right-wing party opposed by another right-wing party, holds some lessons for us. It too is wrestling with the vexed notion of electoral reform. Its members keep being exposed for having accepted this or that dollop of cash, and are regretfully let go from the government or the opposition front bench. Despite the differences in national mores, it is no small shame to both countries to observe that if the Fianna Fail party-led Irish Cabinet were in charge of the US they would all be in jail over here for theft, and that if the Republican US Congress were in charge in Ireland they would all be in jail over there for extortion.

It's all according to what you're used to. Our legislators are allowed to take corporate money for political purposes, theirs are allowed to take it for private ones.

The Irish Times writer Fintan O'Toole recently explained the overturning of the leader of the main opposition Irish party, Fine Gael. "The problem for ... the system is that the basic product -- democracy -- is in trouble. The essence of that trouble, moreover, is precisely that citizens are being treated as consumers. The more you have to spend, the more the system has to offer. ... [t]he market dictates. The challenge, though, is to create a political system in which the market does not dictate. Democracy has to afford each person equality of citizenship rather than the power and powerlessness of consumerism."

The progressive's view of democracy always includes the notion that the political system needs improving. The conservative's view of democracy always relies on the supposition that the political system is sound as is, but simultaneously is so fragile that it cannot be touched.

But perhaps there is absolutely nothing wrong with progressive policies. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the American public. Perhaps all that has to happen is that the policies need to be defined better and then the American people will swarm all over them like white on rice.

This is a marketing view of politics. If the progressives had enough money, it might work. But exactly because they never do have enough money, progressives cannot attack political communication as if it were a marketing problem.

Progressive thought demands that democracy itself be the basic product, as well as the means, of politics. To make both parties, or any number of parties, compete on the basis of which will advance democracy better will require a serious amount of effort from all of us. But it can be done.

Don't Count on Them

Consequent upon the votes of Southern conservative Democratic senators for Ashcroft and against the worker protection rule on ergonomics, the fantasy of a Democratic Senate opposition has been exploded. Now we have to flood them with spine stiffeners on taxes. "No tax cuts now, no tax increases later" ought to be the Democrats' motto.

James McCarty Yeager is watching the mud grow more liquid and less lifeless in his front yard near the Maryland side of the Little Falls of the Potomac River.

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