t byfield on Sun, 20 Dec 1998 02:57:32 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> impeachment

it is, of course, very interesting to watch the
impeachment proceedings in a tiny window where the
artifacts of streaming compression protocols are much
clearer than the artifacts of parliamentary protocols.
and it's also very interesting to watch what's
happening in "america": as usual, politics isn't
something that pervades everyday life like it does in
other parts of the world, rather, it's a spectacle that
takes place in a strange combination of generality
(somewhere else at some other time) and specificity
(washington, d.c., election day). today, though, things
are a bit different: there's a vote, but it's not
election day. and "the people" aren't voting; but nor
are their alleged representatives voting on behalf of
the people. neither of these developments is new, not
at all, but rarely has this disjuncture been so

the house has voted on the four articles of
impeachment, one by one. the decisive nature of a
vote--the final result--is such that we often regard it
as a momentary event. but the way the tallies have
unfolded is very instructive: the first article was
passed, the second rejected, the third passed, and the
fourth was rejected--by two to one, no less. each time,
as the representatives' votes come in, we see a divide:
those who vote instantly do so "on principle" or on the
basis of some other static point of reference, whereas
those who wait to cast their vote (scurrying around,
negotiating, holding out for some reciprocal, favor)
are  being a little more "pragmatic": waiting to see
which way the wind blows.

this question of voting "on principle" is an odd one.
these representatives have spent decades standing up
and blowing smoke about "what the people want" only
often enough to provide cover for their primary
activity--sitting down with the captains of industry
and crafting a thousand and one ways to extort money
from the people. but now, when presented with an
impeachment the people do not want, they suddenly take
recourse to more abstract claims about "honor," "duty,"
"the truth," &c., &c. these fancy terms they invoke to
justify voting "their conscience," such as it is,
rather than the will of the people; the possibility
that honor and duty might force them to vote against
their conscience and for their constituents' seems not
to have occurred to them. it's in these logical
slippages and omissions that the truth is revealed, as
if we didn't already know it: truth, duty, honor, &c.
provide camouflage for maneuvers as petty and trifling
as the proffered reasons are pompous and inflated.

still, if we maintain a certain disengagement from the
events--which is the rule in this country at the
moment--we will learn a great deal. normally, this
twaddle about duty and honor is fobbed off on the
public only in times of war or at least (since this
country no longer requires the declaration of war
before lobbing missiles at uppity foreigners) in times
of belligerent action. but here is this language again,
this time severed from the lobbing of missiles. and
while they speak very piously about the importance of
telling the truth, the facts belie their words: they
have chosen to disregard the political process of
electoral persuasion and adopt the tactics of force. to
say that the house of representatives has declared war
would be absurdly rhetorical and utterly lacking in
subtlety; rather, they have voted to assert their
independence and autonomy from political
process--voted, in effect, to secede from the nation.

this, of course, follows congress's decades of
oscillating between empty appeasements and provocations
to a degree that would impress even slobodan milosevic
and saddam hussein--so in that regard little has
changed. but now that they've chosen this (by their own
declaration) "solemn" and "weighty" moment to disregard
the popular will, it'll be harder to fall back on that
excuse in the future. after all, like they say, if we
can't believe them now, how will we ever believe them?
that's not at all the logic that will drive this line
of questioning, but the question will indeed be posed.
with these proceedings the house of representatives has
set a rather high standard for conduct--not personal
conduct but, rather, *all* conduct--and it's against
that standard that they themselves will be judged. and

they knew it, too. that's why the votes on the articles
were split, two passed and two rejected: the would-be
impeachers needed cover so they can point back at the
record and protest their fairness and their diligence.
such is the boggling naivete of lawyers play-acting as
revolutionaries for a day to imagine that half-measures
are wiser than total commitment in trying to depose a
leader. their shrewdness seems to have failed them on
another account as well: no sooner did they cast their
votes than they fled the scene "to celebrate the
holidays with their families." these contrasts--between
the starkness of impeachment and the split vote for two
of four articles, and between the the furious day of
activity and the emptified house--hardly recommend the
commitment of the would-be revolutionaries to any
rational program of governance.

to view this through the lens of "personal
accountability" which they've tried so hard to stress
is idiotic: it leads only to the banal conclusion that
these people are hypocrites. this is a dead horse that
needs no more flogging--these representatives haven't
been accountable for their actions for years--and
flogging it would carry all the weight of these
lawyers' denunciations of a lawyer for defending
himself with sophistry. the "personal" aspect of it all
is much more intriguing: what we have seen has been the
progressive onset of a very peculiar form of groupthink
drowning in the self-indulgence of infantile gothic.
statements which have been all too common--"he lied to
me, i'll never believe him again"--are so preposterous
on their face that they befit the hopeless misery of
and abandoned lover much more than the tactical
shrewdness of a Realpolitiker. this fury has been not
just a constant in but the very hallmark of the right's
fanatical pursuit of clinton from the beginning, and
their strange tales of conspiracy--drug-smuggling,
accomplice-murdering, serial sexual escapades--reek of
the impotent rage of an abandonee obsessed with visions
of an ex-lover's life. there's a word for what the
right has been doing to clinton: stalking him.

the pathogenesis of the right's obsession isn't really
interesting. on some level, it's presumably a
side-effect of the plain fact that, despite the
whingeing of "progressives," cultural liberalism has
crushed the opposition: social mobility, sexual
liberalism, and creative experimentation are the order
of the day. as always, more to the point than the
imagined origins of rightist fanaticism are its
consequences--which, in a reversal ironic to
journalists but common coin to historians, is the speed
and effectiveness with which "conservatives" have
undermined the very institutions of power to which
they're forever ostentatiously swearing allegiance. the
presidency, whose weakening in the wake of nixon they
moan about, has been crippled by their siege; and
congress, which they had hoped to condemn as a cesspool
of disorganized squabbling, has become their caligarian
house of ill repute.

this process began, of course, with the first round of
midterm elections four years ago, when the republicans
decided to interpret their gains as a crypto-plebiscite
to tranform the united states to a parliamentary
system, with speaker of the house newt gingrich as the
prime minister. that dalliance didn't work too well,
which only enraged the "party of lincoln" all the more.
so they sought to topple clinton in this years's round
of midterm elections. when that didn't work they tried
to impeach him. but even before this effort fails,
they've begin to call for his resignation so that
he--not his pursuers, of course, but he--doesn't drag
"the country" through the misery of a senate trial.
however, their penchant for substituting "the country"
for themselves when setting forth their agenda is a
well-established fact: their terror is that he'll drag
them through the misery of a trial. and it looks like
he'll do just that. whether he'll succeed is anyone's
guess; but, should they overcome his efforts, not for a
moment should anyone mistake it as their victory.

on the contrary: it will be their waterloo. the
republicans, having been commandeered by the brattiest
of brats, the religious right, put on the armor of god
and, more than merely speaking hypocritically, were
visited by some strange glossolalia. this was the swan
song of their zeal to speak in the monologic
thunderings of kings and thereby to consign the babel
of heterogeneous representation to the democrats, who,
they clearly believe, have violated the republican's
imagined manifest and divine right to the bully pulpit.
but, as the ancient greeks said, "he who the gods would
destroy they first make mad."

it's evening in america.


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