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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Secrecy and blackmail

I was explaining the process of impeachment to my Mexican friend the other day. She said "But no presidents have actually been impeached, have they?" I said that yes, two have, but neither was actually removed from office. So we got to talking about Clinton's impeachment, and she, like most people in the reality-based world, said that the Lewinsky affair was a stupid reason for impeachment.

I replied that I agreed, but that I think that it was more serious than most of my liberal friends do. This has nothing to do with whether adultery makes one more or less capable of being president. To me, the Lewinsky affair was a serious issue only because Clinton made it so--by denying it for a year he made himself, his most-powerful-man-in-the-world self, vulnerable to blackmail. Almost certainly, Bill and Monica weren't the only people who knew the truth. And since the President of the United States was demonstrably willing to lie about it, anyone with that knowledge had a big hook in the leader of the "free world." It could have been Osama bin Laden; it could have been Karl Rove; it could have been Ken Lay. It could have been someone we've never heard of and never will--but chances are that someone was dragging Clinton around by the nose during the year he was denying the affair (and even afterward--whatever he may have done because of the blackmail was probably much worse than the affair, and therefore even more vulnerable to blackmail). Yes, the affair was trivial and unrelated to being president; yes, he was hounded and entrapped; but by refusing to come clean on the story he put himself and the country at the mercy of anyone who knew his little secret.

So I explained this to my Mexican friend, and then it occurred to me that where Clinton had a dirty little secret, or maybe a dozen or a hundred, Bush has tens of thousands, contained in those documents he keeps classifying by the truckload. And while it is awful that this information, which belongs to the American people and almost certainly could have been used to vote or impeach Bush out of office, isn't public knowledge, it may be even worse that it is known by just a few. As bad as Bush seems, is it possible that he does so many terrible things because he is being blackmailed? It looks like we'll never know; as his crimes continue to multiply, we can be sure that the secrecy will as well. Secrecy is inherently undemocratic, removing power from the public and placing it in the hands of those few who know the secret. When it involves the most powerful men in the world, secrecy becomes lethal on a large scale.