These have been an almost incredible few days for those of us who despise the culture of celebrity and authority and who are sickened by the media habit of judging actions by reputations, rather than the other way around. A triple crown:
- Henry Kissinger prefers his client list to the solemn promise he made to the murder victims of Sept. 11.
- Sen. Trent Lott in retrospect thinks that voters were dumb to vote Republican in 1948.
- Cardinal Bernard Law asks a foreign potentate if it's OK to obey the laws of the United States.
One should waste little time on Kissinger. Of the four reasons why he should never have been appointed to any commission in the first place (his record of deceiving Congress; his falsified and self-serving memoirs; his status as a man wanted for questioning by several magistrates in many countries; his role as errand boy between corporations and dictatorships), the fourth objection was probably the slightest. But at least it caught the attention of the mainstream press. And at least it shows what kind of person he is.
Concerning Sen. Lott, I can't hope to improve on the admirable flurry of columns from hard-line conservatives calling for his departure. But I confess that I am amazed by the narrowness of their attack. Every one of them concentrates exclusively on the civil rights question. Of course black citizens ought to be outraged by any sick nostalgia for the years (and years and years) of Southern apartheid. Yet this is to make the point into one of "sensitivity." The Confederacy, under the leadership of Jefferson Davis, schemed to destroy the Union. It openly solicited the military support of foreign powers in order to do so. It attempted to assassinate a Republican president and may eventually have succeeded. It issued arrogant and disgusting orders for the execution of prisoners of war, without discrimination as to shade or color. It instated censorship, and it instated mandatory (if sectarian) religion. There isn't a "white" person in the country who should not spit upon its treasonous and hateful memory. There would be no such place as "America" if the bloody stars and bars had carried the day.
Thus, never mind that a vote for Strom Thurmond would have been a vote for a pro-segregation party that attacked the Republican as well as the Democratic tradition. More is at stake than the hurt feelings of Al Sharpton or the affected shock of President Bush. What about (say) a (say) female Republican senator from (say) Maine, whose state's regiment carried the day at Gettysburg and thus prevented the partition and demolition of the United States? Do we overlook the Confederate dream of making Washington, D.C., into a capital of slavery, on the ruins of a republic? How does Trent Lott face his own family, let alone his own party, with idle praise for sedition and terrorism on his lips? Can any Republican face any white voter on such a point?
Even in this short-list of cheap and incriminated individuals, Cardinal Bernard Law somehow manages to stand out. Of all the offenses that are most vile and unpardonable, the crime of child rape distinguishes itself without further elaboration. And this ugly prince of the church scuttles and shuttles to Rome to beg permission to make light of it. The documents plainly show him complicit with violations of which a decent person cannot even be suspected. And yet, for these many months, he has acted as if he were himself the persecuted victim. He has also brought bitter shame upon his congregation by seeming to act as if the advice of a foreign politician—the barely sentient pope—was more important than a moral law that anyone can understand without being taught it in catechism.
What do these three creeps have in common? All of them are soft on crime. All of them are whining as if they were being persecuted. All of them have displayed the deepest possible contempt for the ideas that supposedly animate the United States. And all of them imagine that they need only quit the stage at a time convenient to themselves. This last matter is extremely irritating. Henry Kissinger ought to have been visited by now by an American prosecutor, if only to be made to answer a few questions. Trent Lott should have been sacked by his own party, unless that party doesn't mind the association with secession and treason. And Cardinal Law should have been arraigned long ago for the suppression of evidence and for collusion in a crime that only barely has a name.
Look long and hard at these three pillars, these three patriots. For each of them, the act of voluntary resignation is the easier and the softer and the more cowardly and contemptible option, relieving society of the need to demand that they be gone. Bernard Law was, by a whisker, the first to realize this.