No Cause for Cheer 

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We were practically giddy'indictments related to wrongdoings at the highest level of the administration, falling approval ratings, overdue admissions that things had not gone well in Iraq.

Vice President Dick Cheney’s attempts to give Rep. John Murtha the swift-boat treatment after the decorated marine called for an end to the war in Iraq backfired. The president calling the Constitution “just a goddamn piece of paper” and pronouncing it OK to spy on Americans wasn’t sitting well with those in his own party. The Senate refusing to reauthorize the Patriot Act signaled dissent. The sheen was off. The impenetrable bubble was cracking.

Those who had foreseen trouble coming from the beginning may feel vindicated, but there’s hardly cause for rejoicing. We as a nation are weakened, our good name besmirched at home and abroad. Unsavory acts have been committed in our name, including a war based on faulty intelligence and documented cases of torture that defy the Geneva Convention. Where is the delight in that?

Joe Wilson, whose undercover-CIA-agent wife, Valerie Plame, was outed as political punishment by her own government and who had the most cause to feel gleeful after the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby, certainly took no delight in the turn of events. Wilson’s response was measured.

“After the two-year smear campaign orchestrated by senior officials in the Bush White House against my wife and me, it is tempting to feel vindicated by Friday’s indictment of the vice president’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby,” Wilson wrote in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Wilson said, “It is certainly not a day to celebrate,” calling it instead “a sad day” for America: “When an indictment is delivered at the front door of the White House, the office of the president is defiled. No citizen can take pleasure from that.”

But some people took pleasure. A Christmas card from friends abroad came with a photo of them toasting “the unraveling of the Evil Empire.” That evil empire is us. The card made me incredibly sad. As citizens in a democracy we are responsible for what government does in our name. We'Republicans, Democrats and noncommitted'share responsibility for the state we find our nation in as we head into 2006.

A questionable war is waged, enemies tortured, constitutional rights ignored. It happened under our watch. We weren’t paying attention. We were distracted. We weren’t affected personally. We were afraid to speak up. We were afraid, period. We have a hundred excuses for why we didn’t demand accountability, why we didn’t ask harder questions and insist on answers. If two-thirds of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction, we have a responsibility to exercise our rights as citizens and insist that our leaders change course.

Ralph Nader once asked, “What if someone came to your door and said, ‘I spend 25 percent of your money. I can send you to war. I can let toxic waste poison you, let corporations take over.’ That’s essentially your member of Congress. Would you say, ‘Leave me alone,’ or would you get to know them and demand information?” Government, he said, belongs to us, and if we can’t control what our government does, then there is something wrong with our willingness to get involved. “If you don’t turn on to politics, politics is going to turn on you.

Unless we the people start remembering that government operates by and for the people these are, indeed, “sad days for America.

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More by Eric S. Peterson

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