Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fingers crossed

I was privileged to experience the consecration of the new Episcopal Bishop for Massachusetts last weekend. For those of faith, it’s a particularly important ritual since the ancient ceremony goes back to the Apostles. Other religions have their own ways of elevating and passing forward leaders. Oaths  are deeply rooted in religion though governments have adapted them. The significance of making a promise to fulfill an obligation beyond one’s word – on behalf of a deity – provides additional gravitas to the action. When somebody breaches their duty it’s not just a broken promise, it’s a violation of trust. There are so many violations in politics today to render the original promise null.
Last month marked the 40th anniversary of President Nixon’s resignation from office. Many things were at play that led to his decision to leave the office he swore to uphold, but the cover-up became his undoing. That moment seems to have shifted how the American public looked at their Presidents. The election of honest Jimmy Carter in 1976 and a slew of reformers was a response to the Watergate era.
Over time, though, something more insidious has happened. President after President has either lied by omission, misstated their intentions or shamelessly told the press what they thought the public needed to hear.
  • Ronald Reagan claimed he could cut taxes – reducing revenues significantly – while maintaining all government spending without consequence. During his tenure the .S. went from the greatest creditor nation to the greatest debtor nation. 
  • George HW Bush (41) promised “no new taxes…read my lips” and then worked with Congress to raise taxes.  
  • Bill Clinton won the Presidency promising LGBT people he’d be their best friend in office, only to promote and support Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act. (Then there was the whole Monica Lewinsky thing.) 
  • George W Bush (43) campaigned on a non-interventionist policy only to launch two wars. 
  • Barak Obama promised to restore integrity to the Constitution as president only to breach nearly every article in the document by criminalizing journalists, spying on citizens and maintaining a personal kill list.
With this as a premise, it should not be surprising that oaths and promises are broken. It’s happening with greater regularity and on significant issues.
When the nation erupted in criticism over the NSA surveillance system, President Obama gave an impassioned speech about how he was asking the Attorney General and Congress to find options to better protect privacy. Instead the existing regulations have been automatically renewing.
In addition to the NSA gathering all communications, the FBI has launched a national facial recognition program. It’s not a concept, the live system is live. The Federal Government will now maintain a database of biometric data on everybody that is accessible by 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
The most dramatic turn that President Obama has done, however, is securing office as an anti-war advocate (receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on his commitment to peace) and now launching a new war in The Middle East because 2 Americans were beheaded.

I guess that promise in the Constitution – the right to be protected against unreasonable searches is another unfulfilled promise. Or maybe his fingers were crossed.

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